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Mother ensured he was no sectarian

IT was Padraig Pearse who finally told Garret FitzGerald's mother Mabel to leave the GPO during the Easter Rising in 1916.

Mabel (left) had spent a couple of days helping the rebels -- who included her husband Desmond.

"You can't have the parents of two small children here -- you go home," Pearse told her.

Desmond escorted wounded volunteers out of the GPO but was later picked up by the British after the Rising.

He was once handcuffed to Eamon de Valera while being transported between British prisons over the next two years.

He was in prison when he was elected to the first Dail as a Sinn Fein MP in the 1918 General Election -- partly due to what were described as the 'energetic efforts' of his wife Mabel.

And Desmond FitzGerald became Minister for External Affairs in the first Free State government.

So Garret was thus born into a uniquely political family which could trace its roots back to the State's foundation. But it was not just his father who influenced his attitudes.

His mother Mabel was a Presbyterian nationalist from Belfast who ensured that he did not have a sectarian bone in his body.

As a young child, Garret had made an insulting remark about the Finance Minister Ernest Blythe being a Protestant -- but was shocked when his mother told him she was one too. He was also surprised to find out later in life that his mother was opposed to the signing of the Treaty in 1922, while his father supported it. But he said that she "modified her position eventually".

It was this complex political and religious family background that made Garret devote his political career to the task of trying to unite the 'two traditions' of nationalism and unionism.

His parents had met in London while learning Irish at Gaelic League classes. Desmond had been born there to Irish parents and was a keen poet. Mabel had at one stage worked as a secretary for Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw.

She and Desmond married in London in 1911 and went to live in Brittany in France, before moving to Ireland to join the new national movement.

Irish Independent