Thursday 8 December 2016

Untouched by corrupting forces

Published 22/01/2012 | 05:00

'ALL THE possibilities it had to reject are what give life and meaning to an actual character," wrote W H Auden, one of Aengus Fanning's favourite poets. He read a lot of poetry. One of our last conversations was about the American Modernist, Hart Crane, whom he had been reading because of the enthusiasm of the critic Harold Bloom.

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I don't suppose he contemplated the writing of poetry. He had far too keen a grasp of reality for that. But there were other possibilities which he forewent apart from the five All-Ireland medals which a Senior Kerry footballer recently assured me he would have won if he had stuck to the game after his Minor career. We first met in the Queen's Elm in Chelsea in the Sixties, one of the few places which writers really did frequent and I think his spell as a barman there was an interval in what was supposed to be an acting rather than a journalistic career.

A little over 20 years later when I met him again he was a newspaper editor. By then I had known a lot of editors, literary and otherwise, and was to know a few more. Let me say that Aengus was the best editor of any magazine, review or newspaper that I ever had the pleasure of writing for. He consulted your wishes. If he thought you had any value as a contributor he would make sure you knew that. He always sent you a note of gratitude and congratulation when he thought you deserved it. And he had a wide range of interests so you could be sure your references weren't too arcane for the editor at least.

It has been said often enough that he brought about a revolution in Irish Sunday journalism. And this has been analysed in terms of outlook and opinion and the readership he found. I would like to say -- and I am sure he would want it said -- that he and Anne Harris brought the change about. It was one that was to take place everywhere but the Sunday Independent was in advance of other papers. What they did was to abolish the distinction between heavy and light, between portentous and lively. The Sunday Independent became under Aengus's editorship a newspaper in which almost everything would fit which was flavoured by an appropriate level of sophistication and style. What I particularly like about it is its sense of humour. Many of its writers know that there is almost nothing which doesn't have its humorous side and that even in these times a laugh should not be a rarity.

Aengus was untouched by the great secret corrupting forces in Irish journalism, which are cynicism and its obverse, sentimentality. The capacity to give and receive friendship is, I think, like the proper meaning of the word itself, becoming rarer in our world. Aengus had that capacity, and it is for this as much as for his public achievements that I will remember him.

Sunday Independent

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