Remembering Garret

Today’s Irish Times feels strange: Garret Fitzgerald’s weekly column is missing. Noel Whelan has a nice tribute to him.

My favourite story, however, is one he used to tell against himself. It involved an occasion when he had to overnight in a Rosslare hotel either because he had just missed a ferry departure or because his ferry was delayed until the following morning. Unusually, he found himself in the hotel room with no reading material. Intellectually frustrated, he searched the bedside locker where, apart from the usual Gideon Bible, he could only find two telephone books. This was in the days when the entire Republic’s numbers were encompassed in two volumes.

Putting the Bible to one side, he sat and read one of the telephone books. However, there was an objective to his reading. He was anxious to prove to himself a theory he had that once people from the counties of Leinster gravitated to study or work in Dublin, very many stayed there. By cross-referencing his own detailed knowledge of the concentration of particular surnames in particular counties with a reading of the 01 phone book, he apparently confirmed his theory.

Garret’s addiction to statistics was legendary. When he worked for Aer Lingus, it was said that he knew the international airline timetable book by heart. At his funeral last Sunday, his son John addressed this remark to the staff of the Central Statistical Office:

For over half a century you have enthralled our father and provided much to stimulate him. He was your biggest fan and he probably drove you mad.