|Beloved Irish author Maeve Binchy|
When you hear the term national treasure used to refer to someone who has just passed, it is usually exaggeration of the worst kind.
In the case of Maeve Binchy however, it is correct. Maeve passed away on Monday at age 72.
She was a national treasure of Ireland and much more; hilarious, profane, an incredible friend, and a hugely talented writer.
I knew her but not very well. Years ago I hosted a dinner for her and her beloved husband, Gordon Snell.
They were just embarking on the literary career that brought her huge fame and fortune and I did what I could to make sure Irish Americans knew all about her.
It was not much, but she never forgot that small act I did for her. Every year without fail would come a Christmas card with a letter, not just any letter but a warm personal one full of details of her year, questions about how I was doing and always, an invitation to come see them when in Ireland.
I never thought to bother them but perhaps I should have, she made you feel good just being around her.
I met her on subsequent visits to America and she was incredibly funny company.
She told one of the most hilarious stories I have ever heard. Maeve was a large woman and she described being invited to the White House to meet Barbara Bush who was a huge fan.
Barbara had two tiny corgis at the time and they were wild, galloping round the First Lady and Maeve as they sat and talked.
As I remember it, when Maeve got up, she accidentally stepped on one of them, leading to a scene of mass confusion and mayhem as the barely injured pooch was attended to.
Maeve left me in tears of laughter at her description of the scene. Like in her books, she was a marvelous storyteller.
She loved cats and called one Prionsias (Gaelic for Frank) after the then Workers Party leader Prionsias De Rossa -- she showed me a picture of her tabby and there was clearly a massive resemblance. It would make a cat laugh. She had a way of telling a story.
Here is how she described her early life to the The Irish Times, “My mother hoped I would meet a nice doctor or barrister or accountant who would marry me and take me to live in what is now called Fashionable Dublin Four. But she felt that this was a vain hope. I was a bit loud to make a nice professional wife, and anyway, I was too keen on spending my holidays in far flung places to meet any of these people.” She spent time in those years “on the decks of cheap boats, or working in kibbutzim in Israel, or minding children as camp counsellors in the United States”.
Indeed, her breakthrough in journalism was when an Irish Times editor got hold of letters she had written home to her family describing people and places during her time abroad in France.
Her books were huge hits and did much to shape the image of a New Ireland.
“Circle of Friends” was enormously influential, especially on young American women, I found, who often quoted it to me as the reason they went to Ireland in the same way that many young women today cite “PS I Love You” by Cecilia Ahern as their inspiration to come to Ireland.
I know from other mutual friends too that Maeve was enormously generous in private to people in need. She would never have spoken about it publicly, she was never that kind of person.
She will be deeply missed by no one more than her devoted husband Gordon who was a true gentleman and perfect foil for Maeve’s banterings.
May she rest in peace.