Bono’s special tribute to legendary Dalkey publican

By Dave Kenny, April 15, 2023

BONO will tonight dedicate the New York opening of his Stories of Surrender show to legendary Dalkey publican Dan Finnegan, who died this week.

Much-loved Mr Finnegan, 95, passed away at home in the south Dublin village surrounded by his family. His funeral, literally, brought Bono’s hometown to a standstill.

The U2 frontman has been friends with the Finnegan family for decades and told the Sunday Independent the uncrowned King of Dalkey was akin to a ‘constitutional monarch’. 

“Finnegan’s Pub is not just my local. It is its own country with its own laws and customs,” Bono said from the Beacon Theatre in New York, where he was rehearsing for tonight’s show, which is based on his critically-acclaimed autobiography, Surrender.

“It is the domain of Dan Finnegan and his sons. It’s a constitutional monarchy where Dan is its Head of State and his sons run the government,” the singer  said.

“Dan’s eldest, Donal – the Taoiseach – is six foot four and, depending on the hour, can appear six foot seven. I would not want to mess with Donal Finnegan. Or his brothers. Or his sisters. Dan’s family are fine people but there is a code, a strictness. A reverence for tradition. Indeed, a respect for opera and for the kind of man who might know how to wear tweed, like my late father Bob.

“Dan loved my Da. They shared a love of opera and stage musicals, and Dan recognised when another prince was present, one who could actually sing. On the occasion when my father silenced the place by singing The Way We Were, followed by The Black Hills of Dakota, Dan looked over at me with something like pity, and I imagined him saying under his breath: ‘Think how far you’d have come if only you had your father’s voice’.

‘I’m so sorry I couldn’t have been there for his funeral. I’m a big fan of the Finnegan family and send them my love.’

While Finnegan’s is Bono’s home from home, his bandmate Edge’s earliest appearance there wasn’t met with the adulation he is accustomed to. Dan’s youngest, Alan, said that  Dan was utterly unfazed by – and sometimes unaware of – the A-List stars who have crammed his bar. A-listers who include Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt, U2, Woody Harrelson, Pamela Anderson, Maeve Binchy, Timothy Dalton, Brian Keenan, Salman Rushdie and actor Matthew Goode of Downton Abbey fame.

Checking cheques

“Dad couldn’t give a damn about the whole celebrity thing, and wouldn’t have known who many of them were,” said Alan. “For example, back in the ’80s there was a raft of stolen cheques going around.  One day, Dad rang the bell in a panic looking for Donal. He had a cheque for £30 signed by a name he didn’t know. ‘I’ve two buckos down here. The one at the counter is passing a cheque. It’s definitely one of these stolen cheques going around. Get the guards!’

“Donal told him to hold on while he looked at  it. It said ‘Dave Evans’. Dan scratched his head and replied: ‘Let me have a look and see what this plum looks like’.

“They walked out from behind the bar and there’s The Edge,  just back from a swim in the Vico. Donal greeted him. Dan wasn’t having any of it. ‘What are you doing, Donal? Get the guards, get the guards!’ Donal pulled him to one side  and said: ‘Dad, that’s The Edge from U2 –  one of the biggest bands in the world’.

“Dan replied, wearily: ‘THAT yoke? I fecking give up’.

“We told Edge this the other day and he laughed his  head off.”

Neil Jordan and his wife Brenda are neighbours of the Finnegans and remembered Dan fondly. “He was the best,” the Oscar-winner said. “A real gentleman publican who built up a great family business and was at the heart of the village for decades.”

Brenda added: “Dan was the father of Dalkey. He will really be missed.”

Speaking from the US, former Dalkey resident, RTE Football Correspondent Tony O’Donoghue, described Mr Finnegan as ‘unique’.

“So sorry to hear about Dan. He was such a decent man, and a great host, yet he never had time for any of the bulls**t which was flying around Dalkey,” the Corkman said. 

“He was utterly authentic. I remember one closing time when he was giving everyone their marching orders – which were always obeyed as you didn’t disrespect Dan. We were standing on Sorrento Road wondering what to do next, when he popped his head around the door and, with a grin, said: ‘Tony, what did you think of that match the other night…?

“He had just thrown us out and was all up for a long chat on the street! It was all part of the pub pantomime. He was a great character.”

Local TD, Cormac Devlin, also paid tribute to the Cavan native. “Dan entertained presidents, taoisigh, celebrities, the great and the good and, of course, his loyal, local customers who helped him build Finnegan’s into an internationally acclaimed watering hole.

