An 'outstanding' writer with legacy of warmth and kindness

Wed, Aug 1, 2012, 01:00

THE LATE author and journalist Maeve Binchy has been remembered as a generous, courageous and self-deprecating character who had left a lasting legacy of warmth and kindness to her readers around the world.

President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore were among those who paid tribute to the life and career of Binchy yesterday, with Mr Kenny calling her a “national treasure”.

President Higgins said Binchy was an “outstanding novelist, short story writer and columnist” who had engaged millions of people in many countries with “her fluent and accessible style”.

She had been a source of encouragement and practical assistance to many young writers throughout her career, he added.

“In recent years, she showed great courage and thankfully never lost her self-deprecating humour, honesty and remarkable integrity as an artist and human being,” the President said.

“Today as a nation we are thankful for and proud of the writer and the woman, Maeve Binchy,” Mr Kenny said. “She is a huge loss wherever stories of love, hope, generosity and possibility are read and cherished.”

The Taoiseach offered his and the Government’s “deepest sympathies” to Binchy’s husband, Gordon Snell, and their friends and extended family.

Editor of The Irish Times Kevin O’Sullivan said Binchy “brought to all her writing the essential qualities of the best journalists – an insatiable curiosity about people and ear for dialogue.

“Her acute, sympathetic observation of the lives of others was at the heart of her hugely popular columns in The Irish Times, many of which were inspired by stray, overheard conversations and of her best-selling novels, which told universal stories about friendship, family and love.

“As women’s editor of The Irish Times, she was in the vanguard of giving a voice to a generation of Irish women who were determined to play their full part in reshaping society.

“Unfailingly generous and thoughtful, Maeve was loved by everyone she worked with at The Irish Times and she maintained a close relationship with the newspaper right up to her death.

“Her unique style transcended novels, short stories, letter-writing and beautifully crafted journalism. Along with millions of her readers around the world, her colleagues here will miss her sorely.”

Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan recalled the writer as a woman of “immense intellect” who had a wonderful ability to “observe the idiosyncrasies that make us uniquely Irish”.

Mr Deenihan said her work, as a journalist or author, was infused with “the skill of the truly great writer” who could “transport the commonplace and ordinary to the uncommon and extraordinary”.

“Out of the everyday, her sharp ear and exquisite pen created writing of enduring beauty, quality and appeal. Her prolific works will no doubt stand the test of time and provide a window into an emerging and ever-changing Ireland.”

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said that despite her success, she had never lost “the human touch and would always make a point of taking time to talk to passersby, well-wishers and supporters”.

“While she was a national treasure with an international reputation, Dalkey was the place she called home and, up to very recently, nothing gave her greater pleasure than being out and about in the village, meeting friends and neighbours in local cafes and restaurants,” he said.

“Her lasting legacy will be the warmth and kindness that she imbued through her writing and through her own personality to her friends and her readers in every corner of the globe.”

National University of Ireland chancellor Dr Maurice Manning said Binchy, upon whom an honorary degree of doctor of literature was conferred in 1990, possessed a “joyful, optimistic” personality that had brightened many lives.

In her books, she had explored the complexities of human life with “gentleness and humour but also with acute observation,” Dr Manning added.

Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists Séamus Dooley said the author had been a life member of the union and had recently written an article about her association with the organisation in the Journalist magazine.

“She was a woman of rare charm, warmth and generosity of spirit. Hundreds of journalists have reason to be grateful for her guidance and encouragement. She was always available to young writers and at heart remained a teacher.”

Arts Council chairwoman Pat Moylan said Binchy’s work as an author was “pioneering in its treatment of female subjects” and that “her prose, while always intensely readable, tackled profound questions about Irish life and culture, past and present”.