Belfast IrelandDonegalIndiaIrelandMalachi O’Doherty: From Donegal to Belfast and India

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From Donegal to Belfast and India with Malachi O’Doherty

Jackie De Burca So going back to Donegal, Malachi, you said in our sort of preparation for today’s chat, you said,

“I always had a sense that it was an ancestral homeland. It seemed a place where law was less rigorous, where one might be settled and one’s life without the pressure to accumulate or progress in a career.”

Jackie De Burca How do you feel about that statement now, given what we’ve just been chatting about?

Donegal after the storm
Donegal after the storm

Photo by Flickr user Liam Moloney

Malachi O’Doherty Well, I suppose, you know, there’s something of the- I mean, what we’ve been chatting about in that easy-going way, you know, seems to me, to be more Donegal than Belfast, you know what I mean? We’re leaving out my mother’s lineage and William O’Halloran and the navy and everything. So I don’t know how that fits into it. And maybe even physically, I look more like that side of the family. I’m not sure. But still, yes. There was also the thing that when you- even going back to the 1950s and wee day trips to Donegal, you had some sense of just kind of breathing more easily when you’re over the border, you know.

And why was that? Partly it was to do with the stuff you had in your head about the awful north and about it being our land that was stolen from us, the old mythology.

Jackie De Burca Yeah.

Malachi O’Doherty

But it was also something to do with the general untidiness of it, you know? It was, you know, it was the paint peeling off the shelf, you know, the rougher roads. I mean, it’s not like that now but it was then. You were definitely, you know, you had a sense of moving from a prosperous or at least well-ordered country, crossing a line into somewhere with, which was more a peasant society or more slapdash or less, you know, and within that, there was also- and this was part of our experience. It was simply true. That there wasn’t the same bother about the pubs closing in time.

You know, in my teen years, I had been working in bars occasionally in Belfast and working with my Dad. And there was that thing that hit 10 o’clock and it was “Time, Gentlemen, please,” you know? Whereas you would go into a hotel in Portsalon or Rita’s or someplace like that, you know. And you had a drink you know – and nobody’s precisely asking you what your age is and closing time just seemed a notional theory, you know? That’s not how it was then. So all of that, that sense that Donegal represented a laxity or flexibility in the rules, you know- that, that there was this part of your life or part of your hinterland- well, that you could retreat to, where you knew that the- the sternness of the North, you know, didn’t apply. And, you know, I mean, I don’t know what it’s like now. I mean, you know- it may be that you couldn’t now drive a car across Donegal without number plates, you know? But there was a time when you could, you know, and be drunk as well, you know? Yeah, I’m sure it’s all, it’s all better now.

Donegal Malachi O'Doherty county of birth
Donegal Malachi O’Doherty county of birth

Photo by Flickr user Liam Moloney

And the other thing is, of course, you need to cross the border into Donegal now. You’re crossing on to better roads than you’re leaving behind you, you know? So that’s changed. But still in all you know, there’s something about crossing the border, leaving the police barrier, the customs man behind you, the fantasy that you were smuggling, you know, you weren’t smuggling at all. The Customs guy, man, just sat on his- on his chair and waved you on, you know. And-

Jackie De Burca Yeah.

Malachi O’Doherty I’ll tell you a story. I was- it was the day of my father’s brother’s funeral. And so we were driving down to Dublin. So we’re going over the border into Dundalk that way, right?

Jackie De Burca Yeah.

Cloughcor Strabane Malachi O'Doherty
Cloughcor Strabane Malachi O’Doherty

Malachi O’Doherty My father was in the car and he said, “Gotta remember that pub there. I remember the time I would stop there and your mother and I had gone out for a drink, got in for a drink, and would send you out some crisps and minerals. And you’re sitting in a bar on who should come along with the guards. And the guard said, your sister and nan says, “Where’s your mommy and daddy?” And Nan said, “They’re in the pub.” And the guard said, “Oh, well, that’s all right then.” And the Barney told that story. And he says, “No, that won’t happen today.”

Jackie De Burca No, no, not at all.

Malachi O’Doherty That was acceptable of the guards come along to check the- where your mum and six children- sitting in a wee (inaudible – 00:39:32) or something, drinking Fantas and eating their cheese and onion crisps and no adult anywhere near and says- well, “Where’s your mum and dad?” “Oh, they’re in the pub.” “Oh well, that’s all right.”

