Like many others, I was saddened to hear of the death of Maeve Binchy. I’ve only read a couple of her books, but was always intrigued by her knowledge of what is sometimes referred to as ‘the human condition’ and her ability to create characters and dialogue which sounded real. But, It wasn’t until I worked in the National College of Ireland, that I came to know of another wonderful side to Maeve.
Enormous Generosity: Every year, Maeve made a substantial six figure € donation to the college, to provide underprivileged students with an opportunity to attend college. She fully understood the transformative power of education and was committed to this. Maeve was no armchair socialist. And, while she never wanted any publicity for this while she was alive, for fear of being seen labeled as a do gooder, it’s great to now be able to publicly acknowledge her generosity. That money helped NCI provide scholarship education to a number of students who would otherwise never have attended 3rd level. Maeve Binchy changed lives.
Human Condition: While the link with Maeve started with Joyce O’ Connor (my predecessor), I got to know her reasonably well. One day, we had lunch in Finnegan’s, her favourite pub in Dalkey. I must have been having a bad day and was communicating the ‘5 Sorrowful Mysteries’ about life in general. She listened and then said: “Imagine you were on a cruise and the boat was sinking. One guy was saying: ‘I told my wife we should never have taken this stupid trip. It was a mistake from the start’. Another guy was saying: ‘There’s an island just west over the horizon. Help me to build a raft’. Now, which guy would you follow?” I stopped moaning.
Lunch Meeting: Another time I had lunch with Gordan and Maeve in her house (it was great to see the room that they shared when writing). Linda, my wife, has a phobia about cats, and she tried to hide her fear as their cats came over to check us out. Maeve picked it up like a shot and the cats were immediately dispatched to the back garden. Those cats were much loved, but the link with a visitor to the house was more important than anything else. It was 100% attention to the person in the moment, in a way that few others manage to communicate.
Wicked Humour: Maeve also had a wicked sense of humour. During that lunch she asked: “Did you know that it’s International Heart Week?” We said no, we were not aware of this (secretly thinking that it would kill any chance of a good dessert). Then she emerged from the kitchen with 3 of the biggest cream cakes I had ever seen (she did not eat one herself). It was very funny.
There are many great people in the world but some are truly gifted. Without doubt, Maeve was a talented writer – even if the genre was not to your taste. But, leaving aside her writing and storytelling talent, she was a wonderfully warm and considerate person. Over the years I’ve crossed paths with a few ‘rich and famous’- but when you were with Maeve, it was clear that you were in the presence of greatness. I hope when the moment comes and our own last chapter is closing, that someone will be able to make the same boast about us, that we changed lives. We will miss you terribly Maeve. Rest in Peace.
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