Brendan Dillon


Brendan Dillon, who died recently, was among the foremost Irish diplomats of the second half of the century and was the principal Irish diplomat dealing with the early years of Ireland's involvement with the European Community.

He was born in Dublin in 1924 and educated at Blackrock and UCD, gaining his MA in English with a paper on Henry James. At college he served as auditor of the English Lit. and took a full part in the student life of the then much smaller university at Earlsfort Terrace. Whilst there, he met his wife Alice, whose liveliness was in perfect contrast to his own essentially serious disposition. They were a devoted couple for 50 years and, in addition to her life as wife and mother, Alice's keen intellect and vivaciousness cast her perfectly for the role of ambassadress. She was a great asset to her husband and together they made a formidable team.

After college Brendan entered the diplomatic service, which was to be his life's work. He had a most interesting opening assignment as private secretary to Sean MacBride, for whom he afterwards maintained a warm regard. There was a constant stream of notable visitors.

A quiet decade of junior postings in Sweden, Belgium and Canada followed. His career accelerated in the 1960s and he served for four years in Brussels heading the incipient Irish mission to the then EEC.

This was followed by a spell as Chief of Protocol, most notable for the De Gaulle visit. In the early 1970s, he served as Ambassador in Copenhagen which coincided with entry negotiations to the then EEC. It was there that I first met him and his intellect, shrewdness, forcefulness and wide knowledge of affairs were much in evidence.

After a brief spell at home in charge of the EEC Division, he went back to Brussels as Permanent Representative to the Community and remained there for almost 10 years. During this time he made an enormous contribution to the development of Ireland's position in Europe. He was appreciated as one of the small minority of people anywhere who thoroughly understood how the Community actually worked. This was the most important period in a distinguished career and his great sense of dedication caused him to remain at this most demanding of posts for twice the normal period.

In later years he was posted to France and the Vatican. In Paris he got on well with President Mitterrand and was a keen observer of the various manoeuvres of that essentially Fourth Republic figure. At the Vatican, a certain capacity to see through, not to say around, clouds of incense was in evidence.

Unhappily, his retirement, after so remarkable a career, was somewhat marred by ill health. Trips abroad with Alice to visit grandchildren in France and Greece were an emollient. Evening honours came in the form of membership of the Legion d'Honneur, presented at a well attended and very pleasant ceremony at the French Embassy in 1995.

The end came rather quickly earlier this year. I last saw him a few days before he went. Although physically quite ill, his mind was still ticking over and in the midst of general observations on European affairs he managed to voice his disapproval of the working day golfers beneath his hospital window.

At his funeral his old college friend, Garret FitzGerald, paid tribute to his work. To his widow Alice and his children Justin (Dublin), Piers (Corinth), Jarlath (Paris), Geraldine (Seine Valley) and Gregory (Athens), deepest sympathy is offered. The cosmopolitan distribution of his family reflects Brendan's long years of service abroad.

He deserves to be remembered as an utterly dedicated public servant of the highest ability who gave selflessly of those abilities throughout many long years of service. His intellect, shrewdness and capacity for quick incisive analysis were all remarkable. In private life he was a devoted husband and father.

Now he has gone aloft. One wishes him peace. If called upon to perform any celestial diplomacy, he would certainly make a most pungent observer of the goings on at the Satanic court. R.F.