Lenihan steps into history at Beal na mBláth

THERE were no floods, forked-lightning, hellfires or seismic shifts.

The sky did not darken and no one was smote down. The only plague of insects was a swarm of flying ants.

Instead, amid sunshine and birdsong and the uninterrupted spinning of our planet on its axis, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan stepped onto the podium and into history as the first Fianna Fáil minister to deliver the keynote speech at the annual Michael Collins commemoration in Béal na mBláth.

The couple of thousand who sacrificed watching Cork make hard work of reaching the All-Ireland football final treated the minister to keen applause.

Veteran Battie Brosnan was among them. The 96-year-old Kerryman, from Kilcummin, near Killarney, hasn’t missed a commemoration ceremony since 1933. Wearing a blue shirt, and proud of it, he welcomed the decision to invite Mr Lenihan to speak.

“It’s a good thing, to forget all the bitterness. I remember the Civil War, and it was awful,” he said.

Friend and neighbour John Mangan agreed. “I admire the man for coming here. He is a man with foresight and common sense. The politics of Civil War are long gone and politicians like Liam Twomey should learn the history of their country before passing remarks.”

Mr Lenihan did not want to comment on the remarks of Fine Gael Senator Dr Twomey, who inspired many to take to the airwaves and others to vent through the letters pages in the run-up to the weekend event.

He was honoured by the invitation, he said, and “acutely conscious” of the privilege of delivering his speech “at one of Irish history’s sacred places”.

Members of the Collins family were there to support him, including The Big Fella’s great-grandnieces Nora Owen, Mary Banotti and Helen Collins.

Mr Lenihan revealed he had studied the fiscal challenges faced by Mr Collins during his time as finance minister from 1919 to 1922. “Given the scale of challenges I have to meet, I was heartened by the scale of the challenges he had to meet,” Mr Lenihan said. No argument there.

Wasn’t it Mr Collins who put in place an accounting system requiring government departments to give full reports of expenditure to the Dáil? Mr Lenihan said.

No mention of what Mr Collins might think of the use of his beloved west Cork as an address from which to earn huge expenses.

Mr Lenihan was sticking to his speech and it covered most of the bases: history, the banking crisis, our economic and financial challenges and the upcoming budget, which may make current challenges seem like small potatoes.

The Last Post played the whole thing out and the crowds headed back to car radios and a good result at Croker, including members of a Fianna Fáil cumann travelling from Mr Lenihan’s own constituency in Dublin West with coach hire group Silver Lining, proving the proverb.

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