By Kevin O’Sullivan
It was early July 2005. I was sitting in Garret FitzGerald’s front room, in the midst of an hour-long conversation about his time as Irish minister for foreign affairs, when my interviewee stopped me in mid-sentence. I’d been asking him why Ireland had refused to open full diplomatic relations with Portugal until – as I had it in my preparation notes – 1975, after the Revolution of the Carnations and the fall of the Caetano regime. ’1974′, FitzGerald corrected me. But being a confident young postgraduate less than a year into my PhD, I was standing my ground. ‘No’, I said. ‘I believe it was 1975.’ ‘Really?’ came the reply, shocked less, I think, at the response than at the idea that he might have made an error in his dates.
He mumbled something and left the room – in a rather sprightly fashion I might add – and I sat there for a while, wondering where he’d gone, and who’d eventually find the stone from one of the cherries he’d been eating after lunch and dropped under his chair. (It makes for a nice little moment on the tape.) About five minutes later he returned brandishing a copy of the annual State Directory and an admission that yes, I had been correct. We carried on our conversation from there, passing through his story of enraging the Germans over the Irish insistence on spending someone else’s money (on foreign aid – but plus ça change nonetheless), on the way to borrowing the Fijian foreign minister’s glasses in Lomé, west Africa, in 1975, but without me ever finding out why – or where – he held a private collection of official publications in the comfort of his own home. Read More