Thursday 17 January 2019

I could see tears in Brian's eyes as we chatted about vote

"Is that Eamon? This is Brian Lenihan."

"Yeh tis like f..." was my not too polite reply. I heard a big laugh from the other end of the phone. The last person to be ringing me at 2.15pm in the afternoon would be our Minister for Finance.

Especially after I had just given him a grilling on NAMA. "It's me alright. How are all the Keanes in Listowel?"

I knew then it was Brian. I remembered my cousin Alex Schuster telling me how he and Brian, as law students, would holiday in Kerry.

"Jaze, I thought you were ringing to complain," I said.

"No, I enjoyed the interview and you had no agenda," was the reply. "By the way, did you know your uncle and my dad and grandad were great pals?"

"No," I replied. Brian went on to explain how his family, who would have been black FF, were great fans of John B, a noted FG man.

He told me how the Athlone Drama Festival brought them together. Brian Lenihan senior, when he was campaigning in General Elections, would stop off in the pub in Listowel. So Brian junior was carrying on a family tradition.

After that conversation we stayed in touch. Arising from my radio interviews, I was not a popular figure with the Cowen-led Government.

Lenihan didn't seem to care about that. The Christmas he fell ill I received a lovely text from him which shall remain private, but suffice to say it revealed a man of great bravery and courage.

Last time I met Brian Lenihan was the day he was elected to the last Dail.


I was the first reporter to meet him at the count centre. As I wrote at the time, I asked him about his wife and children. Had he rung them and what did his election result mean to them?

''Oh God, it means an awful lot. I spoke to my wife..." His voice broke as the tears came. "Of course, to break the national trend, this is a huge working-class constituency so it's an incredible achievement to secure a vote.

"After all the hard decisions we had to make it's a tremendous tribute to secure re-election under those circumstances...".

The erudite barrister couldn't see the love people in the area had for him.

The real circumstances, of course, were that he was fighting a brave but losing battle against pancreatic cancer.

His face was gaunt but as he stood beside me I was moved by his will to live, to carry on, to endure and now to have his moment. He must have known it might have been the last time he'd stand in a count centre. I feel sad writing this as it's not often you meet people like that in this game.

As I said at the time, the people of Dublin West saw their boy home in his hour of need. When Brian was declared elected he raised his arms. I looked across and saw friends and supporters with tears in their eyes.

They knew what it meant.

Garret Fitzgerald admired him and told me so.

Garret said that on the night of the bailout decision he could understand why Lenihan made the decision he did. I remember a senior figure in the ISPCC telling me how brilliant he was when he was over the Children's portfolio. How he made a difference to lives. So let us remember the words of Henry Longfellow when we remember Brian:

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the Sands of Time.

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