The former RTE pundit, All-Ireland footballer and barrister from the staunchly republican village of Dungiven, in Co Derry, was brought to tears when he appeared on Virgin Media One’s Sports Stories:Joe Brolly last night and was asked by presenter Tommy Martin about donating the kidney.
“I realised why I had given the kidney was to atone for the taking of a human life by people close to me,” he said.
“To sort of make amends for that,” he said in the first part of a two-part special which concludes on Thursday night.
He said his decision to donate the kidney in 2012 to then stranger Shane Finnegan, a man from his local GAA club in Belfast who has since become a friend, was a pivotal moment in his life.
“It transformed me. I found that I could find some peace,” he said.
He also spoke of growing up not really knowing his father Francie Brolly who was interned for three years at Long Kesh prison during the height of the Troubles when he was a child and died “a stranger to me.”
He recalled seeing a very young Martin McGuinness at the family home whom his mother helped disguise by putting on a fake moustache and beard when he was crossing the border to the Republic as a student.
He described growing up in the 1970s as both an “exhilarating” as well as “scary” time for him that was shrouded in “a veil of secrecy.”
Other comments he made about the Troubles – which were aired ahead of last night’s broadcast – sparked a mixed reaction last week when he spoke about the conduct of Northern Ireland nationalists and the attitude of people in the Republic towards them.
He said: "In the south, sort of typical of post-colonial societies where the British would come, conquer a society and then part of it would get its freedom - the south.
"And then they sit on their hands as the horrors unfold in the place that's still not free and there's a feeling of embarrassment almost and you saw this orthodoxy that started in the south that nationalists in the north were to blame - it was the Catholics and the nationalists that were to blame for what happened.
"If they had just behaved themselves and not worried about civil rights and not taken to the gun everything would’ve been fine," he said.
Those viewpoints "completely [ignore] the reality of soldiers machine gunning people to death and then walking away," he said.
He also spoke his acrimonious split from RTE in 2019 from his spot as a regular GAA pundit on The Sunday Game.
“I think what happened ultimately was a new head of sport came in who had a very civil servant’s view of how it all ought to be done. A very prescriptive view,” he said of RTE’s former managing editor of news Declan McBennett.
“Very quickly I was made to feel uncomfortable. Very quickly. The previous heads of sport, we had a terrific relationship and still keep in contact. Often we’d text each other and all that sort of thing.
“I suppose some people are just allergic to other people and I think he was allergic to me. I think it was just a sense of ‘look, this is only going one way.’ It was very disappointing to me and very hurtful to me as well. That’s life. I was shocked, I mean I was shocked,” he said.
He also said his biggest regret was making an off-hand remark about Marty Morrissey when he was commenting on an Ulster championship GAA match between Cavan and Monaghan in 2015 and said Cavan football was "as ugly as Marty Morrissey" and that "maybe I should apologise to the people of Cavan".
He said later in the broadcast that his comments were “in the spirit of affection" but he later regretted his remarks about RTE’s GAA correspondent and apologised to him about it in person.
"I made some mistakes. I made a very hurtful comment about Marty Morrissey once, which I've always regretted. I went to Marty personally, and apologised for it. Marty always says that I turned him into a sex symbol with that comment.
"That was a very good lesson for me. I'd just given the kidney [to my friend Shane Finnegan], and all of a sudden, I was a national saint. I think around that time I started to get a bit carried away with myself, even though I was thinking, 'Don't get carried away with yourself'. I was being treated almost like a saintly figure in the aftermath of that.
"It was something that I really regretted. I shouldn't have said it. It was off the cuff, and it was cruel. I made up with Marty. He's a great fella, great fun. My greatest regret is turning Marty Morrissey into a sex symbol,” he said.