REMARKS BY PRESIDENT McALEESE AT THE PRESENTATION OF THE FESTSCHRIFT TO BRIAN FARRELL, NEWMAN HOUSE
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT McALEESE AT THE PRESENTATION OF THE FESTSCHRIFT TO BRIAN FARRELL, NEWMAN HOUSE, DUBLIN 2, THURSDAY, 27 MAY
Dia dhíbh go léir. Tá an-áthas orm bheith i bhur measc anocht ar an ócáid speisalta seo.
I am very grateful to Professor Richard Sinnott for the invitation to be here and to have the privilege of honouring my old friend and colleague, Brian Farrell.
A festschrift is a double celebration for it is both a commemorative celebration of a distinguished individual’s scholarship and itself a scholarly contribution, so this evening we gather to launch this book of essays, its title, Dissecting Irish Politics as perfectly distilled a description of Brian’s professional life as it is possible to conceive for as Maurice Manning says “This set of essays recognises the fact that Brian Farrell was one of the pioneers who developed Irish political science.”
It is important that the academic world should stake its claim to Brian, for the television Brian of the bowtie and the rose, of the marathon election result analysis and the polite yet forensic questioning, this Brian, is of course owned by the nation. The viewers know him as political interviewer of considerable but always understated authority, a man who represented them rather than himself, a man whose personal distinction as a scholar deeply underpinned his journalistic work, giving it that sharp, sure edge; but it never once surfaced as egotism or rank-pulling.
I had the great good fortune to work with Brian for a couple of years and so am particularly experienced in the extent of his remarkable personal qualities, his unfailing good humour, his love of life, his kindness to colleagues, the respect he showed those he interviewed while unerringly probing difficult truths and towering above them all his intellectual ability and his genuine humility. His is a rare amalgam of talents and gifts and while I was never one of his fortunate pupils at UCD, I learnt a lot from him. Innovative scholar, gifted teacher, first-class inscrutable broadcaster, describer and analyser par excellence of Irish politics and politicians, a fine human being - Brian earned the respect in which he is held, the hard way and the extent of that respect is evident in the Festschrift’s galaxy of eminent contributors and outstanding essays.
Politics, history, administration, the law, broadcasting, all are represented at the highest level underlining yet another one of Brian’s great qualities - his ability to cross boundaries of discipline, subject and institution and to seamlessly bring insights from one of his fields of expertise to bear on another.
This exceptional and quintessential Irishman, fluent Irish speaker, whose life has been devoted to Irish political studies, is of course just to defy stereoptypes, Mancunian by birth. As Britain headed into the maelstrom of the Second World War, a very young Brian was sent to Ireland and though the world could have done without such a war, it is debatable whether Ireland could have done without Brian for he is something of an intellectual pentathlete. Building on his extraordinary knowledge of Irish politics, he devised new models for the analysis of the specific conditions he was considering, rooting every thing he did in an acute awareness of the realities of Irish public life and a deep yearning for in his own words "a new, more inclusive, generous sense of what it is to be Irish".
Aside from his forty demanding years as a national broadcaster, his decades as a university administrator and teacher, his publication of seminal texts and articles on Irish politics, his championing of life-long education, Brian is or has been director of the Merriman Summer School, Chairman of the Fulbright Commission, Director General of the Institute of European Affairs and Chairman of the Arts Council.
His name has been mentioned in the Oireachtas on dozens of occasions (at least 48) since 1965, and always with respect. He has interviewed all major Irish political leaders, as well as international heads of state, including Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and he was the first journalist in RTE to interview Gerry Adams in 1994. Behind the scenes he has brilliantly mimicked Patrick Kavanagh and Eleanor Roosevelt, played some great piano, sung not a few songs and shown a capacity for fun not always associated with the sombre groves of academe.
All this and Chief himself, along with Marie Therese of a large clan - tonight we celebrate a man who is living a wonderfully full and fruitful life, an “examined life” that Socrates himself would be proud of, a life that has enriched his country and his colleagues. Long may he continue to flourish and his festschrift provoke more studied dissection of Irish politics.
Guím gach rath ort a Bhriain sna blianta atá le teacht. Go raibh maith agaibh.