Guest post: John Bruton (1947-2024), an appreciation

Dublin historian and former public servant Felix M. Larkin’s last contribution to this site was about ‘Periodicals and journalism in twentieth-century Ireland‘, two volumes of essays co-edited with Mark O’Brien. Larkin is the author of ‘Living with History: occasional writings’, among other works. MH

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John Bruton, who died on Feb. 6, 2024, was one of the most significant figures in Irish public life for more than 50 years. He was taoiseach from December 1994 to June 1997, and the European Union’s ambassador to the United States from 2004 to 2009.

Bruton’s book

In 2015 Bruton published a collection of essays entitled Faith in Politics. The pieces ranged widely over politics, economics, history, and religion. Included in the last category was a paper he gave at the 2012 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, in which he reflected on the “added value” that Christians can bring to politics. He concluded that paper by saying that “no Christian, and Catholics in particular, should be afraid to bring their beliefs into the public square”. This is today an unfashionable idea in an increasingly secular Ireland, but Bruton never shrank from writing and speaking against the grain of the prevailing consensus.

Also unfashionable was his defense of the constitutional nationalist tradition in Irish history. John Redmond, the long-time leader of the Irish party at Westminster, was his great hero. In a seminal address in the Royal Irish Academy in 2014, reproduced in his book, he argued that “the 1916 Rising was a mistake” and left us with a baleful legacy of political violence. He feared that our continued commemoration of the Rising ran the risk of “saying that killing and dying is something that will be remembered by future generations, but patient peaceful achievements will be quietly forgotten”.

Elsewhere in his book he expressed concern about what he saw as the “higher level of skepticism about politicians nowadays”, but his “faith in democratic, constitutional politics” was absolute – hence the title of his book. His steadfast defense of constitutional politics both today and in the past is perhaps his greatest legacy to his fellow countrymen. I am proud to have known him.

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Journalists, historians, authors, researchers, and travelers to Ireland are welcome to offer guest contributions. Submissions are generally from 500 to 1,000 words, with an accompanying photo or graphic. Use the contact form on the Guest Posts page, where you can see earlier contributions.

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