Has Irish broadcaster and author Frank Delaney pulled through with the “funny, wicked and wonderful” Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister, as a new book suggests? Or could it just be the ungallant boast of the quadruple-married, genteel-speaking Tipperary man who was described by NPR radio in the US, where he lived in 2002, as “the most articulate man alive”?
he princess was lured into a passionate night at his London flat by Delaney’s gentle, emotional rendition of the poem by James Clarence Mangan. Dark Rosaleen, on BBC radio. But after critic and writer John Walsh recounted the encounter in lurid detail, he appears to be suffering from a form of coitus interruptus himself.
“I’ve never established whether the story is true,” he says in his recently published memoir. Circus of Dreams. “The princess was certainly known to have a thing for Irish people. And Delaney was a torrential charmer of middle-aged women.”
Perhaps this affection for the Irish was sparked when she became the first Queen to visit Ireland since independence, six months after her marriage on 6 May 1960 to Antony Armstrong-Jones, whose mother was the Countess of Rosse, lord of Birr Castle. Co Offaly.
The Princess and her new husband spent New Year’s Eve in Birr and sparked a hilarious media firestorm. While ringing the bell to see how her sister was, Queen Elizabeth was put through to Birr 32, the bar of Dooley’s Hotel in town, rather than Birr 23, the Birr Castle, the seat of Lord Rosse, where she was sister was at home.
By this time the bar was being swamped with thirsty reporters and on the Queen’s second attempt the phone was answered by Seamus Brady, a well-known Dublin-based reporter with the Daily express. Scoops all around, printed and embroidered.
The whole debacle would certainly have amused the princess, who is said to have said to the writer Jean Cocteau, “Disobedience is my joy.”
Another English writer, Craig Brown, said in his book: Ninety-nine glimpses of Princess Margaretthat everyone seems to have met her: “She shows up without warning and sticks her head through the door of every other memoir, biography, and diary that, in the second half of the 20’s, was an ashtray.”
We don’t know what Delaney called her during their encounter, but according to Brown, the princess insisted that her lovers address her as “Her Royal Highness.”
Delaney was every upper-class Englishman’s idea of what a true Irishman should be: handsome, charming, humorous, well-read, and egoless without being respectful.
“Women fell in love with him like pheasants on a Windsor shoot,” writes Walsh, a London-born literary lion of Irish descent.
The story Delaney told him begins when he was introduced to Princess Margaret at a party at Broadcasting House, the BBC’s London headquarters. She told him about her love of Irish poetry and asked if he knew about it Dark Rosaleen.
Delaney came from the village of Thomastown in Co Tipperary, a village on the Cashel-Tipperary road. He was the youngest of eight children, born in 1942 to two local schoolteachers and raised by the Christian brothers.
Maybe it was his schooling, but like other Tipperarymen who got on in life – former European Commissioner Dick Burke and Ryanair founder Tony Ryan spring to mind – he preferred a distinctly posh brogue, and he knew it rosaleen Memorized from his school days.
Like Terry Wogan and actor TP McKenna, he began life as a bank teller. He later said, as he was overcome with fame, that he failed his Leaving Cert. But what Frank didn’t lack was confidence in his own abilities.
He eventually arrived in Dublin, by that time married to Eilish Kelliher (1966) and father of three sons, Frank, Bryan and Owen.
He left the Bank of Ireland in 1972 and pursued various careers including a stint as a continuity announcer and sometimes news anchor at Radio Éireann.
One of his neighbors, Pat Quigley, lived in the South Dublin suburbs and was the newly appointed sports editor of the sunday world Newspaper founded in 1973.
After expressing interest in writing a column for the paper, Delaney met with the editors and suggested the idea of a gossipy business column to be published under the headline “The Chairman.”
He was engaged and was remembered in the corridors of World‘s offices, then in Terenure, for stopping by and “charming” the female employees and coming up with crazy marketing ideas.
