Monday 24 April 2017

History is the lasting legacy of a wise man

Mourners hear of Professor Ronan Fanning's 'anonymous contribution to the peace process'

Mourners: Ronan Fanning's children Judith, Gareth and Tim follow their father's coffin Photo: Mark Condren
Mourners: Ronan Fanning's children Judith, Gareth and Tim follow their father's coffin Photo: Mark Condren
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Though he was not a great churchgoer, historian and writer Ronan Fanning, who died last week aged 75, had what Fr Fachtna McCarthy described as "a soft spot" for St Mary's Church in Haddington Road, Dublin, which he regarded as "a sacred place".

It was there yesterday that his funeral Mass, attended by family, academics, diplomats, lawyers and friends, was held.

Grandson Daniel with a signed football Photo: Mark Condren
Grandson Daniel with a signed football Photo: Mark Condren

"Books, articles and history are his lasting legacy," said Fr McCarthy, administrator of the parish, who, along with Prof Fanning's college friend Fr Dermot Fenlon, celebrated the funeral Mass.

In his eulogy, his collaborator Michael Lillis, former head of the Anglo-Irish division of the Department of Foreign Affairs, told the congregation of Prof Fanning's anonymous contribution to the peace process as a Fulbright Scholar and friend of Henry Kissinger in Washington, and later in Dublin as a confidant of Garret FitzGerald.

He recalled his best friend as "a regular contributor" to the strategy meetings convened by FitzGerald, the Irish Ambassador Sean Donlon, John Hume, and the American "Four Horsemen", who included Ted Kennedy and Tip O'Neill, which broke America's total support for the British position on Northern Ireland.

The success of this mission, said Lillis, delivered the Anglo-Irish Agreement and later the Good Friday Agreement. "Ronan never claimed a role in this matter, but I can attest that this contribution should be honoured," he said.

Garret FitzGerald and Ronan Fanning and their families holidayed regularly together and Prof Fanning was "a constant, fully informed adviser to the FitzGerald government", said Lillis. "He was such good company and I recall Joan often saying to Garret, 'Listen to Ronan'. He was a good historian, a wise man and I am not surprised that Garret did listen to him."

Michael Lillis also referred to Prof Fanning's "complete mastery of the dark art of academic politics".

Among Prof Fanning's books, Fatal Path: British Government and Irish Revolution, 1910-1922 was described as "a masterpiece of dazzling quality", which has become the definitive narrative on 1916, the War of Independence and the first Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Equally compelling is The Lives of Eliza Lynch: Scandal and Courage, which he co-wrote with Lillis about the Cork woman who became the Paraguayan president's mistress during the 19th century.

"We had fierce disagreements when writing the book, and well-lubricated reconciliations," Lillis said.

Prof Fanning also wrote academic tomes such as The Irish Department of Finance 1922-1958, co-edited the 10-volume Documents on Irish Foreign Policy and was a member of the editorial board of the monumental Dictionary of Irish Biography which was edited by his UCD colleague James McGuire, who was among the congregation.

For many years, he was also a well-informed columnist with the Sunday Independent. When other columnists with the paper trenchantly opposed what became known as the "Hume-Adams Agreement", Prof Fanning defended both the concept and the role played by his long-time friend John Hume, without disclosing that Hume had actually showed him the notes of what many people believed was an informal agreement without any written component.

His columns were informative and well-written in a non-academic style and those of us who moved in less exalted circles were astonished when he produced an illuminating column in 2002 on the issues at stake in the Saipan/FAI controversy, when the editor was expecting something on the more serious political events of the time.

But his son Gareth told the congregation that although Prof Fanning was an "armchair follower", he loved sport and went to internationals - provided they were in Rome, or Paris or another city worth visiting. A football signed by the Irish team of the Jack Charlton era was placed on the altar by his grandson Daniel.

Gareth said his father had "an eclectic taste in music, from Gregorian chant to Luke Kelly", enjoyed good wine and good company, and "he will be slightly envious that he isn't around to enjoy the plaudits he is receiving today".

Chief mourners were his children Judith, Gareth and Tim. He was predeceased by his partner Virginia.

Among others attending the funeral Mass were the former Taoiseach Brian Cowen; chancellor of the National University of Ireland Maurice Manning; Senator Michael McDowell; former political adviser Martin Mansergh; judge of the Supreme Court John MacMenamin; Niall Burgess, secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs; former diplomats Noel Dorr and Ted Smyth; professor of history at TCD Eunan O'Halpin; UCD political scientist John Coakley; historian Brendan O Cathaoir; former chief justice Ronan Keane; judge Yvonne Murphy (Hardiman); Paul O'Higgins SC; Gerry Danaher SC; Nora Pat Stewart BL; Cormac Bourke and Campbell Spray, editor and executive editor of the Sunday Independent; Emily and Bridget Hourican; Charles Lysaght; journalists Mike Burns, John Bowman, Vincent Browne, David McCullagh and Ed Mulhall; former press ombudsman John Horgan; and former regulator Etain Doyle.

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