Later today, former Taoiseach of Ireland, Garret FitzGerald, will be buried in a full state funeral. In the quiet respite after the Queen’s visit and before Obama’s arrival, (interrupted only by the heavy thunk of Chinook rotors invading our notionally neutral skies) one is struck by the absence of a leader who might even grow into someone who can fill FitzGerald’s shoes. I write as a man considerably to the left of anything Fine Gael would ever propose and I write as a man who laments that my society is unable to encourage leadership as considered, as brave and as deeply thought through as FitzGerald.

Leo Varadkar is a leader of my generation. A medical doctor a few years older than me and a man who in all likelihood will one day follow FitzGerald as leader of Fine Gael. He works in a constituency a few miles north from me, proposing neo-liberal market solutions to every problem from our national debt to the greasy fingertips you get after eating a bag of Tayto. On his best day he couldn’t catch up with FitzGerald’s shadow.

As points out, everybody loves you when you are six feet under. It also shows you that politicians say anything at any time to secure their own advantage and they are pretty much free to keep doing it.

“You’re no Jack Lynch and you’re no John Bruton. You’re a Garret FitzGerald. You’ve doubled, tripled the national debt effectively destroyed the country and now you’ve a dirty, a dirty, dirty wastful botched job.”
Leo Varadkar to Brian Cowen in Dáil Éireann, March 2010

“I think it’s fair to say that Garret FitzGerald was one of Ireland’s greatest citizens, but I think, he’s also really, he was the Taoiseach that helped bring Ireland into the light and into the modern age.”
Leo Varadkar to Chris Donoghue, Newstalk, last Thursday.

Against this craven nonsense, consider the integrity, self-awareness and humility in this charming anecdote shared in the Irish Times yesterday:

Some years ago Dr FitzGerald bought an item from our shop. When I pointed out that he had made the cheque out for €20 more than the actual price, he looked around, leaned over the counter, put his finger to his lips and said, “Sshh . . . If this gets out I’ll be ruined, I’m supposed to be an expert on economics you know.”

I encountered him once outside a pub on the Main Street in Maynooth. Trying to be all cool about it I nodded at him as if I was some culchie from south Leitrim (as against being the son of a culchie from south Leitrim) and greeted him with a respectful, “Dr. FitzGerald,” as I walked by. He played it cool. “Good evening,” he responded. Do the former leaders of the country you live in wander around so unpretentiously? Will our current crop of leaders forgo the ego-boost of a security detail and a team of state-sponsored aides when they retire?

Of course, the coolest reference of all that I have to share is from Stanley Hauerwas’ memoir, Hannah’s Child:

We were married. I was married. I could not have been happier. We went to Ireland, Scotland and England for our honeymoon. We must have still been young to have the energy for such a trip. In Ireland, we went to Glendalough, Cashel, the ring of Kerry, the cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and Galway, before ending up in Dublin. Enda [McDonagh, moral theologian in Maynooth and great friend of Hauerwas] told us one of his friends wanted to host a celebration of our marriage. So we found ourselves at a wonderful dinner hosted by Garret Fitzgerald, who had recently been Taoiseach, the Irish equivalent of prime minister. Only the Irish could have such a person as their leader. During the alcohol-fueled festivities, he leaned over to ask, “What do you make of [Alasdair] MacIntyre’s work?”

Your Correspondent, As unlikely as an honest burglar