Remembering Noel Whelan
A chara, – In these parlous times, few things shock me, but it was shocking news indeed to learn of Noel Whelan’s death.
I can think of few people who were able to respect many of Ireland’s traditions while equally pushing for the nation to be better, more inclusive, more tolerant, to truly cherish all of its children, no matter where they grow up, no matter who they love. Noel was a tireless campaigner, nowhere more effective than on marriage equality, and the causes he supported will show he was on the right side of history. Noel was also a driving force behind the Kennedy Summer School in his beloved Co Wexford, and it was there that we spent a good amount of time together a few years ago. He understood the complexities and nuance of the Irish-American experience as well as anyone.
What I remember most from those glorious late summer days in New Ross was not Noel talking to the prominent politicians and academics and journalists who were in town, but seeing the locals, ordinary folks, approaching Noel and having a chat at the venue or the pub across the street. He had time and a kind word for everyone. In New Ross, he was just Noel, the lad from Ballycullane.
The Irish Times has many fine columnists, but Noel may have been the most clear-eyed of them all. His analysis was always spot on. I hadn’t seen him in more than a year, but reading his weekly column made it seem like it wasn’t that long. Now it turns out it’s forever.
Condolences to his wife Sinéad, and Seamus, their son, of course. But also to the forgotten and marginalised of Ireland who won’t be able to benefit from Noel’s fierce dedication to inclusivity and fairness.
He had so much more to give, so many more causes and campaigns to champion. And now we have lost a champion. – Is mise,