‘His quick wit will be sadly missed. However, the image of him sitting on his favourite bar stool observing everything will always be fondly remembered by all of us who knew and admired him.”

One guest at his pub will definitely fondly remember her lunch there. Michelle Obama, her daughters and Bono turned the village into a movie set in 2013. Amid scenes of stressed Secret Service men talking into their sleeves and choppers whirling overhead, Dan’s chef son Paul cooked up a feast for the First Lady.

Dan fan: Dave Kenny watches rugby with Dan Finnegan in 2012. (Dan bought the pint.)

“Dan was very proud of Paul,” said Donal Finnegan, who recalled that his mischievous brother took great delight in telling the world’s media Mrs Obama had dined on fish and chips.

Pub regular Andrew Fitzpatrick, Chairman of Monster Entertainment, remembered Dan’s impish side. “The first time I was back in the pub after getting my kidney stones seen to, he met me at the door, put his hand on my arm and said, ceremoniously, ‘Welcome home, you’re a “stone” lighter!’”

Local salon owner Matt Malone recalled one quiet afternoon when he was having lunch in the pub with friends. “It turned 4 o’clock and Dan started to surround our table with high stools. I asked what he was up to. He replied: ‘You’re the only customers here this afternoon. So you’re not getting away!’.”

Dan Finnegan was born in Ballinagh, Co. Cavan in 1927 – the last of 10 children.  He went to Dublin to apprentice in the Old Dubliner pub in Temple Bar and, after a few years, he met his beloved wife Colleen  and they decided to emigrate to Canada.

Donal, Neil and CathyAnne  were born in Toronto, where Dan worked as a tram driver in Toronto Transit. After eight years, in 1962, they returned and opened a pub in Bride Street with his brother Peter. They sold that in 1970 and Dan and family moved  to the sleepy village of Dalkey, where he opened his Sorrento Lounge. 

“He was a great social man,” said Donal. “And customers loved him. Whenever he couldn’t remember someone’s name he always called them ‘Me ould flower’, and he got away with it every time.

“He was incredibly proud  of all of us, especially my brothers Peter and Alan for opening bars in Spain and he used to love talking about it.

“My other brother, Paul, came to work in Finnegan’s in 1989, and added a new dimension to the pub with  his food.’

Tragically, Paul died suddenly nine years ago, leaving a young wife, Ana, and their two children, Isobel and Sean. 

“But we’ve kept things going. It was great to watch the old man get over the hump [of his death]. It was very hard, but Mum’s help got him through it.

“A lot of tragic events happened in his life,” Donal continued, also referencing Neil’s rugby accident as a teen which has confined his acerbically witty brother to a wheelchair.

Alan Finnegan recalled the last few weeks of Dan’s  life. “I really came to appreciate the relationship my siblings had with him. I began to understand that we’d all been his babies once and that the time had come for us to all return that love and care he’d shown us as a family. 

“Family businesses can be battlefields, full of broken relationships and recrimination. That never happened in our family. At  least nothing that wasn’t forgotten about or agreed upon the next day. Dad was a great man and we all loved him.”

Dan Finnegan, father of the late Paul Finnegan, is survived by his wife Colleen, Donal, Neil, CathyAnne, Michelle, Peter, Alan and a wide circle of family and friends. 

As one who knew Mr Finnegan well for nearly 40  years put it: ‘It was always happy hour in the pub when Dan was around.’

Meet The Liberator

Sunday Independent, 29 April 2012

He’s a Karate Kid from the Liberties who suffered sexual abuse, poverty and a long list of personal tragedies. Despite these obstacles, Derek O’Neill has transformed countless lives worldwide and now rubs shoulders with Christina Aguilera and Simon Cowell. Here, he talks about following in the footsteps of Bono and Winston Churchill…

By Dave Kenny

You’ve never heard of Derek O’Neill. By his own admission, he is one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets. But for the past 15 years, Liberties-born Derek has been quietly transforming the lives of countless people.

After witnessing devastating poverty in India, he set up the charitable SQ (Spiritual Quotient) Foundation to build schools, hospitals and other practical institutions in the world’s poorest regions.

It now operates in 11 countries, and 97 per cent of all money raised goes directly to source. Derek absorbs most of the administration costs. To date, he has helped more than 35,000 children.

He should be a household name for his humanitarian work, yet most of us have never heard of him.