Jackie De Burca That’s grand. Yeah. That’s grand. So, with the huge difference between the feeling and the experience of going over the border to Donegal, you know, on visits from Belfast. Imagine, Malachi, if things have been different and your dad didn’t need to go to Belfast to earn more money. How do you think your life would have been different if you’d stayed in Donegal all that time?

Malachi O’Doherty Well, that’s a good question. I mean, I just don’t know. I mean, the other question is, how would it have been different if it hadn’t been for The Troubles? You know, because The Troubles also became such a focus of my journalism. I mean, I think- I think I- I mean, what I wanted was to be a writer and to write stories. And I wanted this before I had stories to write. But I had that inclination, you know. And I- you know, conceivably I would have lived in Muff, growing up in Muff, maybe joined a local amateur dramatic society or something, maybe got a job as a barman or maybe gone to the Teac in Letterkenny and- and got a trade. Or- or maybe you got a job on a local paper you know, and you know, been a reporter in Donegal in the local newspaper. You know, everywhere has its journalists. Or you know, or maybe I would have- I mean, here I’m gonna say something I shouldn’t say, but I have a strong religious bent, you know? Which worries me, you know, and has worried at me throughout my life. And you know, until- when I was in my mid-teens, I wanted to be a priest. And I mean it was my father basically, he stood in the way of that and said, “You’re not going. If you still want to go next year, you can go, but you’re not going.” And that was that. And he was right to do that, you know. But then again, I went to India and I lived in an ashram in India. And that religious bent came up again. So, I mean, in some ways, if I was- if as a writer, I had not been distracted, maybe, is the word? Or led into that whole kind of discussion around politics and The Troubles? And that maybe then, that whole kind of worrying about the cosmos and our place in it and whether or not there’s a spiritual side to life or, you know, maybe all of that would have, would have taken up more space. And then I’ve written more about that, you know?

Alley in India Malachi O'Doherty
Alley in India Malachi O’Doherty

Jackie De Burca Okay. Okay, interesting. And when you originally relocated to Belfast, how are your earlier memories in contrast to the sort of the more simple lifestyle that you would have been leading up to the age of five? Or do you even have strong memories of that time, Malachi?

Malachi O’Doherty I started school in Belfast in the pavilion of Casement Park Football Club right there, the G.A.A., that- there wasn’t a Catholic school built for us yet. And obviously, we were Catholics and we were going to go to a Catholic school and- and not just state school. Not that I’d any say in the matter. So, we were sent to classrooms in that- were improvised in this stinking pavilion, you know? And I can still smell the damp concrete and the sawdust that was put down over vomit and stuff. And I- and the horrible image- and you see, I’d come from a family with two girls and a mother so it was mostly, it was a half female- half of the sky was female, where I came from. And you know, in the school that I’d been in Ballycastle, it had been a mixed school. And then suddenly, I’m in an all-boys class and you’re standing at a urinal in a stinking football pavilion with 20 boys all pissing together, you know, and threatening to piss on each other, you know? And I was totally appalled by the whole thing, you know? So you know, I mean, I don’t have very strong memories of Casement Park and the teacher there, but I- you know, would later go into the main primary school, which was The Holy Child. I remember, you know. I mean, when you were in it, you accept it as the norm. It’s- you know, 20 or 8 years later, you look back and you remember a teacher flogging a boy with a cane because he had run away from home to find his daddy, you know. And you think, how in God did that happen, you know? You know, and I mean- I’ve got six slaps from my bad handwriting.

I was slapping me and my hands, it’s always to improve my handwriting, you know. I mean, whoever these idiots, you know, so but– but I tell these stories to people of my generation who were there and they haven’t done the re-evaluation. They haven’t kind of, you know, they still look up to these people who did that, you know, and say, “Okay, you know–” I remember talking to one of the lads, you know, just a year ago. I hadn’t met him for years. And then we met up in London and we had a chat and a talk and it was great meeting him, you know. But do you- That’s, you know, he would say, “Ah, the one thing about your man was he was always fair. He didn’t slap you unless you deserved it.” And I’m thinking, if he had an eight-year-old child, came home from school and said they’d been beaten with a cane, what would you do? You’d- you’d go in and you’d way over the school. And yet there were parents who did that. I remember sitting in class one day and the teacher goes to the door and suddenly this handbag comes flying through the gap between the door and the wall. And, you know, in an attempt to cleave him and this woman shout, “Adam, you lay a fu- hand on my child again!” You know? You know, and it’s all being really embarrassed, you know, that this woman had let herself down so badly. But actually, she was the one who was responding logically to the situation, not us.

