FOR playwright and singer, Dezy Walls, his award-winning play, Searching for Daddly-Dee, is cathartic. It deals with his relationship with his father, who died in the Tuskar Rock plane crash on March 24 1968.
Dezy, now aged 73, was 19 when his father lost his life on his way to a business trip in London. His body was never found. The Aer Lingus Viscount was on a flight between Cork and Heathrow when it crashed into the sea near Tuskar Rock in Wexford. All 57 passengers and four crew members died.
Dezy, the second eldest of 12 children living in Glounthane at the time, had a sometimes tense relationship with his father, who was the operations manager at the Whitegate Oil Refinery. The young Walls wanted to work in showbusiness.
Dezy wasn’t from a showbiz family although his father was a talented pianist and songwriter in his spare time. Dezy’s father didn’t believe his son could make a living as an entertainer. He wanted him to study mathematics.
Dezy reluctantly went to UCC to do that, in order to please his father. His last encounter with him saw him get out of the family car and slam the door in anger. There had been a disagreement between father and son, with Dezy’s father giving out to him for socialising too much when he should have been studying.
When the 44-year-old Desmond Walls lost his life, Dezy didn’t initially cry. But he cried after three months and when he wrote the play, “I cried it all out.”
Dezy wrote Searching For Daddly-Dee for the fiftieth anniversary of his father’s death in 2018. It was for his extended family. Dezy performed the one-man show in a room above a restaurant in Wexford.
“The family loved it and they weren’t surprised when it won an IMRO radio award as ‘Drama of the Year’.”
Dezy had been encouraged to adapt the show for radio and it was broadcast on Newstalk. He was supposed to perform the play last year but it was cancelled because of Covid.
Initially, Dezy was supposed to write the play with his brother, Peter.
“But he withdrew because he found it too emotional. I felt the opposite. It allowed me to work things out that I hadn’t been dealing with. You often bury things that are too painful. I find writing can bring things up.”
The day of the tragedy “became the biggest thing in my life. People say you shouldn’t keep repeating it in your head, but I need to”.
And there are some very good memories for Dezy and his siblings. (Their mother, whose youngest child at the time of the crash was only 11 months old, had to go back to work. She moved her brood to Dublin where she came from.)
Desmond Walls could turn his hand to anything. His hobbies included beekeeping, and he built a swimming pool and a tennis court at home. He also built an extension to the house.
“He did everything. He was also a musician and composer. He used to come home from work in his suit and he couldn’t wait to take it off. He’d wear an old jumper with a hole in it and would be fixing his boat.
"It’s funny that he was surprised that I wanted to work in entertainment. He loved everything to do with music, but he didn’t see it as a possible way to make a living. That was a source of tension between us. I wanted to work full time as an entertainer.
“It was a source of confusion in my life for 20 years. It was like I continued the argument on both sides.
“Most of my opinions were feelings. When you’re a 17 year old, people say you don’t know what life is about. They say it’s not about feelings but practicalities.”
About 18 months after his father’s death, Dezy went to see a psychiatrist.
“My central problem was related to my father. I was seriously depressed. I couldn’t open the door, even if there was a million quid behind it. It took me a while to work my way out of depression. I know a lot of people suffer with depression. I didn’t have it badly. I’ve had a lot of good things in my life. I have nothing to complain about.”
But Dezy went through a tough time after the tragedy. For a while, a part of him “never gave up hope” that, somehow, his father had survived the plane crash.
“I went to London actually, expecting to meet him there. He was going there, so he must be there, I thought. The mind plays tricks. I had an unfinished conversation with my father. Maybe, even if he lived, it would still have been unfinished.”
One day in London, a Welsh man slipped Dezy 50 pence.
“This man said, ‘you’re a little bit down on your luck.’ I thought then that we’re not alone in this world. I wasn’t long term homeless or anything like that. But I was in a bad way. I had no money and I think I walked the streets the night before because I had nowhere to sleep.”
A father of three grown-up children, Dezy lives in Derrynane with his second wife, who runs a B&B. He didn’t finish his degree.
He carved out a career singing and plays piano, a lot of the time in Kinsale, as well as doing corporate work in Holland and Germany and private house concerts all over America. He is working on another personal play, The Piano Man.
Recently, Dezy and his siblings were invited to watch a video of a sports day at Whitegate Oil Refinery. “It was fabulous. My father appeared in it four or five times. He was having great fun that day running in races and everything. it brought him back to life.”
Searching For Daddly-Dee is on tonight and tomorrow (November 23-24) at the Cork Arts Theatre. See https://corkartstheatre.com/