Derek’s also an author, transformational therapist, motivational speaker and adviser to some of the world’s top business leaders. He rubs shoulders with Samuel L Jackson, Morgan Freeman and Christina Aguilera. Oh, and he knows Simon Cowell. If you don’t think that’s an impressive CV, then keep it to yourself. You don’t want to annoy Derek: he’s also a master of the martial arts.

Next Sunday, Derek will be honoured with Variety International’s prestigious humanitarian award at its world conference gala dinner in Dublin. Past recipients have included Winston Churchill, Bono, Henry Kissinger and Frank Sinatra. The accolade may finally bring him out of the shadows where he’s been labouring so long.

Forty-eight-year-old Derek is not what you would expect in a man who was raised by an alcoholic widow and has braved poverty, sexual abuse and the perils of kung fu fighting. He is gentle, eloquent and has surprisingly small hands for a warrior. They look more suited to arts and crafts than the craft of martial arts. His neatly cropped hair is a reminder of his time in the army.

“I was born with a full mop of black hair – they called me the fifth Beatle when I popped out of my mother on the dance floor,” he jokes, referring to the fact that he was born at Dublin’s Rainbow Club disco.

One of seven siblings, Derek comes from a classically poor Liberties background. “My dad worked in Jacob’s earning just the basic wage. There were nine of us in a one-bedroomed ‘artisan dwelling’. We took turns sharing the bed,” he laughs.

He was a loner as a child and would sit by himself in Patrick’s Park or down by the Dodder all day, meditating. His love of solitude and the outdoors earned him the familial nickname of “Nature Boy”. It also earned him some unwanted – and scarring – attention.

“We lived close to the Iveagh Lodgings and there would often be ‘dirty old men’, destitutes, hanging around. When I was six, I went to the toilet in Patrick’s Park and was sexually assaulted by one of them.”

Teenage sweethearts: Derek and Linda pictured in Arizona

His experience of sexual abuse didn’t confine itself to St Patrick’s Park. Derek’s brother Brian was raped and beaten in the notorious Letterfrack Industrial School.

He had been sent there for three years after “borrowing” the local butcher’s bike. He was eight years old.

“Brian was a fun-loving boy and just wanted a go on the bike. The butcher thought he was trying to steal it. He had a horrible time in Letterfrack and used to be beaten with a hurley and sexually abused.

“Brian developed alcohol and drug problems in later life. He was one of the first people to sue the religious orders and won his case in 2004. He left the courtroom and had a heart attack. A few days later, he died. It was as if he had been holding on for years to have his day in court.”

In 1970, the O’Neill family moved to Tallaght. His father was told, in neo-Cromwellian fashion, to go to the fields of Belgard or lose his job.

“It was like an ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Liberties. My mother absolutely hated it. She was a real Liberties woman. I, on the other hand, loved it as I hadn’t been ‘Libertised’. There were open fields and rivers, and I made new friends.”

The O’Neill’s new house had all the ‘mod cons’. “We had a cooker with an electric ring. Back in John Dillon Street we had had a gas cooker. I remember my sister once put me up on the gas rings to tie my laces. They hadn’t cooled down fully and I burned my backside. I’ll always remember that gas cooker.”

Derek’s new life in Tallaght wasn’t all idyllic. At the age of 10 he was sexually abused a second time.

“One day this man followed me into a toilet to rape me. I could feel him between my legs. I ran home and told my dad. He didn’t believe me.” Brian eventually persuaded him to investigate Derek’s claim. The abuser subsequently moved out of the area. Derek later heard he had died of cancer.

“Years later, when I was 18, I spotted the man on a train. He was supposed to be dead. I asked if he knew who I was. ‘Sort of’, he replied. I lost control and started beating him. The older me was finally able to stand up for the younger me.”

Shortly after this, Derek entered the army. He hated it and left after six years, in his mid-20s with a wife (Linda) and two kids (Gavin and Orla) to provide for. “I did a bit of everything I could. I cleaned windows, cut grass…” His gardening work led him, indirectly, to seek psychotherapy.

“I had a terrible phobia about wasps, so I went to a psychotherapist. During our session I remembered that there had been a wasp in the toilet when the man tried to rape me. That was when I knew I needed therapy to deal with the abuse.

“I didn’t have any money and discovered that it was cheaper to study to become a therapist than pay for more sessions. There were social welfare grants.” Three years later, Derek was running a successful practice with a nine-month waiting list.

In 1998, Derek and Linda travelled to India for a holiday. The journey would change their lives. “We flew into Madras and while we were pushing through the crowds, we noticed a group of street children. We thought they were playing in a sandpit. It turned out they were amputees. We were told that criminal gangs inject these children with bleach to deform them. It makes them more valuable as beggars.