Jackie De Burca [MIC MALFUNCTION]

Malachi O’Doherty I don’t know that, I’m not left-handed. I- you know, I’ve heard stories like that, but I’m not aware that anyone close to me who was being forced to write with a right hand. I mean, I can specifically remember a teacher, you know, helping a boy who was left handed, you know? Because there’s- because being left- being right-handed suits the way we write from left to right across the page, you know? Whereas you will see somebody writing their left hand or their arm seems to arch right round, you know, to draw the pencil in a funny way. So, I- you know, so I don’t know. No I mean, we had, we had violent teachers and we had very good teachers. You know, there was one teacher, Brother Walsh. And, you know, he was- he was a good humoured man who very rarely used the strap. And he had a playful nature. And he made us write a composition, as it was called, an essay composition every weekend, you know, in life? Like from the age of 11, you know, you’re writing these compositions, but you could let off- always could let off if it was your birthday. Some of us had four or five birthdays in the year. But you know, I wonder, you know, I- you know, that- every Sunday evening, you know, of- of my early teenage years were spent at the Christian- Christmas ta– sorry. At the kitchen table, writing a composition for Brother Walsh. I mean, I must have- it must have been a big contribution to my ability to write in later years, you know, for a publication, it must have been. I mean, if you hadn’t had that, if I hadn’t done that, you know- how much catch up would I have had to do on just learning to write, you know? And now, I write. And so, you know, for the last 30, 40 years, I’ve been writing a thousand words a day, you know? You know, it’s a normal thing.

Christian pickets in India Malachi O'Doherty
Christian pickets in India Malachi O’Doherty

Malachi O’Doherty So that – that was a bit like, I suppose like, for some, some boys would have good, good physical training and gone out running, you know, and would have achieved a level of fitness through that. And I think with, with writing all the time at school and after that- that gives a fitness to the generation of language and the brain. Yeah.

Jackie De Burca [MIC MALFUNCTION]

Malachi O’Doherty Yeah. Oh, yeah. I mean, I don’t remember any of them, I don’t even know where these things are, you know? But, but I do – But I remember. And I remember- and it’s as funny thing to stick in your mind, but I remember once sitting right in the composition and getting stuck after about 200 words and having nothing to say and leaving it and then getting a flash of an idea of something else to say that would dovetail with what I’d done. And I- and that was like an epiphany. That was like, “oh, that’s how it works. That’s how you can do it”. You know, you don’t have to stay on the straight line. You can- you can bring in ideas. You know, you can take another idea that you hadn’t previously thought of as being related to the subject. And you can twist it and fit it, you know? And I thought, (inaudible – 00:49:46) you know, I never thought of that, you know. And then, you know, I went back and finished this- this composition. I’ve no idea what the subject was, but I- it was just that kind of sudden realisation that this trick of writing a story or writing an essay. An idea, you know, that you could pull something in from the side that hadn’t been there in your original conception and you could- you would work on it and- and it felt like cheating, you know? It felt like, like trickery.

But- but it’s creativity. But I also remember– I also remember other teachers, you know? I mean, I think we were given an essay to do in primary school on the theme- The story was lost in the fog or something. And I wrote a story about getting lost in the fog. And it was handed back to me by the teacher with a four-letter word at the bottom D-A-F-T.

Malachi O’Doherty That was it, you know? So you had to find your encouragement where you got it. You know, you weren’t always gonna get it from teachers. You know?

Jackie De Burca [MIC MALFUNCTION]

Malachi O’Doherty Brother Walsh. Brother Walsh, yeah. Yeah.

Jackie De Burca [MIC MALFUNCTION]

Malachi O’Doherty We lived in a housing estate which was at the western edge of the city. So, there was no further development beyond us. So there’s open fields around us. So you could go and play in the fields and jump in haystacks and stuff. There was building going on around so the new houses are being built in your (inaudible – 00:51:50) so you could also go and play on building sites. And we did this, you know, go and bounce on the planks and stuff. The neighbourhood was, I suppose- I mean, I would imagine that- I mean, I’m thinking back to say, 1964 or something, in a street with about 65 houses in it and maybe four cars in the street. I think that was probably normal at that time. And there were at least four or five of our near neighbours were policemen, who cycled to work at Dunmurray Police Station. And, you know, we knew them and we knew their families.

