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His super-human endurance was truly awesome


Brian Lenihan on one of his last visits to the Dail back in March

Brian Lenihan on one of his last visits to the Dail back in March

Brian Lenihan on one of his last visits to the Dail back in March

WHEN he first ran for the Dail there was no photo of the aspiring politician on his campaign posters, just the candidate's name: Brian Lenihan.

Of course there was a huge name recognition factor. The poster immediately brought to mind the late Brian -- at one time one of the best-known people in the country -- which is exactly what Fianna Fail wanted. His eldest son was running as the party's candidate in the Dublin West by-election, a contest that had been a result of his father's death.

In fact, at that time the former minister's son was known by the Irish pronunciation of his name, Briain. But he won that by-election and from then on was known publicly as Brian.

However, by the time of his death yesterday morning he had certainly become his own man in Irish politics.

That night of his first electoral victory in April 1996, in the count centre in Lucan in Dublin, was not attended by his mother Ann. She was on holidays, finding the notion of an election count too painful after enduring so many with her late husband, who had only died the previous year at the age of 64.

In fact Brian Jnr himself admitted that canvassing at that time, having the same name as his deceased father, and so many people wishing to speak of him, was particularly tough.

How tragic that only 15 years later Ann Lenihan would lose her eldest son, aged 52, to cancer. She had previously lost a son, Mark, to leukaemia, at the age of five. He was just a year younger than his brother Brian.

Since he was first diagnosed with such a virulent cancer 18 months ago, there was an inevitability about Brian Lenihan's premature death. But he took on the illness with such an incredible vigour that there were times when it seemed as if he just might beat it.

There were also times when it was quite awesome to see how hard he worked, clearly sacrificing his own health, for the sake of the country.

In one of the more personal tributes, EU Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn said he was the best of politicians, a man committed, always and ever, to the public good.

She said his personal courage in the face of devastating health news while coping with difficult economic news was exemplary.

Brian Jnr appeared to have a super-human endurance, despite gruelling treatment for his cancer. Even colleagues who worked closely with him in Cabinet said they rarely saw any sign of it affecting him. One minister remarked that he very occasionally saw him resting on the sofa in his office in the days following treatment, but there were no other visible signs of what he was going through.

The fact that he kept alive the idea with Fianna Fail colleagues that he might take over the leadership of the party during its final fraught year in government added to the unlikely notion that he just might beat the disease.

He had that wonderful Lenihan madness, in the best sense of the word, which always seemed to see him look on the brighter side of things. During a particularly fraught time in the midst of the banking crisis, someone who worked closely with him remarked that it was this zaniness which carried him through his illness, the pressure of the economic collapse, and the increasingly constant criticism of his approach.

"If you can't laugh," he would say, "what have you left."

Politics was part of Brian Jnr's life from the start, although he did not see much of his father as a child because he was a minister in Dublin, and the family was based in Athlone.

Brian Jnr was the son, grandson, nephew and brother of four Fianna Fail TDs but he had no notion of becoming a politician as a child and regarded it as an intrusive profession. That is no surprise given that he could remember the years when his father could run a weekly clinic from home and hundreds of people would attend.

He would recall as a student feeling very conscious that his father was a national politician, and that as a result there was an extra responsibility to be on best behaviour, and for that reason he avoided student protests and public debate.

As he told journalist Katie Hannon, in her book 'The Naked Politician', when he was a young boy he wanted to be a soldier. In his teens he was interested in English and history and he reckoned that was the beginning of "a political germ in a way".

He opted to study law, and right into his 20s wanted to practise as a professional lawyer. But clearly politics was in his blood. "I never really didn't consider myself a politician. Not that I wanted to be in the Dail, but I always considered myself a political person."

When Garret FitzGerald died, just two weeks ago, there was a strong sense of sadness, but also of a life fully lived. In the case of Brian Lenihan, it's the tragedy of a life cut short.

Irish Independent