What were you like growing up?
When I look back as a little boy in Kerry, it was always sunny. I don’t remember any rain or fog. I’d be out kicking a football and only came in when it was dark.
I hated school and I just did not want to be there. Later on I became a teacher, which is a bit of a joke because I hated the sight of school when I was there.
How did coming from a big family inform you?
I’m the second last in a family of five, so you had to fight for everything. You learn those life skills early on. It is good character building.
And up until I was 15, my fashion sense was handed down from my older brothers. There was no such thing as going out buying stuff. I had this green jumper that my brother Kevin wore for five years and Danny wore for six. I got a good seven years out of it. Talk about sustainability.
Choose three words to describe yourself
Listener, empathetic and a bit wired.
Why do you love The Rose of Tralee?
It’s a show that allows me to be myself and to have a lot of fun on stage. Also, it’s a celebration of Irish women. If you put a rose from 1980 with some of this year’s ones, she would be lost because the world has changed so much.
Back then they were nurses and teachers and now they are doctors and engineers. Roses can also be married now. I’d love to see a trans Rose. The rule is if you identity as a woman, you can be The Rose of Tralee.
I don’t think I really became a man until I became a dad. It was one of those things where I was a lot happier. I didn’t realise there was this extra gear, this love gear
Every year you speak to two special women after the show...
I speak to my mother and Mary Kennedy. Mary throws her arms around me and tells me that she is proud of me. I kind of wait for it. I’ve looked up to her all my life, and I still do.
Tell us about your monk-like existence during the contest.
Six weeks before the show I do lots of walking, go to the gym and I eat chicken casseroles with very little salt. It’s all about having energy for the show and helping with the party pieces.
They are always interesting. I don’t drink any alcohol during that time. When they are all out partying all week, I’m up in my bedroom at 8pm. I’m kind of the loneliest man down there.
How has fatherhood changed you?
I don’t think I really became a man until I became a dad. It was just one of those things where I was a lot happier. I didn’t realise that there was this extra gear there, this love gear. It’s different love than the love you have for your wife or mother or brother. This fella is your own and you want to be at home all the time. I certainly suffered from dad guilt going out to work but you just have to do it and push on.
How did your work/life balance change after becoming a dad?
I used to be a great fella for taking work home with me. But then after we had Micheál, all that changed. I am gone from 8am until 8pm. I come home, lie down next to him and we have a story and maybe even sing a song. The whole world could be falling apart outside and it wouldn’t bother me. I could never do that before.
Who are your role models and why?
My parents, because they set us on the right road and taught us right from wrong. And Mary McAleese is inspirational. I got to know her when she was president. She is a really strong person and she did a lot of behind-the-scenes work for north-south relations.
She has an unbelievable warmth to her. I remember one time I was hosting something and she said, “Can we thank this fine hunk of a Kerry man.” I thought, oh my God I want that as my ringtone.
Any unusual responses from your TV viewers?
Once I mentioned in passing that I loved Toffeepop biscuits, and the next week people kept posting them in. I’d say I got about 15 packets.
‘The Rose of Tralee’ is on RTÉ One on August 22 and 23