Tributes paid to 'erudite' former diplomat

The remains of Padraig MacKernan are carried by family and friends

The remains of Padraig MacKernan are carried by family and friends


FOR THE late Pádraig MacKernan, public service was not just a term for State employees but a commitment to what the Romans called res publica, the public interest, a colleague of the distinguished former diplomat said yesterday.

Paying tribute during Mr MacKernan’s funeral at Mount Jerome Crematorium in Dublin, Noel Dorr said of his successor as secretary general at the Department of Foreign Affairs: “He was intellectually very gifted – brilliant even, erudite, astute, amusing, un-pompous, a good, warm, loyal and hospitable friend.

“And yes, he was argumentative, and combative even, with opponents, when he believed he was right.”

Mr MacKernan was “innately radical and idealistic” and, far from being diminished when he took up his official duties, that instinct was “disciplined, tempered and given expression in advising, formulating and implementing policy in the national interest”.

Mr MacKernan was fond of quoting the Irish novel featuring the character Matt the Thrasher, who was motivated by the needs of the “little village” where he lived. “For Paddy, the ‘little village’ was Ireland and he contributed greatly to it.”

He had a penchant for puns that was worthy of Irish Times columnist Myles na  Gopaleen. Mr Dorr recalled that, when a government minister was planning to visit Indonesia instead of attending the Galway Races, Mr MacKernan quipped: “He is going to put Djakarta before the horses.” Speaking about the last few weeks of his father’s life, Dónal MacKernan said he was like the classic statue of the Dying Gaul, the warrior who knows his life is ebbing away but maintains an “immensely noble” demeanour.

His father loved life and did not want to go but, although he was sad, he was also “in some sense serene”, and Donal was “immensely proud” of his father for this.

Mourners at the humanist ceremony were led by Mr MacKernan’s widow, Caitríona, and their family. Among those present were Labour leader Éamon Gilmore and deputy leader Joan Burton, former finance minister Alan Dukes, former industry and commerce minister Desmond O’Malley, former junior minister for foreign affairs Tom Kitt, and Senator Ivana Bacik.

Current secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs David Cooney attended, along with many other Civil Service colleagues including Dermot Gallagher, Seán Ó hUiginn, Joseph Small, Seán Donlon, Pádraig Murphy, Andrew O’Rourke, Kieran Dowling, Frank Murray, Brian McCarthy and Ted Barrington.

Also present were former EU representative in Ireland Peter Doyle, Fr Conor Harper SJ and journalists David Hanly, Paul Gillespie, Deirdre McQuillan, Patrick Smyth, Emma O’Kelly, David Davin-Power, Dennis Kennedy and Chris Glennon.

The ceremony was conducted by Brian Whiteside of the Humanist Association.