Updated: 05/10/17 : 05:24:21
Printable Version   Bookmark and Share Share This

current

Liam Cosgrave -- life and duty observed

By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor


SLIGO TOWN has seen many famed public speeches by leaders of all political hues.

Fine Gael always had a soft spot for the town, mainly because of Arthur Griffith a century ago.

Much less auspicious or memorable for its content or portent was Liam Cosgrave outside the Town Hall in May 1977.

He was Taoiseach then and that 1977 general election campaign had just seen the launch of a new newspaper serving Mayo and Sligo, The Western Journal.

That paper also had an excellent offshoot in High Street, The Sligo Journal.

It launched Tommie Gorman into the world of Irish and international journalism.

The Taoiseach's 'blessing' of the 1977 launch was probably a favour for Sligo man Ted Nealon to his old buddy, John Healy, the new newspaper's founder.

Ted Nealon was then heading up the Government Information Bureau and like the rest so sure of victory that he himself stood in Clontarf.

But the real story of that election as it unfolded, never got leaked to any newspaper.

Private polling showed Fine Gael and Labour were headed for the mother and father of a drubbing in 1977, for a hiding of historic dimension at the hustings.

The political leadership career of Liam Cosgrave was on life-support with only weeks to live. Only 'close family' inside the coalition had any inkling.

Hushed Up

It was all so different less than a decade earlier when the Cosgrave name, Liam, had exploded once more in Irish public life after a newspaper leak.

The Sunday Independent and its legendary political writer, Ned (EB) Murphy, had received the scoop of a lifetime in early 1970.

Headed Garda paper, signed 'Garda' -- but obviously an officer -- named several serving government Ministers, their families and Army officers, plural, as attempting to import guns.

The Sunday Independent and then Liam Cosgrave was urged by the Garda: ''See that this scandal is not hushed up.''

The newspaper couldn't adequately 'source' the sensational allegations so Liam Cosgrave seized the day. All five decades afterward, is history of many hues.

Weekday Masses

Like all its antecedents, History is (only) written by ''the winners,'' and even then so, so subjectively so.

For that reason, the names of Liam Cosgrave and his father WT Cosgrave for the five decades before 1970 arouse admiration and admonition in equal measure.

This reflection on a good personal life, lived to a great 97 years, is not the occasion to go into the pros and cons of those political positions which spanned across a century.

For a while in my life I used to come across Liam Cosgrave with his wife Vera on an almost daily basis.

They were both to be seen at weekday Masses in St Michaels in Dun Laoire -- the hometown of our own current Bishop in Elphin, Kevin Doran.

Both Cosgraves were reserved, never seemed pushy and certainly never showy, never 'show-off' in their public presentation.

In that, there was much to learn and to like about the man and his standard(s).

His public silence at all times after retirement was a high standard, too, -- difficult to do in any walk of Life and to be (mostly) admired for that reason.

Studying the inscrutable man at that time, the impression was that he saw standards  (including silence after public service) as a personal duty to be actively delivered.

Funny, Menacing

Liam Cosgrave and indeed Fine Gael in power were always good for me in journalism.

Critiques of their policies -- sometimes lack of them -- landed me three national awards in just over a decade.

So, they had to be doing something wrong.....in somebody's else judgement, too! Every such judgement is subjective.

But I'm not inclined to much forgetfulness re: Liam Cosgrave's 100% failure on the Dublin and Monaghan car bombings, 33 lives lost on Friday May 17th 1974.

Yet in less than a month he 100% abandoned his public promises for justice at that outrage. Why?

Some families of those dead were harassed by some Gardai in the early years. Why?

Sometimes silence is NOT good enough, not a duty, too self-serving. We have all made that mistake
.

Liam Cosgrave could be funny but the very same storyline could contain menace, too.

Within his own party he told delegates at an Ard Fheis that he would root out and rout his critics like ''mongrel foxes.''

After that Seventies speech, it was hard not to order the tombstone for the party's big Sixties vision, The Just Society.

Like the film 'Carrie,' that (radical) party vision pokes its hand out of the grave every now and again.

That ''mongrel foxes'' speech seemed likely, briefly, to push leadership pretender Garret Fitzgerald under the clay marked by that new tombstone.

Blow Ins

No less funny to his own party but no less menacing to others was a speech by Cosgrave when I sat just yards away at an Árd Fhéis.

He was talking about journalists who had the temerity to criticise his government, the Cosgrave and Corish Cabinet with ''all the talents.''

The Taoiseach had a message for them; these blow-ins should blow out or blow up.

Nice Diversion


It was a nice diversion from the National Coalition and its dubious talent for doubling of Ireland's National Debt for the first time ever.

The Cosgrave code only fitted one man at our Ard Fheis press bench: Bruce Arnold.

Within the year Arnold was named as Irish Journalist of the Year.

It was not to be Arnold's last public joust with a serving Taoiseach, either.

More Good


Finally, when Charles Haughey left public the man who failed to short-circuit Haughey's public career paid one of the best tributes.

''He did more good than his critics ever did,'' said the laconic Liam.


One suspects Liam Cosgrave would be happy to have that epithet included in final tributes to himself.

Everything else that might be said will, like all political discourse in this divided society, end up in endless argument.