Sunday 17 December 2017

Farewell, Garret, my good friend

Historians will see the Age of FitzGerald as perhaps even a golden age, writes Ronan Fanning

'It was Garret FitzGerald's cosmopolitanism, to-gether with his charm, which most struck me. It was he who made me feel provincial." So wrote Roy Jenkins, the British Labour Minister and later President of the European Commission, in his review of All In A Life, Garret's autobiography. That was much how I felt in 1973 when I first became close friends with Garret (who was then Minister for Foreign Affairs) and Joan FitzGerald when we were among the guests of Denis Corboy, the head of the European Commission's Dublin office, on holiday in Provence.

Other holidays followed, sometimes in France, sometimes in West Cork, most memorably in the Dordogne in 1982 when Garret's holiday was cut short when the Gubu episode -- the discovery of a murderer in the apartment of Paddy Connolly (Charles Haughey's Attorney General) -- precipitated his immediate return to Dublin. But neither then nor at many dinner parties in the FitzGeralds' Dublin home did my first impression ever fade.

The attribution of cosmopolitanism is in one sense misleading, for he was never infected by those tawdry affectations of sophistication with which it so often goes hand-in-glove, but it was what put Garret FitzGerald in a different league from his political predecessors. They inhabited a world in which politics was overwhelmingly insular and bounded by the horizons of the Border and of the neighbouring island; their obsessions were the multiple expressions of independence, such as neutrality. Garret's world was Europe and his obsession was inter-dependence; he was always sceptical about the morality of Ireland's neutrality in the Second World War, although he was astute enough to deny his scepticism full rein until after his retirement from politics.

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