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Secret of success lay in rich life beyond media

I first met Aengus Fanning soon after he became editor in 1984 when he phoned me in UCD and invited me to lunch.

After we had first established that we were not related -- something worth mentioning if only because it is a question I have so often been asked -- he came to the point. He had read and liked an article on British government policy in Northern Ireland I had written for The Spectator. Would I write for the Sunday Independent?

In the early months I talked regularly to Aengus, either on the phone or, occasionally, at lunch and I now regret that we rarely talked when I became an established columnist. But he was always accessible and sent me warm notes on columns he particularly liked.

He prided himself on his paper being a "broad church" and so I always found it. Not once during the peace process, when there appeared to be a coordinated campaign of columnists attacking John Hume for talking to Gerry Adams and I was a lone voice arguing, week after week, that "jaw-jaw is better than war-war", was a word of my copy questioned, let alone changed.

His image, highlighted in so many tributes, as a hard-nosed journalist with an unerring instinct for what "middle Ireland" wanted is at variance with the Aengus Fanning I knew: the inveterate Spectator reader with a passion for cricket and the clarinet. He once spoke movingly to me of his enduring regret that his music teacher, who in later life confessed that he had been following maternal instructions, had counselled him that he was not good enough to become a professional musician. Yet perhaps the images may be reconciled, for I suspect that the ultimate secret of his phenomenal success was his unwavering enjoyment of a life beyond newspapers.

Ronan Fanning is Professor Emeritus of Modern History at University College Dublin.

Sunday Independent