We- there were Protestants there who went to other schools and they played with us and there were Protestant friends. But there was also a kind of thing, you know, if your mother called you asking a Protestant friend about something related to Protestantism or something, you’d get told off for that. You know, that was bad manners. You just- you know that’s- you know, you’ve no right to be asking that. Just you- you behave, treat them as– you know. I mean, so, you know- there was that, you know, that sense that the Protestants lived a different life, went to different schools- were cleaner. I mean, my mother used to comb my hair at the kitchen sink, and then she’d say there, “Now, you’re a wee bit more Protestant looking now.” You know?

So there was, there was a consciousness of two communities, you know.

And there was also, if you like, a theology within Catholicism that you were getting at school up to that point about being part of the one true faith. You know? There were- there were teachers who would have told you that Protestants went to hell, you know? Now, that was changing because the Second Vatican Council was coming in. So that was changing at that time. But still, no, a lot was there. But- but there was no fear. There were- there were residual traces of the previous troubles, which really only ended in ‘62. So there was, you know, there were posters of- I remember seeing a poster up in a tree saying “Free Political Prisoners” and asking my mother about that. And she says, “Oh, that’s nonsense. That’s all daft. There’s no political prisoner.”

You know? That would have been her attitude, whereas my father would’ve been more Republican-minded. And then- we all get chemistry sets for Christmas one year and started making gunpowder. And we- and this was true. And I was making gunpowder and making these fireworks and lighting them on the street. And there were boys came over to me and say, “that’s not how you do it at all”, you know.

And, and these are boys from the Fianna, you know? And, you know, and they were saying, what, – “You use weed killer and sugar.” You know? And- and you could go into the chemist shop, you know, you could go into the chemist in the Anderson’s (inaudible – 00:54:52) road to buy your chemi- chemicals for your chemistry set. So I used to go in a Saturday morning with 3D and buy a couple of ounces or an ounce of potassium permanganate or whatever, you know? So you could- you could go into a shop and just ask for potassium chlorate, you know? And take it home. And make a- make a wee- It was never a bomb, you know, because, you know, but it was a firework, you know? Mine always just flared and burnt. But- but you kind of knew that there were boys around, you know, and there were men around you, you know, who were still connected to- to the IRA or the Fianna movement.

You just didn’t talk to them about it. And there weren’t that many of them. There were very few. We thought of ourselves as Republican. You know, we went on our day trip to Buncrana, you know, for a summer holiday. And when you were there, you would buy a wee tricolour pin and wear it in your lapel while you’re in Donegal. But then as you approached the border, your dad would tell you to take it out and not to be- not to be-

Jackie De Burca Obviously, talking about your first job in the Sunday News in Belfast and how you felt quite morally lost in Belfast at that time. And you were heading off on a summer trip to Amsterdam. Shall we pick up from there?

Malachi O’Doherty Yeah, I was with my friend Dennis, and we were taking- it was the- the ordinary summer holiday from, from the job. And we ferry across to Heysham and hitched- took a bus over to Lancaster, to the M6, and then stook our thumbs out to hitchhike. And we turned down a couple of short lifts and then got a lift with two girls in a dormobile, a motor caravan. And they said they were driving to Dover. But when we got to know each other better, they said they were going all the way to Amsterdam. So we all travelled to Amsterdam together and around Belgium and Holland in this motor caravan for two weeks. Which was a terrific adventure, you know, and just what I needed after the stress of Belfast. And when I got back, I basically- after some hesitation, packed in the job and went to live near one of these girls with- with her brother and her.

Bus shelter Belfast Malachi O'Doherty
Bus shelter Belfast Malachi O’Doherty

You know, it wasn’t a relationship that lasted forever, but it lasted three years and at the end of the three years, I went to India. And I was- I suppose I look back on it as a fairly young and immature person, you know, not even handling a relationship very well. But still, in all, it was- it was like a gift from the gods. Here am I, in Belfast. I’m – you know, I’m utterly exasperated, depressed, drinking too much and not- you know, not enjoying life and worrying constantly about my own safety. And something just- this little hand just reaches down from the sky, picks you up, and puts you in another place and gives you a girlfriend. It’s like- It’s the sort of thing- it’s the sort of thing that inclines you towards magical thinking, you know? And the same thing happened again three years later. We- at the time when the relationship was dying and I was, you know, lost for a clear idea where I was going, didn’t have a job because I’d been out of journalism for three years.

