Friday 24 January 2020

The Gambler Albert Reynolds finally broke even

Members of the public file past the remains of former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds lying in repose in the Oak Room, Mansion House, Dublin yesterday
Members of the public file past the remains of former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds lying in repose in the Oak Room, Mansion House, Dublin yesterday
Reynolds lying in state

John Drennan

For the public, the man we called Albert may have been defined, somewhat spuriously, by the time he sang that Jim Reeves classic that opens with the sonorous line: "Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone."

But there's another country and western number that is perhaps more appropriate.In a real sense, Reynolds was the political equivalent of The Gambler.

He might have been in public a happy 'let the dog see the rabbit' sort of man, but Albert rolled the dice with some of the greatest political cardsharps of his time.

In economics and politics he was the man who had dealt and "made a life out of readin' peoples faces". And what faces they were - carved, it seems in this softer age, from political granite.

But Albert looked into the eyes of them all: of Haughey; Dick Spring; Garret; Gerry Adams; and perhaps the greatest, or certainly most cunning of them all, Bertie the Kid.

Today's politicians want nothing more than to appear as nice, natural-born political metrosexuals.

In contrast, Albert lived in a time of state builders, state wreckers, terrorists, and beef barons who cut deals with Saddam in his pomp.

He lived in the world of Ray 'Rambo' Burke, Liam Lawlor and building magnates who built entire countries.

In our bright new world of political fusspots, Albert might have been a rough-hewn individual from a brusque age of bruisers. But the best tribute we can perhaps pay him is that many today wish that on the night of the infamous banking guarantee Albert had been there waiting for the banks when they stepped into Government Buildings on shaky legs.

He might have been a cup of tea man - but Albert was well able to lower the blade with the best of them.

One by one, the political giants are departing now; first Haughey, then Garret and now Albert, the man who moved among them, first as apprentice, then equal and then as boss of all previous bosses.

Like all real gamblers, it all ended with a folded hand of cards, empty pockets and confusion. Some said afterwards that Albert was shot in the back, and others said that Albert shot himself in the foot as Bertie the Kid walked away with the pot.

Those survivors from that era, now stooped by age and life, be they enemies or friends, all turned out for Albert yesterday. Brian Cowen, the man Albert prophetically tipped to be Taoiseach, was there. Bertie too, once the most loved politician since Daniel O'Connell, now shuffling in like a living refugee from his time of greatness.

Current FG Taoiseach Enda Kenny and John Bruton attended, as did former finance ministers Michael O'Kennedy and Charlie McCreevy. Michael Smith, his closest ally, was there, as were Michael Woods, Joe Jacob and Frank Fahey. Other close allies included Pat Farrell, former FF general secretary and Donie Cassidy. And of course current Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin joined the queue of citizens paying their respects at the lying in state.

The funeral on Monday will have a strong musical feel, reflecting Albert's background in the dancehall business.

Red Hurley, Paddy Cole, Eamon Monaghan and Eimear Quinn will all perform. The Palestrina Choir will sing the hymns, accompanied by Quinn, a Eurovision winner, as soloist.

Monday's funeral mass will be celebrated by Fr Brian D'Arcy, with the final commendation coming from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

Mr Reynolds's children and grandchildren will do the readings and say the prayers of the faithful. Philip Reynolds will perform the eulogy on behalf of the family.

While the music will nod to his days as a dancehall owner, Mr Reynolds was about much, 
much more than showbiz.

He is the man who sat across the table from the Provos to stop their shooting and was so tough with a British PM that John Major finally snapped a pencil.

We certainly will not see his like again.

Sunday Independent

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