Thursday, May 19, 2011

Garret Fitzgerald RIP

The one and only time I ever drank a cup of tea was in the company of Garret Fitzgerald.

I was sat in his house, in the room reserved for his thinking and writing time. It was the most chaotic space imaginable, filled with books and papers, plants which appeared to be growing out of the walls and out of nowhere at all.

It reminded me instantly of the film, Jumanji.

I think it must be what the inside of his head looked like too, an expanse of clutter that looked too busy for potential, but out which there came brilliance in various forms.

He had agreed to help me out with my thesis, and he patiently answered all of my questions, which I’m sure were predictable and inane. He spoke about his wife giving him a haircut before his first day in the Dail, and how he didn't like it when they called him "scruffy". Bertie was scruffy, he said, I was just untidy.

I sipped at the tea, and he continued on. Raced on, in fact, but that was his way, hurrying through each sentence as though his words were chasing each other.

Years later, we met again. We were both guests on Tonight with Vincent Browne, back when VB was still on Radio 1 late at night. I spoke about the subject that I knew well, and then I shut up. A verbal paralysis overcame me. As if there was anything I could add to a general discussion about the world that would be equal to a contribution from Dr Fitzgerald.

The second last time I saw him was at a debate in UCD. He was there with Jeffrey Donaldson, discussing the history of the relationship between Ireland and Britain.

I remember our rather youthful lecturer, from Northern Ireland, being shocked at the rapturous reception Garret received from the congregation of students. The lecturer pointed out that none of us were actually old enough to remember Garret as Taoiseach.

That was true, but I have often been told that when I was a baby I used to cry when Charlie Haughey came on the television. Garret the Good had the opposite effect.

I saw him last on March 9th, on the day when Enda Kenny was installed as Taoiseach and Fine Gael entered Dail Eireann with their massive majority. Garret was making his way around Leinster House, walking gingerly with the aid of a stick, chatting to everyone, but mostly just observing, and smiling.

Nobody would begrudge him the smug look he wore that day. I caught his eye on the grand staircase, and there was the peculiar glint of the political animal. For all the cynicism that must grow through a lifetime in politics, there is still a wonder about the world that keeps the politician young and in some degree of awe at the theatre, the power, the history of it all.

Today, Garret is the talk of the town, upstaging the queen. His last great gift to Anglo-Irish relations.


  1. I was babysitting a six month-old the other day who was bawling his face off. I'd heard he had really enjoyed the Eurovision last week, so I searched frantically for any DVDs we might have with music on them. The only thing I could find was Reeling in the 80s. He settled down pretty quickly, but began roaring again any time Haughey's mug came on screen. Garret Fitz had no such effect on him. Babies can obviously detect evil much quicker than adults.

    This is a lovely tribute, Regina. I never met Garret, but I did see him wandering around Trinity a few times and he always seemed like a warm man with a lot of time for anyone who wanted to talk to him.

  2. Andrew - What with that six-month-old's reaction, and my own, there are grounds for smashing the current eligibility age for voting in this country.

    Garret was a gent. I'm sure he and Haughey are taking up right where they left off, wherever they are now.

  3. I totally deleted my comment again.

    I was saying that I've just finished my first year of an evening BA and took just history this year to dip my toe in the water. I love it. I wish I could have the opportunity to chat to someone as great as Garret FitzGerald. I'll settle for Diarmuid Ferriter though.

  4. Holemaster - I loved history also, in school, and the political stuff I did in college. The past seems to offer more than any present ever could.

    Diarmaid Ferriter spends so much time on the radio and television, I'm surprised he has time to write all those commercially successful books AND actually earn his wage as a lecturer.