And, and then I saw an ad in The Guardian personnel column that said “Retired author wanted to work in India with Swami on Bhagavad- on commentary on Bhagavad Gita.” And then, and I- So I wrote the box number and got a call from this German guy and asked me when I could go to India to work with a Swami. And then I went, you know, he said- you know. And so, by- that was December 1975, and I went on a plane and I’m and I’m in India and I’m- I’m living in this little ashram with a Hindu monk, you know? He’s a bit of a- a bit of a fascist at heart himself. But within manageable levels, you know? And I stay there for three and a half years, four years with him.

Jackie De Burca How did you feel about that environment, Malachi, when you first arrived in there- obviously, presumably, it must have been an absolutely massive contrast to the other places you’d been up to that point in your life. How did you feel about that?

Malachi O’Doherty Well, I remember stepping off the plane and the first- feel- the first sensation off the plane is- aside from the whole cluster of people, was the smell of coal smoke, which reminded me of Belfast in the 1950s and- but this very intensely bright sunshine, which was much brighter than we’d have known at home. Which- and I went back to India last year, and that bright sunshine is gone because of the pollution, though apparently, it’s coming back now because CoViD is reducing the pollution. And then, I’m immediately surrounded by all these hawkers, you know, saying, “come with me, come with me. I know a nice hotel.” You know? And there’s an Indian guy who’d been- I’d been chatting to on the plane. He just said, “come with me. I look after you.”

Jackie De Burca Okay.

Market stall in India Malachi O'Doherty
Market stall in India Malachi O’Doherty

Malachi O’Doherty He- he drove me to a- first of all, brought me to his home, gave me a cup of tea and settled me down, and then drove me to the ashram and I introduced myself to people there. Swamiji wasn’t there at that time. He’d left.

Jackie De Burca Okay.

Malachi O’Doherty Which was very careless of him. But, but the instructions were to take me to a house in (inaudible – 01:00:44) and I went to stay with this Indian family. And then when Amiji came back to Delhi, I went to meet him and we went from there to a place called Bridge Guard, which is on the Ganges. And we- he was staying in a hostel there, which is called a Dharamshala, while he was building another ashram nearby. So I lived that first winter in this little hostel called (inaudible – 01:01:09) Dharamshala, at a corner room in a courtyard and a typewriter and foolscap paper. Do you remember foolscap paper?

Jackie De Burca Oh, I do. Yeah, I do.

Malachi O’Doherty Yeah, we weren’t using A4 paper. We were using foolscap at that time. And essentially, basically, I would sit with the Swami in the mornings and he would dictate his book to me and I would help them with the grammar and the spelling and so. And then in the afternoon, I would type it up and then in the evening, either go for a walk, along the Ganges, or you know. And at first, I was lonely and missing my girlfriend, you know? But I- you know, I began to enjoy the solitude, enjoy the peace of it, doing loads of reading.

Cremation at the Ganges in India Malachi O'Doherty
Cremation at the Ganges in India Malachi O’Doherty

And then I got into meditation. I- he initiated me in the practise of meditation and hatha yoga. And I got very deeply involved in that, you know? And perhaps probably too deeply involved in it. But at least the thing- over a period of three and a half years, rounded itself off, in that it starts off with me being seduced by this highly manipulative figure and then the kind of blissful period, and then this struggle where the tensions begin to arise.

Jackie De Burca Yeah. Okay.

Malachi O’Doherty Like any relationship. And then breaking free from it. I think if this thing had broken down before I had resolved in my head what was wrong with it, then that might have been difficult afterwards. That would have left me with problems. But actually, I mean, I- I had my- I had my seduction, if you like, while I was there and I had my bus stop with full conviction at the end. But I had to learn quite- I had learnt the practise of meditation and yoga in some way and- and I had been keeping diaries. So my own writing had developed quite well at that time. And my old thinking about who I was. I think essentially it was a regression, you know? I think it was a regression. I think- you know, having come through a kind of confusing, over disciplined education and into The Troubles and you know, not really finding my bearings in life. I think, you know- a three-year holiday beside the Ganges, was just what I needed to restore my spirit, you know? And I think that and that’s- that’s what happened. And I came back from there a more confident, more adult person. But I did become a child while I was in it, you know?

