Frank Brandon’s Column

Fond memories of ‘Dear Frankie’

Frank on Ireland’s most famous agony aunt; Covid issues – including Frank and Una – and a local rugby success story

Way back in the days of the sponsored programmes on Radio Éireann (for all of us lucky enough to remember them), we had, amongst many others, the iconic Glen Abbey Show. The show was the spawning ground of Frank Kelly’s famous creation – Gobnait O‘Lunacy – Walton’s music show, which gave us the never-to-be-forgotten slogan, ‘If you feel like singing, do sing an Irish song’, and of course the Jacobs biscuits show, which gave us the wonderful Frankie Byrneand the ‘Dear Frankie’ opening line which afforded us some memorable moments of hilarity all those years ago.

For those who do not remember Frankie, she was the first of the agony aunts. Each week, to the amusement of thousands of young lads like myself (and many others) Frankie would deal with the romantic problems facing the Irish people. While everyone knew that most of the letters were probably made up or non-existent, in her absolutely unique and sensitive voice, Frankie would issue her advice on how to solve the problem.

‘Dear Frankie’ became a catchphrase for all of us. We would spend hours upon hours making up the most outlandish romantic problems and pretending we were Frankie – giving even more outlandish solutions to the already ridiculous questions. I know it was probably very childish, but it was great craic, and Frankie Byrne is someone I have never forgotten.

And so it was with a huge amount of nostalgia that, as I was eating the dinner the other evening, I heard her familiar husky voice on the TV behind me. Without even turning, I recognised her immediately. The sad thing about Frankie was that as she tried to solve everyone else’s problems, she could never solve her own. Her personal life was close to being a disaster.

She was rumoured to have been in a 30-year relationship with a well-known TV broadcaster and journalist and to have had a daughter with him. However, when she had to give up the girl for adoption, she turned to drink and eventually died from dementia, which doctors said was brought on by the drink. Fortunately, she met her daughter, Valerie, ten years before she died, and they spent some quality time together.

However, as I am writing this on Valentine’s Day, the day when romance is supposed to be the main item on the agenda (hope you got the card, the chocolates, and the flowers, or God help you), I prefer to think of Frankie as her adoring public knew her. She was our first and favourite agony aunt, someone regarded as the person who laid the foundations for radio shows that followed, such as The Gerry Ryan Show and Liveline. Dear Frankie, thank you for the memories!


Reader highlights lack of Covid testing facilities in Athlone

As we still struggle to sort out the Covid vaccine situation, one of my readers contacted me to highlight the lack of testing facilities in Athlone.

He wondered why a facility that was in the carpark of the college at the beginning of the pandemic is now closed. As a result, this reader says that people on the Leinster side of the town have to drive to Mullingar to get tested, while those in Monksland and on the western side have a pretty long journey to make to get to Castlerea. He feels that because of the distances and inconvenience involved in these journeys, a number of people who are displaying symptoms and should be getting tested are neglecting to do so, instead staying out in the community when they should be self-isolating at home and reducing the risk of community transmission.

Obviously I live a long way from Athlone, so I wouldn’t really have a clue as to what goes on in the Midlands town, but the reader who contacted me feels there should be a testing centre there and that such a centre would encourage more people to get themselves checked out. It seems to me that such a large centre of population should have one, but obviously that is a decision for the HSE or the Government. So in the meantime, if you feel any way unwell, you should head for Mullingar or Castlerea.


Court of public opinion convicts Frank and Una!

Back to Covid and the rules and regulations that we are all under… on Joe Duffy’s Liveline programme, two old-aged pensioners drove some listeners mad when they told Joe that they had effectively disobeyed the lockdown, flown out of Dublin Airport and headed to the sun.

Frank from Sligo and Una from Limerick told Joe of how they had availed of €20 one-way Ryanair flights to head off to two different parts of Gran Canaria. The listeners were outraged. If they had committed the most gruesome of murders they would not have been vilified as much. It made me wonder how has it come to this.

Fair enough, we are all advised to behave responsibly, but these two pensioners were flying off what were presumably socially distanced flights, and were not going to come back for the foreseeable future. Frank said he was going to stay in an area that has far less Covid than we have, and with the benefit of sun, sea and an open hospitality sector, he has no plans to return until he gets called up for his vaccine. As for Una, she seemed open-minded as to when she might return, and all I can say is – why not?

What is the benefit of forcing those pensioners to stay here – where Covid is still rampant – and where people like Una and Frank are facing loneliness, isolation and despair? Fair enough, if they were just hopping out for a week or so, then the outcry would be justified, but when they both bought one-way tickets, it’s different. Let them off to enjoy the sun and the pool, and good luck to them.

It is a very different scenario from the lowlifes who made dental appointments in Tenerife with no intention of ever turning up for them – just using them to camouflage their plans of having a little vacation. To even think up such a scheme to bypass the flight rules shows how contemptible they are. I would absolutely throw the book at those chancers, but I would show a lot more compassion to Una and Frank.

Even back home, while we all accept that we need to restrict our movements, in my opinion after all these months of hardship and restrictions there has to be some common sense shown in dealing with individual cases. For example, over in England I see Amanda Holden has been reported to the police for making a ‘mercy dash’ to see her parents after getting a distressing phone call from her elderly father. Surely there must be mitigating circumstances taken into consideration in such cases, as indeed there is in every type of crime. How sad is it that such a trip now can actually constitute a crime! Covid-19 really has changed everything utterly.


And finally…

Finally for this week, and on to rugby matters (but surprisingly not about the Irish international men’s team, which is, in my opinion, getting a lot of unfair criticism this week). We have a good news story with a big local connection. Larissa Muldoon, whose father Vincent is from Donamon, and whose late grandfather (also Vincent) had many a deal with me back in my furniture days, has been selected on the Irish Ladies rugby team of the decade at scrum-half. This is a massive honour and one that is well deserved.

Larissa amassed 48 caps before retiring from the international game. She became a development officer for the GAA in north Co. Dublin, before switching codes back again to rugby and taking up a position as one of the Community rugby officers in Leinster. In 2020 she rejoined the Irish panel, and while plans for this year’s tournament are a bit up in the air at the moment, it does look as if the Six Nations will go ahead, and I feel sure she will be part of it.

It can sometimes be overlooked that back in the 1990s Creggs were the number one ladies rugby team in Ireland. In 1994, five Creggs players were capped for Ireland. So all these years later, it’s good to see a neighbour’s child doing so well.

Larissa has plans to visit Creggs RFC when she can, and it would be great to welcome her here. In the meantime, congratulations, Larissa – well done on this major honour.