He also built a following for the name-dropping column, which nicknamed prominent businessmen – “The Golden Boy” in the case of Tony O’Reilly and Stephen “Wheels” O’Flaherty for the founder of the Irish Volkswagen franchise .
But Dublin could not contain his pace of work and ambition and he was soon in London working for the BBC World Service and Radio 4. There he created the award-winning radio program in 1978, bookshelf.
“Better known in Britain than Ireland for his BBC work,” say the authors of Modern Irish Life. “He is [was] an outspoken critic of the restrictive social and moral attitudes of Ireland in the early 20th century.”
Over the next five years, he interviewed countless writers, including John Updike, Stephen King, Christopher Isherwood, Anthony Burgess, and many others.
He also wrote James Joyce’s Odyssey: A Guide to Ulysses’ Dublin (1981), despite previously calling the book “unreadable”.
When challenged over this apparent contradiction, he replied, “Nobody hates a popularizer more than an intellectual.” In 1982 he was a judge for the Booker Prize, awarded to Thomas Keneally Schindler’s Ark.
According to Walsh’s account, it was around this time that he met Princess Margaret, who told him she never missed his poetry please Radio program broadcast on a Sunday evening and repeated the following Saturday evening.
As they had dinner together at a trendy London restaurant, Delaney said to Walsh, Princess Margaret then asked if he would read Dark Rosaleena rebellious Irish poem known as ‘aisling’ on his radio show ‘as a special favor to me’.
He duly did so the following Sunday, expecting some form of royal recognition thereafter, which never came. But the following Saturday night, after the show had been rebroadcast, the phone rang in his flat and the princess was on the other end of the line, telling him how delighted she was and that he had read it “beautifully”.
The following is the version given to Walsh by Delaney at the time and told in it Circus of Dreams.
“‘I think we should meet,’ she [Princess Margaret] called. “Will you come to me or should I come to you?”
“‘It might be better if you came here,’ he replied, and 40 minutes later her chauffeur dropped her off at his flat in Hammersmith.
“‘She stayed until Monday morning,’ he said in a groggy voice. ‘John! I saw her eating cornflakes.
“‘Did you actually like her,’ I asked, as if this were a normal conversation. After all, she’s about 10 years older than you [12 years to be exact].
“‘Oh god, yes,’ he said. “Her skin was so soft”.
“‘Just out of interest,’ I said. “Did it turn you on to be an Irishman reading the Queen of England’s sister a nationalistic poem about the Irish rebellion and then having her come over to have sex with you?”
“‘It hadn’t crossed my mind,’ he said. ‘I was just amazed by what happened’.”
Walsh says he can’t find any record of it Dark Rosaleen in the index of poetry please.
“But the story was so detailed, his account of the princess’s fascination with the poem so plausible, that I can’t help but hope it might have been,” he concludes.
In 1988, Delaney became famous for his television series The Celts, married Susan Collier. After their divorce, he “briefly” married writer Salley Vickers in 1999. They divorced in 2002, just as she was becoming quite famous as a writer in her own right. Delaney moved on, came to the United States and settled in Kent, Connecticut, where he married Diane Meier in September of that year.
He was a prolific author with a tremendous amount of fiction, non-fiction, and podcasts. His fourth wife ran a successful strategic consulting firm and together they wrote a screenplay based on his book tell pictures (1993).
Francis James Joseph Raphael Delaney – his eyes rolled up when someone addressed him by his full name – died on February 21, 2017 at the age of 75 of complications from a stroke.
Regardless of what happened to Delaney, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, maintained for much of her life a strong and personal connection to Tipperary and Ireland through her friendship with Ned Ryan of the village of Upperchurch, who is considered “a mainstay of the life of the Princess, a fixture in Windsor shootings and vacations in the Caribbean and southern France”. She weathered the ups and downs of a turbulent life until her death in 2002 at the age of 72.
Circus of Dreams: Adventures in the 1980s Literary World by John Walsh is published by Constable
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/the-princess-and-the-posh-irish-charmer-41650792.html The princess and the posh Irish charmer