Jackie De Burca Ah, that’s exactly the question- I was not wanting to totally cut across you but the actual phrase that came into my mind, Malachi, was, do you think it was like regressing and bringing, bringing what they like to term as the inner child back into balance, if you like?

Malachi O’Doherty Absolutely. I do think that, I do think that. And I think, you know, that you know- if you had seen me walking along the Ganges, you know, with my blissed out expression on my face, just totally, totally happy- you know, like a child with no worries. You know, you would’ve seen that. But- and the other side of it was that although this seemed to be a totally other world, stepping out of what I had known, it actually was very close to a reproduction of what I had known. You know, Hinduism is very like Catholicism. You know, the Swami was the dictatorial father or the hard teacher, you know- the charming some of the time and scary the next. So in a sense, it was it was like replaying a period that had been difficult and getting a better handle on how to deal with it. So when I came away, and I mean, when I came away from it, I just turned up at the Sunday News one day to look for some work. You know, the kind of comment people made was- you know, you went away a boy and you come back a man, you know?

Jackie De Burca Okay.

Malachi O’Doherty You know. Which isn’t to say that they didn’t think I was completely nuts because of what I’d done, you know, but– And, you know, if a friend came to me now and say, for instance, a nephew or a niece came now and said, “look, I’ve got this great opportunity to go to India, to live with a Swami and help him write a book. And I’ve got a one-way ticket.” You know, I would say, “are you out of your freaking head?”, you know? “Who’d do that?”

Jackie De Burca Would you really? Would you really?

Malachi O’Doherty I think I would. Yeah. And then, think about it as– think about it in another way. There were no phones then and there’s no internet. You know, I was totally out of communication with everybody, you know? I mean, I remember once having to make a phone call in India and we had to go to the police station to ask if we could use their phone. And this policeman was asleep in his underpants on his desk. And you know, I think we spent like half an hour trying to get a signal on the phone and gave up, you know? So that degree of– being cut off is not really available to anybody anymore anyway. Not anywhere.

Jackie De Burca No, no. You said about India– you said, “I lived there for four years. It was a total escape, a space for regression, my own psychotherapy. Like taking a reset on my thinking after years of The Troubles in Belfast and a period in England with a sense of lost direction.” Do you accredit that– I mean, you’ve kind of touched on some of that just there anyhow. But do you accredit that to– more so to Swamiji himself or to the environment or to the stage you were at? Or was it kind of a mixing of those energies together, Malachi?

Malachi O’Doherty Good question. I think the- the actual practise of meditation was very important, but it was important– See, the tension between Swamiji and me was– is meditation, a spiritual exercise understood within the Eastern tradition of communing with the divine? Or is it something that you try to understand within the Western psychological framework? You know? And the reality is that while I was- while I was thinking that what I was doing was feeling in my meditation when I wasn’t kind of reaching a sense of connection with the Divine and discovered a- you know, what you’re supposed to do is not think– and concentrate. But then your thoughts kind of ramble away, you know? But that turns out to be the healthy part of it. That turns out to be the thing that was psychotherapeutic. Because if you’ve got your mind fixed on something and then your thoughts are kind of working themselves out and intruding- you know, what happens in that process is that the thoughts that you don’t want to think come up, you know? The thoughts that would normally disturb you come up and they don’t disturb you so much because half of your mind is engaged on the concentration, on the object of meditation. So, you know- so sometimes, those thoughts would come back and surprise you and hurt you and sting and humiliate you. But then, they would kind of- then you would be neutralised within that, you know? So I think- So I think there’s, a I think there’s a Western psychotherapeutic model for understanding what was happening in meditation. But that would be in– Swamiji would have seen that as failure of the meditation, whereas actually I think it was really quite, quite helpful. But I also then did go into further and deeper repression of thought and sensation.

Malachi O’Doherty You know, since I would discipline myself, not– normally, if I’m walking around town doing something, I’m singing every song in my head, you know?

Jackie De Burca Yeah.

