I met him on the road in Glencullen- the greatest Irishman of the twentieth century. He was an old man then and standing outside the old schoolhouse where my mother went to school. That school had closed in 1970 and in 1972 it was bought, as a holiday home, by the man I met on the road – Thomas Kenneth Whitaker.
I had met him once before, a few years earlier, when in the company of my mother and my aunt Sarah. On that occasion we were invited inside the house so that the two ladies could see the old place and how it had been transformed. Now on this second meeting, having read so much about him, I was just glad and proud to be able to shake the hand of the man who had lifted Ireland out of backwardness and helped her find the road to prosperity.
Born in the north of Ireland, T K Whitaker was possessed of a first class mind. He is listed as an economist, a politician, a diplomat and a civil servant. If you wish to know his story and his influence on Ireland in the 20th century I refer you the excellent obituary in the Irish Times, for 10th January 2017.
Being a man from the north, his understanding of the issues of Northern Ireland and his counsel to government in the South on those matters was full of wisdom. On this day when the President of the USA is visiting Ireland to commemorate the Good Friday Agreement, it is a good day to put before you the person and the
wisdom of Thomas Kenneth Whitaker.
Later on Joe Biden, the US President, will come to Mayo to visit Ballina, the home of his ancestors. He is very proud of his Irish roots. I have even more reason to be proud, for my Irish roots are more immediate than his. Not only that, but I can claim as one of our own the man who bought the old schoolhouse in Glencullen and who enjoyed fishing on Carrowmore Lake and in the Owenmore river.
A little corner of Erris, in the wild west of Ireland, has great cause to boast of an adopted son, who came here for the quiet life, a man whose life and work blessed Ireland, and whose wisdom about peaceful relations in the country is still a great resource for our life and world today.
I treasure the memory of the day I shook the hand and stood talking on a quiet road in Erris with the greatest Irishman of the 20th century, Thomas Kenneth Whitaker.
12 April 2023