In a Word . . . Prince

Last month I mentioned a recent conferring of honorary doctorates at NUI Galway. Among recipients was arguably the most successful Irish Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore. We have history.

As students at then UCG we were active in Dramsoc and the Literary and Debating Society, and were founder members of the Movement for Social Progress. It was social democratic in outlook.

Some held us in contempt. Example? A member of the Workers Party there described me as “a liberal gobshite”.

She went further. I was “a dissident conservative”. No greater insult could be thrown at me in those days than the C word.

Eamon stood for the Student Union presidency and I was his (first) campaign manager. He was elected. He joined the Workers Party.

I detested the Workers Party, believing its “democratic centralism” a euphemism for dictatorship.We parted ways politically.

Life moved on. He became one of the "Student Princes" who went from the student politics to the unions and was elected a Workers Party TD. Later he oversaw that party's transition to a more social democratic, Democratic Left.

I was asked to write a profile of him then for another newspaper and described him as “the prince who became a frog who was now a prince again”.

The tone was positive and humorous. It was completely dispelled by a headline and cartoon that I didn’t see until the paper was published.

“The prince who became a frog” ran the headline, over a cartoon of a frog with Eamon’s face on it.

I wanted to die and go to hell. Whatever the politics, I knew Eamon to be a decent man. And his wife Carol had been a student housemate of mine.

Soon after, I persuaded that newspaper to let me report on a canvass of his at a general election. I did so, assuring Eamon it would not be “. . . another hatchet job”, as he put it. It wasn’t. Our paths crossed infrequently thereafter.

Out of the blue he invited me to be his guest at the conferring in Galway last month. I was surprised and touched by the gesture. And it was a privilege to be there, with Carol and their family, to see him honoured by the old alma mater.

Prince, from the Latin princeps, meaning "first man, chief leader". Colloquially, it means "a very decent and admirable person".