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heartbroken John Clarke on missing wife Mariane Finucane: 'There’s a huge part of my life gone'

In a remarkable TV documentary, heartbroken husband John opens the door into the private world they shared for 40 years.

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Marian and John

Marian and John

Marian Finucane died last year on January 2

Marian Finucane died last year on January 2

Marian in 1980

Marian in 1980

Marian in he RTÉ studio in 1995

Marian in he RTÉ studio in 1995

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Marian and John

A year ago yesterday, John Clarke was left devastated after discovering the lifeless body of his wife, Marian Finucane, at their Co. Kildare home.

The RTÉ giant of broadcasting had died in her sleep from pneumonia at the age of 69.

In life, Marian had tenaciously guarded her private life and that of her family. But now, in a remarkable TV documentary to be broadcast tomorrow, her heartbroken husband John opens the door into the private world they shared for 40 years.

It begins with a recording of Marian's beloved John giving the eulogy at her funeral, saying: "I want to talk about Marian, my Marian, a woman who I've loved for 40 years, a woman who for me always made the colours brighter, the world a bit easier to live in."

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Marian and John at a friend's wedding

Marian and John at a friend's wedding

Marian and John and in 1986

Marian and John and in 1986

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Marian and John at a friend's wedding

Looking back today, John recalls their first meeting 40 years ago: "The first time I met Marian at around half-past five on a sunny summer's evening I was going up the stairs to see my friend, Arthur Gibney. This tall blondie woman with a pair of red trousers was coming down and we said hello.

"She said, 'Are you waiting for the quare fella?' I said, 'I am, would you like a drink?' She said, 'Yeah', and we disappeared to the pub (Toner's) across the road in Baggot Street...and that was the start."

At this point, 29-year-old Marian had been married for five years to a fellow architect. John was also married with three young children.

Traumatic

In an interview with Mike Murphy, Marian spoke of her marriage break-up. "He was a really, really nice guy," she says of her first husband, who is not named. "We really got on brilliantly, but we just weren't a good marriage."

This was a traumatic time in their lives, as John explains: "When we met we were both married. I had a wife and children, and getting separated from the people you marry is a very emotional, difficult thing for all parties, and I think both she and I felt a tremendous amount of guilt over it."

John and Marian were besotted: "There was this sort of mad chemistry that pulled us together and we shared so many underlying things in common. Somebody said we were like two 15-year-olds that were obsessed with each other and never grew up," he says.

When they met, Marian was an architect and John a businessman. Marian went on to find her passion for broadcasting, starting as an announcer in RTÉ TV on a fortnightly contract.

Then they bought a farm in Westmeath, "which we could ill afford," John says. And he became a farmer.

Together, they had two children, Sinéad and Jack. John says Marian "worked very hard to involve my first children in the family".

For many years while living in Westmeath they regularly entertained friends at their rural farmhouse. They included Nuala O'Faolain and her then partner Nell McCafferty, who came down every weekend. The two couples often went on foreign holidays together.

"It was great then, we ran an open house," John says. "It was the good life."

Marian, he reveals, "was very shy" and often took the formidable Nell McCafferty as her guest to parties if John declined to go.

Despite her professional reputation as a tough interviewer, John says that his late wife was laid-back in private. "From my perspective, she was the easiest-going woman in the world," he says.

They were a perfect match. "I can never remember a moment in all the years when I said, 'I'm bored,'" John points out.

Marian's broadcasting career soared. "She loved the idea of being part of the national conversation," he says.

But then their happy lives changed forever when their eight-year-old daughter, Sinéad, died from leukaemia in 1990. John had donated his bone marrow to Sinéad, but it didn't work. He tells how his daughter died at home in his arms.

Dying

Up to then, he says: "Myself and Marian had led a charmed, wonderful, happy, carefree and irresponsible life.

"The only real sadness I knew with Marian was the death of Sinéad. The drop of her name made her cry her eyes out."

Although distraught, Marian worked through Sinéad's illness presenting RTÉ's Liveline. "Marian went to work every day with the full knowledge that the child was dying, but it was her way of coping with it," John reveals.

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Marian in he RTÉ studio in 1995

Marian in he RTÉ studio in 1995

Marian in he RTÉ studio in 1995

"She believed that she had to stay sane for Sinéad. Marian's view was that if she was there [at home] all day long she couldn't hack this façade and she'd just sit and cry, and that wouldn't be good for Sinéad."

After the funeral, she was never able to visit her daughter's grave. "Marian never recovered from Sinéad's death, never," John adds. "And one of the things she didn't do is, she didn't visit the grave. I don't think she could."

However, as Marian had requested, she is now buried with Sinéad.

Marian's first grandchild was born five weeks after her death, when Jack's wife, Jenny, gave birth to a baby girl.

They named her Sinéad.

'I had a great life with Marian'

Marian Finucane and her husband John had just returned from what would be their final exotic holiday when he found her dead in bed last January 2.

They had been to India, which he describes as “one of the adventures of a lifetime.”

Recalling the day she died at their home in Punchestown, John reveals that he had gone into town, leaving Marian sleeping.

“I came back some hours later and she was still sleeping,” he says. “I went in and looked at her, and she was dead. I just couldn’t believe it.”

He says that Marian, who was a smoker and had a heart condition, had been in ill health for her final couple of years.

She died of pneumonia, which they didn’t know she had.

“There’s a huge part of my life gone, and a huge part of that is talk and conversation,” he says. “We were never-ending gabbing away to each other.

"Now I sit in. I don’t like the radio any more, I don’t like the television any more. Just at the moment I can’t read, the concentration is gone.”

John reveals that he tried to shake himself out of his grief shortly after Marian died by hosting a party to celebrate her life with their friends.

“That didn’t happen because of the bloody virus,” he says. “Once it’s lifted we will throw a party because we had a wonderful life…[there were] pitfalls, disasters many and big, but by and large a wonderful life.”

He recalls that a month before her death, Marian turned to him and said: “You’ll never know how much I love you.”

John clings to the memory. “It doesn’t get much better than that,” he adds.

  • MARIAN will be broadcast on RTÉ One TV tomorrow at 9.35pm.

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