And then there was one . . . Padraig Ó Fainín RIP

The original Déiseach has died. There will be plenty of obituaries, positive, negative and even a few neutral ones. It would be preposterous to suggest that I knew much about the man, but given my appropriation of his nom de plume (guerre?) for online purposes – find deiseach on the web and the odds are that it is yours truly, unless you went to Degrassi Junior High – it would be strange to let his passing pass by without comment.

The fact that he strode the Waterford GAA scene like a colossus for several decades might be important too. Pat Fanning, as he was universally known in our family, was in one way a figure of mystique – former President of the association which seemed a very big deal in the days when Waterford’s only contribution to the GAA scene seemed to be an object lesson in how not to run things. Yet this was a giant whose grandchildren I was pretty well acquainted with. A man who managed to juggle the seemingly contradictory impulses of being conservative enough to want to retain the infamous ban on GAA members playing soccer and rugby, yet was statesmanlike enough to effectively prevent a split in the association when it became clear that the settled will was to abandon The Ban. Someone who was so partisan about Mount Sion that when I asked my uncle, a fine hurler in his day with De La Salle, whether he was really that bad that said uncle, not a man given to overblown comments, observed that an occasion arose when he (my uncle, not Pat) was instrumental in a shock DLS win over MS and Déiseach couldn’t bring himself to mention his name in the News & Star report. Yet this was a partisan who when he met my brother a number of years back beamed with delight to be introduced to the nephew of the man whom he confirmed was indeed a fine hurler in his day.

So my impressions of the man and the myth are contradictory, to say the least. In the final analysis though, in a week where I read how a games journalist spent 1.7% of the last decade playing World of Warcraft, you wonder how much of Pat Fanning’s life was devoted to the association that he loved. It’s a legacy of service that, as this remarkable article from the Evening Herald about his son’s work in Dublin testifies, ripples out to this day and will do so for generations to come. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Update: comments thread on AFR here.

Update II: article from Dermot Crowe of the Sindo here (h/t to Clonliffe Cat over on AFR).


One thought on “And then there was one . . . Padraig Ó Fainín RIP

  1. An Béal Bocht

    Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” Reading your comments above, this quotation gives me some comfort. For you declare that you didn’t know the man, yet you draw the assumption that his passing might prompt a plethora of neutral and even negative comments! It is clear you certainly did not know the man. For if you did, such a consideration would be unthinkable.

    Pat Fanning was a great man. Without doubt the greatest man I have had the pleasure to spend time with. In my life I have been privileged to sit and listen and be listened to by this man on many occasions. His honesty and sincerity is striking-he is the only person I have ever met who is actually incapable of telling an untruth. He spoke with an authority yet listened with interest. His whole life was built upon doing what he believed to be “the right thing” regardless of consequences. I never heard him speak ill of any person. He may not have agreed with someone’s point of view but he respected it and those who might have considered themselves adversaries of his might be surprised to realise that he never actually reduced anything to the personal,

    His intellectual capacity was astounding. A scholar of history, Irish, European and indeed the World, Pat was the best read man I ever encountered. Those who might baulk at his perceived fervent nationalism might be surprised to know that his great historical loves were the Napoleonic Wars, the French Revolution and the American War of Independence and Civil War. A nationalist, in his view may have had a different make up to the stereotypical one.

    As an orator, he had no equal, at least not in my experience. He never wrote speeches, save for conference and convention where public record was a necessity. His words were spontaneous, sincere and profoundly inspirational. I sat in awe in team meetings and wept, rejoiced and grew as I hung on his every word, my being growing in stature with every sentence. His ability to express critical thought cased in the most uplifting form was a rare talent. By the time he was finished, you knew-everyone in the room knew, that you were indeed in the company of someone very, very special.

    His capacity for expression in written form was equally as impressive. His ability to put forward his case in writing was one which elevated the true “Déiseach” to national prominence in the company of sporting scribes.

    His tenure as President provided a national platform for his skills. His skilful handling of the removal of the ban has to be seen in the context of the Ireland of the time to be truly appreciated as a moment of diplomatic genius. Ireland teetered on the brink of civil anarchy on the Northern issue. The association threatened to fissure from within and the future looked anything but secure. Yet, in his masterful deletion of the rule he thrust the Association forward, reinvigorated and revitalised with a brave new confidence yet he carried it on a bedrock of a steadfast reassertion of core traditional Association values.

    He declared bravely that the GAA would not, by result of the rule’s deletion, be reduced to “a mere sports organisation.” He championed the GAA as a “great weapon in the cause of Ireland and Ireland’s people.” He called for the maintaining of the spirit that had made the Association great. While declaring that the GAA was a great games playing Association, he pledged that it “must remain an unyielding advocate and champion of Ireland’s national and cultural heritage. Therein lies not alone it’s strength, but its very right to exist.” Any talk of “defeat” from within the Association evaporated with his rallying call that “if defeat there be, let it be for those who hoped that change would give them a less nationally motivated GAA.”

    The delegates in Belfast in 1971 entered Queens University seeking guidance, seeking leadership, craving a spark that would bellow a faint flame. Pat Fanning’s words sparked an inferno of enthusiasm and confidence. His parting words provided a definitive lifeline to an Association unsure of it’s place on an island in upheaval-“Let the message go out as the call from a united, a unanimous congress, imbued with the spirit that produced the GAA, that same spirit, that confidence, proud and unshakeable, will usher the Association, still a great nationalising, unifying force, still the hope-possible the last hope-of Irish Ireland, into a bright tomorrow. The future is ours to shape. Let’s move toward it with confidence.”

    These were the utterances of true, natural leadership. Words so sincere and so inextricably linked to the core principles of the GAA that they embedded in those who heard them a revised sense of self worth, a vastly heightened pride in their endeavours. The GAA emerged from his tenure a more unified and powerful movement, a movement unyielding to the threat of an occupying force in areas of our land. Pat Fanning visited Westminister and imposed upon those alien to our ethos, the very strength and intransigence of our people in the face of military adversity.

    In an interview before he took office, he declared that “we are strong but our weakness is that we don’t know our strength.” His tenure in office would be shaped by his endeavours to eradicate that “weakness.” His succeeded in doing so, raising a whole people by his word and deed.

    Pat Fanning was a humble man. Pat Fanning was a gentleman-a friend to be cherished, a confidant to be sure of, an adversary to be feared simply because he appeared unbreakable. But broken his body eventually was, ravaged by the excesses of Father Time. But the spirit of Pádraig Ó Fainín can never be broken, least not for those who knew him. His spirit will live on for he touched enough to carry the torch.

    Slán go fóill Déiseach, feicfidh mé thú in áit éigin eile lá amháín. Laoch, Cara, Inspioráid.

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