“Linda and I decided that, from then on, we would just take what money we needed to live on and give the rest to charity.” They went on to raise millions for the impoverished children of the subcontinent.

“The worst thing I have ever seen was a toddler with leprosy. I picked him up and his flesh fell off – practically his entire arm. There were villages full of children like him.” Derek’s spiritual nature and psychological training helped him to cope when faced with such horrors.

Yet another horror – 9/11 – drew Derek to New York, where he held his first ‘More Truth Will Set You Free’ psychology-meets-spirituality workshop. He now tours the United States, sharing his experiences with thousands of people and “empowering them to help themselves, as I have done”.

He even helped Spiderman find his mojo again. Derek was called in after the disastrous opening of Bono’s Broadway musical to “harmonise” the show’s cast and producers. The show went on to become a success.

Between their charity work and Derek’s burgeoning US career, the O’Neills appeared to have it all. That all changed on August 25, 2008.

“I fell in love with Linda when I was 18. We just knew we were for each other. Less than a year later, we were married. She was my right arm. Four years ago, I got a call from Orla who said Linda had a headache and didn’t look great. She was taken to hospital, where she was diagnosed with a migraine and sent home.

“Three days later Linda was dead. She was only 47.”

How do you move on from the death of your teenage sweetheart? Derek’s answer is, unsurprisingly, philosophical: “Death is part of life. We should cry when someone is born and celebrate when they die. Heaven is your rest after the hell of this world.”

I confess to being sceptical about aphorisms like this and the New Age methods of healing his website offers. I tell Derek I have an aphorism of my own, for would-be criminals. “It’s better to find the joy locked inside yourself, than find yourself locked inside The Joy.”

He laughs and it’s easy to see how he attracts thousands to his workshops. He’s instantly likeable. When he says that receiving the Variety Club gong will be the “proudest moment of my career”, there is no doubting his sincerity.

The award came about after a chance meeting with Kevin and Betty Wall of Variety Club Ireland.

“They told me they wanted to buy a Liberty Swing. These enable paraplegic kids to experience the playground thrill of swinging. I was so moved I promised to buy one for every county in Ireland. Kevin (who has since passed away) nominated me for the award. I didn’t think I had a chance of winning it. Hopefully, it will raise awareness here of the SQ Foundation,” he says.

Hopefully, it will raise awareness of this extraordinary Dub as well. He deserves to be recognised.

We shake hands and he leaves to enjoy a day off at Punchestown races. No one takes any notice of this ultimate “secret millionaire” as he exits the bar. Nobody knows who he is.

They do now.

Owner of iconic Dalkey bookshop recalls 36 years among the covers

‘I once discounted a book for Colin Farrell. He looked like he was on his uppers,’ says Bono’s bookseller

Irish Daily Mail, 17 April 2012

By Dave Kenny

He’s sold books to Bono and Maeve Binchy, and been mentioned in despatches from the Middle East. Declining book sales, however, have forced Michael Simonds to turn the final page on Dalkey’s iconic Exchange Bookshop.

“This is not a decision I’m taking on a whim. I’ve been here since 1975 and would have liked to have carried on. The books trade is in a state of flux. Sales are down 30pc on two years ago and more people are buying online. I don’t blame them. I think people want to support their local bookshop, but sometimes it’s just not convenient,” he says, with trademark charity.

Despite the popularity of Kindle and iPad, he still believes in the “technology” of books.

“One of my customers showed me a 14th century book he owns. That technology has stood the test of time. Even a stone house will eventually fall down. Where does that leave emails in the future? People were trading books hundreds of years ago. My misfortune was to be born at the end of 500 years of publishing.”

With the closure of the Exchange, the Dalkey Book Festival will find itself without a bookshop this year. In June, thousands of tourists will flock to the village to spot their favourite authors. Maeve Binchy, Neil Jordan, Declan Hughes, Martina Devlin, Brian Keenan, Joe O’Connor, Don Conroy and Sarah Webb, all live within walking distance of the shop. As one local sardonically points out, “you can’t throw a stick down the main street without hitting a writer. And there are plenty of writers we’d like to hit with sticks around here…”

Michael is concerned that his departure will leave a literary void. “The library is closing for three months too. The village won’t have an obvious book outlet for the festival. It will be a bit odd.”

Closed book: Michael Simonds locks up his world-renowned bookshop

His shop – which has featured in several books, including BBC journalist John Simpson’s autobiography – has served some literary giants over the years. Curmudgeonly playwright, Hugh Leonard, was a regular.

