There’s more to Kevin Myers than his errors of judgment

As a stylist few can compare, and the former ‘Irish Times’ columnist did the State some service

BBC presenter Vanessa Feltz has said she felt 'extremely upset by a Kevin Myers column in the Sunday Timeswhich suggested she and Claudia Winkleman earned high salaries because they were Jewish. Video courtesy: BBC Radio London

 

When he left The Irish Times in May 2006 Kevin Myers’ departure was marked by sundry letters of unseemly joy. One read: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! . . .”

A more restrained reader wrote: “Please allow me to express my joy at the departure of Kevin Myers from your newspaper.”

But another probably hit a more accurate note: “Who else is going to horrify and humour me in equal measure? Since his departure I have become a more placid person. Other journalists don’t seem to provoke me to the point of rage the way An Irishman’s Diary did. I miss him.”

Indifference has never been an option where readers of Kevin Myers are concerned. That being the case, you might say he has been an opinion columnist par excellence. For is it not the function of an opinion columnist to provoke?

Where he has erred – and the litany of his sins in the area has been well ventilated over recent days – is in going beyond opinion into what some see as prejudice. Opinions may be free but no one has a right to prejudice.

Yet there is more to Myers than unhappy lapses. And, it is to be hoped, that is what these are. In the newspaper business he has proved endlessly challenging for managing editors and subeditors as they attempted to guide his columns through those choppy rapids of libel and good judgment. And he has not always met such assistance with good grace.

But when he is good he is very good. The pyrotechnics and gymnastic dexterity in his use of the English language can be exhilarating. As a stylist, few can compare.

Airbrushed from history

He has also done this State some service. From the early 1980s he began the rescue from historical oblivion of those tens of thousands of young Irish men killed in the first World War and who were wilfully forgotten. They had been airbrushed from history because they did not fit the favoured narrative of the victors in our War of Independence.

His work in this area had been a major contribution to the honesty that has, to date, marked the decade of centenaries.

He has also been a trenchant critic of paramilitary violence on this island from the outset of the Troubles. Here is what broadcaster Olivia O’Leary had to say about that violence in a review of his book Watching the Door: Cheating Death in 1970s Belfast, published in this newspaper in November 2006, six months after he left The Irish Times.

“In the early 1970s, you couldn’t avoid it, and Myers, as he says himself, became hooked. He searched it out. He arrived just after a bomb blast at Jack Lavery’s pub in Lisburn Road. The owner thought he’d get away with carrying the bomb out of his pub. He didn’t.

‘We stared around. There were tiny fragments of pink on the ground, mere smears, but hundreds of them, a confetti of human flesh’.”

She continued: “Belfast was a hard station for Myers. He was young, barely out of university. Emotionally, professionally, politically he was thrown in, and threw himself in, the deep end. Not many of us would have emerged from that vortex undamaged, and Myers didn’t.”

None of which excuses some subsequent errors of judgment on his part, the latest of which led to last weekend’s sacking by The Sunday Times (which has no connection to this newspaper). But he is more than the sum of those errors. Much more.