Malachi O’Doherty That’s what I do. So I would say when I was at my– in my disciplined fears, I would just cut that off. I would just say to myself, “stop that.” You know? (inaudible – 01:09:12) That was part of it. And so, what you are doing is you’re building up a huge pressure of repressed sensation and thinking, you know? And that erupts and- and it did erupt, you know? And, you know, in something that- you know. Well, if you have a kind of volcanic eruption or orgasm in your brain, then you’re- you’re going to think of that as a hugely wonderful spiritual experience. But if you tell something about someone about it, they’ll think you’ve just had a nervous breakdown and you might both be right.

Jackie De Burca Yeah. Okay. And another–

Malachi O’Doherty So–

Jackie De Burca You go ahead, Malachi.

Malachi O’Doherty No, go ahead. No, so I just have to– I was left some years re-evaluating the whole Indian experience and sifting it in and trying to understand it. That’s all.

Woman on Rickshaw in India Malachi O'Doherty
Woman on Rickshaw in India Malachi O’Doherty

Jackie De Burca And okay– So that kind of connects with what I was going to interject with there, Malachi. One of the things that I felt from reading your writing and your experience in India was, it did stand to you in terms of the courage that you’ve had to bring into various situations that you’ve been in as a writer over the years. Would you agree with that? Do you feel that that might be true?

Malachi O’Doherty No, I don’t make any claim to having courage, you know. I don’t feel–

Jackie De Burca Okay. You don’t want to say– so to say, that you’re courageous. But in terms of phrasing- (inaudible – 01:10:49) considered either to be strong or dangerous men, as you’ve had to do in your line of work over the years. Do you feel your time in India was supportive towards enabling for you to do that?

Malachi O’Doherty Maybe- maybe a bit in that I think I have an insight not just from Swamiji, but from my father, and some of my teachers with how the- the adamantly, determinedly right man thinks and feels, you know? I mean, I recognise him, I’ve met him before. You know, there’s that. But I also, you know- I came out of India as a very kind of tender person, you know, who had been celibate for four years, by the way. You know, apart from a minor lap. And so, you know, I had to find my way in interacting with women again because they were all four years older as well. You know, it’s something to, you know. Well, you know, if you haven’t had a girlfriend for four years and the woman who is your age is 28 years old- you know, when the woman that you left was maybe 24 or younger. So- so I was, I was displaced in terms of inter- relating to women. I was, you know, I was- I was sexually enthusiastic. You know, I was ready for it. And I was- I was overeager for it. And that at a time when there had been a huge cultural change in terms of the growth of feminism as well. So you know, I had difficulty in relationships and I had- and I was cumbersome and I was foolish and I was- you know, not- you know, well attuned, you know? And in some ways, see, if I look back to the most stressful times in the following years, it wasn’t- it wasn’t interactions with hard men or whatever. It was relationships. It was a foolish falling in love and break-up, you know?

I mean, it was- you know. And what I was- I suppose, doing was I was falling in love with women who were as maybe displaced and chaotic as myself, you know, kind of recognizing- you know, one stray soul recognizing another, you know? And needing more from the other than- each needing more from the other than the other could conceivably give, you know? So very hungrily falling in love over and over. And the awful break-ups and stuff, before settling down into, you know– because that side of myself had been suspended in India, you know? And it had never really matured before going to India, you know?

Jackie De Burca Yeah.

Malachi O’Doherty So I suppose when I, you know- so I mean, it had that long relationship in England. Which, you know, which had been a difficult one or at least had its difficulties. So that– is that- still connected. Yeah. So it’s actually, I mean, I’m 28 years old and still not, not materially physically a virgin, but still essentially a beginner in terms of–

Jackie De Burca Yeah.

Malachi O’Doherty –knowing how to, to develop a relationship and maintain a relationship and be good for somebody in a relationship. And let’s hope it’ll be good for me.

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Jackie De Burca

Jackie De Burca is is a travel, arts and culture writer. The author of Salvador Dalí at Home, De Burca has spent much of her life in Spain since 2003. Originally from Dublin, Ireland, she is the creator of Travel Inspires: the authentic travel magazine by the people, for the people. She mentors aspiring writers around the world, who have the opportunity to showcase their work on Travel Inspires. De Burca feels an inspirational connection with the land in Spain, while maintaining her deeply rooted attachment to Irish landscapes, soil and of course, the Irish character.

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      Malachi O'Doherty: From Donegal to Belfast and India

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