“He exchanged books here right up to his death. He was great, but could be quite brusque sometimes. Once, I didn’t get him a book he wanted and he wrote about me in his column. I thought it was like cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer.”

On another occasion, the widow of a legendary politician gave him a tongue-lashing over his accent. Michael comes from a privileged, Anglo-Irish background and professes to be “West Brit, but Irish”. Referring to the War of Independence, the lady told Michael that “we should have shot the lot of you”.

The vast majority of celebrity customers have been pleasant, however. “Bono has come in a few times, but I wouldn’t necessarily recognise him. I’m very short-sighted,” he explains.

“One day a young man came in and bought a book about a French actor. He was scruffy and very Bohemian-looking. I thought he was a poet on his uppers, so I gave him a discount. Someone later told me he was Colin Farrell.”

Once, Michael witnessed a world-famous customer being ‘collared’ by the law. The actor had parked his BMW outside the shop.

“Minutes later the door opened and a guard asked whose car was on the double yellow lines. Pierce Brosnan popped up and said ‘it’s mine’. The guard made him move it. Fair play to him, he didn’t care that he was James Bond.”

Celebrities and locals alike are saddened by the passing of the Exchange. “People around are lovely, they’ve been so kind,” says Michael, pointing to a row of wine bottles behind the counter.

“We’re losing an institution. Dublin lost Green’s and Dalkey is now losing Michael,” said Liz, a local lady stocking up on last-minute bargains. Her fellow resident, Ryan Tubridy agrees, and believes the picturesque village is losing its “nerdy hub”.

“Losing a bookshop from a village like Dalkey is like having the brain removed. It needs a nerdy hub like the Exchange. It’s one thing ordering a book on Amazon, but Michael spoke to customers about authors, titles and the village itself. I hope some local has the sense to invest in the bookshop.”

Author, Brian Keenan, says he is “stunned” at the closure of his favourite shop. “The Exchange is one of the reasons I come down to the village. I can’t believe it’s closing. My abiding memory of the place is the day, years ago, when I went in to use the photocopier. I looked up and there was the journalist, Robert Fisk, asking Michael for directions.”

They hadn’t seen each other since Beirut, where Fisk had spent years writing about Keenan’s captivity in Lebanon.

“I said ‘what are you doing here?’” said Keenan, “and he said ‘What are YOU doing here?’ We both laughed.”

Fisk uses the shop as a post office, according to Michael. “He has his mail sent here when he’s away reporting.”

Michael has a particular affection for journalists, especially those who used to bring in review copies of books over the years.

“Many years ago I applied for a wine licence. I think wine and books go well together. A lot of the journalists who came in were heavy drinkers. I thought, if they came in with a book, for an extra three pounds they could trade it for a bottle of wine.”

Dreams of Bohemian hacks sipping wine and reading Maeve Binchy in the shop were quashed by the aptly-named Judge Hubert Wine.

‘Bohemian’ is word that sits uneasily on Michael’s shoulders, although he is undoubtedly a ‘creative’ himself. Prior to being a bookseller he was a published songwriter. Music runs in the family and his sister Clodagh has played with the likes of Thin Lizzie and Mike ‘Tubular Bells’ Oldfield. There is always music playing in the background at the Exchange. A box of tin whistles is perched on the higher reaches of shelves at the back of the shop. Ballad books sit alongside whimsical histories of Dublin and Lady Gregory’s Irish folk tales.

“It seems odd, as a bookseller, not to be ordering in new stock,” he says wistfully, looking at his soon-to-disassembled shelves. “I’ll be giving a lot of those books to charity.”

After 36 years of selling books, Michael plans to spend the next chapter of his life writing and publishing them. He has already produced two glossy tourist guidebooks which sell for €3. He will miss chatting to his customers though.

“Kids I sold to back in the 1970s have grown up with the Exchange, and now come in with their children. I’ll miss them all.

“I’m sad to be closing, but I’m looking forward to retirement. There are a lot of things I’d still like to do. I’d really like to learn how to play golf,” he says, clocking up his very last sale on the till.

“Let’s say €8.00 for that,” he tells his final customer, discounting a book by 50pc. He walks them to the door as a group of locals arrive with a book-shaped cake. Even in retirement there is no getting away from books. Inevitable gags are cracked about “eating his words” as Michael says his farewells.

He turns the key. Another chapter in Dublin’s history comes to an end.

* If you have any memories of the Exchange Bookshop, I’d love to hear them. Please write them up on the comments page, below. *