Not so much looking down as across..

Friday, June 10, 2011

Time up for Brave Brian

Shadows on the clositer wall of Santa Maria, Los Arcos, Navarra, Spain, May 14th, 2011

Time up for brave Brian

I only once met Brian Lenihan and when I did, I bought him a pint.

We were celebrating our monthly Class of '69 reunion as usual in Reilly’s Bar at the junction of Merrion Row and Merrion Street. It was about 10.00pm on a dark winter night when Brian and an advisor wandered in off the street and ordered a quiet pint. He looked spent after another long day in the office. One long day seemed to follow another in the gloomy winter of 2009 when Ireland’s economic bark began to ship water and even ladies travelling in first class with berths with balconies found the foamy sea swirling round their elegant high heels. Two of us approached the barman and asked if a round of drinks might be quietly and unobtrusively sent to Brian’s table.

Brian must have got many pints over the years from the party faithful. But we were not the party faithful. Just two ordinary citizens moved by the weary look of another human being who was punching in inhuman hours. I cannot remember if the news of his illness had become public knowledge at that time, but the bad news was well known in Dublin circles long ahead of the public announcement. Before he left, Brian enquired of the barman who had sent over the pints and the barmen pointed to the ex pupils of De La Salle Churchtown. Brian may have even spent a moment wondering if there was a Fianna Fail cumann in De La Salle Churchtown but he gave us a polite and discreet wave as he left after his second pint.

We then ploughed into our fourth pints as a vigorous debate took place as to whether the offer of drink was a political inducement or indeed even ethically acceptable. Some months later we were to meet Enda Kenny, then Leader of the Opposition in the very same pub. Enda proceeded to tell us a long and not very funny joke but to a man we were impressed by his 'down to earthness', if such a word exists and his politeness. Unfortunately I was walking the Camino de Santiago two weeks ago and out of the country so I missed the opportunity to buy HRH Queen Elizabeth a glass of sherry or even a pint of the black stuff Barack O’Bama.

During his many long months of political torture I identified with Brian more than most because he was dealing with a problem that was mainly of a Banking nature. Having worked in the industry for over twenty years I know what it is like to try and catch falling knives. That is exactly what Brian had to do on our behalf.

I am not sure if anyone could have done a better deal with the IMF and the EU but I am sure of one thing, no one could have done it with more dignity in adversity than he. Bankers quite rightly do not deserve much sympathy these days – unless they work in the local branches – in which case they are heroes – but in common with diplomats there are often times when discretion is called for and confidentiality lies at the heart of both arts.

People wrongly criticize Brian for not telling us in advance that the IMF was coming to town. The simple answer is that he could not have done so; indeed if he did he would have done great damage. I am delighted with the progress the new government has made and wish them well. It is instructive to note that they have adopted about 99% of what the previous government had suggested and realised about 1% of their election promises – but they are right on both counts and politics is a terrible game because we citizens are, by and large, feckless and we mostly deserve what we get in democracies.

Brian was a patriot in the true sense. He was a martyr and his name should be mentioned in the company of Pearse and Collins, Wolfe Tone and James Larkin. The work he did for Ireland almost certainly shortened his life and robbed his wife and family of a dear husband and a fine father. At a time when the currency of politicians is low, Brian has showed us that it is indeed possible to live and to die for your country.

May his gentle soul lie in peace. He owes me a pint in the next life.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis

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