To those of us on the outside looking in, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran appears bulletproof in many ways.
Boxer by name, Boxer by nature - despite not being the biggest guy in the world, his larger-than-life character and dynamic delivery give an impression of quite a formidable character.
Ever quick with a joke and never stuck for a response, Deputy Moran has always seemed as though nothing in the world could shake him. Appearances, however, can be deceptive.
The Coosan native shocked the watching public on last Friday night’s Late Late Show with an incredibly honest interview, during which he admitted that he has struggled with both literacy and mental health issues.
Struggles and successes
His struggles with dyslexia saw him develop an image of a troublemaker in school, constantly kicking up a fuss in class so that he could be sent to the principal’s office, preferring to get into trouble rather than let his classmates and teachers in on what he saw as his shameful and embarrassing condition - that he could neither read nor write.
These issues led to his expulsion from Marist College after a matter of weeks, before he quit education completely at the age of 12 to work on a building site. Later going into the taxi business in Athlone, Moran managed to conceal his learning difficulties from those around him for a number of years.
It was not until Fianna Fáil councillor Cieran Temple knocked on his door and convinced Boxer to run for his seat on the Athlone and Westmeath councils that he found himself unable to hide his secret from those working closest with him.
Handed a list at the Selection Convention of people he needed to thank for getting his name on the ticket, he panicked and blurted out a quick thank you before retaking his seat. Something was not right, and members of the council staff knew it.
However, with the support of those staff and of his dear wife Michelle, Moran battled through his difficulties to become Mayor of Athlone. After contesting and losing the Fianna Fáil nomination to stand in the 2007 General Election, he split from the party and contested the 2011 and 2014 elections as an Independent.
Success finally came during the 2016 General Election. Storming the polls in Longford-Westmeath, Moran was elected at the second time of asking behind Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy. Boxer was heading for the Big House in Dublin.
Shane Ross and members of the Independent Alliance came knocking to recruit Moran to their ranks, and it was then that he knew he needed to come clean about his literacy issues. But Ross and Co supported him all the way, and Moran signed up for both the Alliance and a place in a minority Fine Gael-led Government - not bad for a man who struggled to read and write for the better part of his life.
And while this story is a triumph of some proportion, it may have never come to pass. For the months and years prior to that fateful knock on Boxer’s door from Cllr Cieran Temple, the man from Coosan was fighting against severe mental health issues, ones that nearly put paid to his life in his 20s.
Still reeling from the tragic death of his brother, and with his taxi business faltering and financial pressure building to intolerable levels in the early 1990s, Moran initially began suffering from anxiety and panic attacks. The pressure continued to build until it reached a climax one Sunday. Returning from a morning of shooting with some friends, Moran began his usual journey home.
Instead of turning for his house, he continued past his turnoff and up a back road to a secluded area. He took his loaded shotgun and pointed it at himself with the intention of ending his life, but pulled away at the last second, shooting out the window of his van instead.
Moran’s story is poignant given the much-publicised mental health debate in Ireland today. The tragedy of it is that his story is one from 20 years ago, and Ireland is still struggling to come to terms with and provide assistance for mental health issues. Every week we hear stories of people taking their lives through suicide, with the proportion of young men doing so getting particular attention.
The importance of Moran’s story can therefore not be underestimated. After all, this is a man who has overcome so much with the help of those close to him. His success is a sign that there is always hope, and that there is so much to live for even in the darkest of times.
Speaking this week, Deputy Moran said the response to the show has left him feeling overwhelmed.
“My office has been inundated with people calling and writing to me,” he said. “The messages I have gotten from people from around Ireland, the UK, and even as far as America have taken me by surprise.
“I have also been contacted by football players in the UK, by professional golfers, and by a young girl who is a famous pop singer. That will tell you how far the story and programme went.”
Deputy Moran added that the decision to do the interview was not an easy one.
“When I sat my two sons down on Friday morning and went through the whole thing with them, it was a big shock to them,” he said. “Even members of my own family didn’t know. But if I can inspire people with the same difficulties as I have gone through, then I think it was worthwhile. Once my wife and sons gave me their blessing to do it I said I would go ahead with it.”
Deputy Moran expressed his gratitude to those who have supported him in the past and since the interview aired.
“The level of support has been touching,” he said. “The thousands of people who got into contact with us, you want to do something to help them. I have ideas moving forward in relation to dyslexia. I will be meeting Minster Richard Bruton regarding that. The Ministers in Government are more than willing to sit down with me; they realise it is a problem affecting so many people.”
With regard to people experiencing the same difficulties he has, Boxer has a clear message:
“People suffering in silence - don’t hold it in. Reach out now to your friends. Likewise, if you have a problem with reading and writing, do not be ashamed or afraid to say it. There are so many people out there more than willing to help.”