Garret FitzGerald, Ireland’s Taoiseach in the 1980s and a beloved family friend, died early this morning. Politically, I think of him as the man who took Thatcher’s condescension on the chin to create the Anglo Irish Agreement, and the man with the courage to call time on the Catholic Church’s unquestioned dominance of social policy and moral thought in Ireland. Personally, while I can appreciate that Garret had what we call a good innings, wasn’t ill for very long, and enjoyed a final few hours of joyous clarity with some of the people he loved the most, I both wished and believed that he would go on and on.
People think of Garret as a dizzy academic, and not the resolutely calculating man he could be when it came to tallying odds and gaming a scenario. This was the man who coolly reckoned at the beginning of his career that while he was constitutionally more suited to the Labour Party, he would achieve less at the head of it, and so joined Fine Gael. His first job was writing the timetable for Aer Lingus, long before there was software for that kind of organisational nitty gritty. He had an extraordinary memory for this sort of thing; on a walk near Cahersiveen a decade ago, he explained to me the old train route there, the stations it called at, the time of each train and effect on the local economy. He giggled when I said we should call him Rainman. (more…)