| 21°C Dublin

My loyal friend believed clear language meant a clear mind

Close

The "Today Tonight - Election Debate" presented by Brian Farrell. Charles Haughey, FFParty Leader (L) shakes hands with Garret Fitzgerald, FG Party Leader (R) , 16th February 1982.

The "Today Tonight - Election Debate" presented by Brian Farrell. Charles Haughey, FFParty Leader (L) shakes hands with Garret Fitzgerald, FG Party Leader (R) , 16th February 1982.

The "Today Tonight - Election Debate" presented by Brian Farrell. Charles Haughey, FFParty Leader (L) shakes hands with Garret Fitzgerald, FG Party Leader (R) , 16th February 1982.

For anybody over 40 Brian Farrell was a household name.

What made him so outstanding was his sheer sense of authority. People not just believed him but sensed that underpinning everything he said, the hard questions he asked, the feathers he ruffled, was a deep sense that his first duty as a public service broadcaster was to the people - not to politicians, not to the establishment, not his RTE bosses but to the people and their right to know.

But it was more than that. He had style. He was elegant and accurate in his use of language. He despised jargon and could cut through waffle and prevarication to get to the heart of any matter. With him clear language meant a clear mind.

But it was even more than clarity and style. He had genuine intellectual substance. He had a profound grasp of history, a great and wide ranging sense of a cultural hinterland which allowed him to effortlessly put issues into their proper context and added real depth to his questions and observations.

But even if Brian Farrell had never been a broadcaster he would have left a legacy of academic achievement. The wonder was that he could combine two careers to such high levels.

His work in political science, a relatively new academic discipline in Ireland at the time, will stand the test of time. His work, 'Chairman or Chief', on the role of Taoiseach, was ground-breaking while his research on the First Dail made a real contribution.

As an academic he would probably like to be best remembered as a lecturer, or as he would call it, a teacher. His lectures were stylish, erudite and substantial. Sometimes he might 'overegg' the pudding a bit. His first love was acting and it sometimes carried over into his lectures, turning them into performances - but his students liked him all the more for it.

As a lecturer he was old-fashioned in that he believed lectures should have substance and structure, in other words a beginning, a middle and an end ensuring not just clarity but a fullness in the covering of any subject.

He was also very conscious of students as individuals. His door was always open to them and he always found time to give advice. It was not always the advice the student wanted to hear but it was always honest and fair and designed to be helpful.

And in the case of many students he became a mentor helping them shape their career. Some became life long friends and many went on to make their names in journalism, politics or academia.

Brian was never a cloistered academic. His success in journalism and his celebrity status may have been envied by some of his academic confreres but never prevented recognition of his achievements.

The range of his cultural interest was wide but pride of place always went to theatre.

It was an abiding passion and served him well as a very effective chairman of the Arts Council.

What few people knew of a man with such a sophisticated public image was his deep love of Co Clare and his attachment to Irish music. He was a regular attender at Dessie Hynes' s pub, O'Donoghues, where he mixed easily with the musicians.

It was as a friend I knew him best. He had a great loyalty to his friends. He kept up old relationships and could be depended on for good advice or practical help in a difficulty. But most of all he was good, life-enhancing company who wore his celebrity status lightly.

Along with his devoted wife Marie-Therese, the hospitality of their home was warm, generous and convivial. Their friends reflected the diversity of worlds they both inhabited but was characterised most of all by the enduring presence of their friends.

Illness clouded Brian's later years. It was not an easy time, but at every stage the support and love of Marie-Therese was stunning as was the love of a family of which he was truly proud.

Maurice Manning is an academic and a former Fine Gael TD and senator.

Irish Independent