Saturday, 21 April 2007

Tributes to Sean, 'Doctrine and Life', March 2007

Sean Mac Reamoinn at the 1968 Merriman School. Photo courtesy of John Horgan.

For many years, Sean had a column in Doctrine and Life, in which he signed himself Oisin. These tributes are from fellow-writers to the magazine.

A Towering Authority

Louis McRedmond

Who else could have fused a music-hall ditty with an icon of French literature to explain the paucity of Irish novels about the priesthood? 'Yes', said Sean, 'we have no Bernanos'. And so we smile and laugh as we reminisce. Yet I worry a little. I worry lest the anecdotes gloss over the true worth of our friend.

To have been in Rome in the press rooms and at the conferences surrounding the Second Vatican Council - and, yes, in the bars and at the suppers - was to know Sean's full measure. Mischievous, of course, and playful with words and growling at injustice but also, and far more so, a figure of towering authority, consulted, deferred to, by colleagues from newspapers and broadcasting services far greater in repute and reach than those of our small island. Through them he wielded an influence that was profound and enduring and percolated through to their viewers, listeners, readers. He broadened and deepened their understanding of the Council. For me therefore he ranks among the great practitioners of Christian renewal in our age, not only in Ireland but far beyond.

Through myriad memories in near half-a-century of friendship, and touching many areas other than Church affairs, I fasten upon this, that Sean taught so many what it was to be of the People of God. Would that our country and world could hear him now.

I am being solemn and recall uncomfortably how Sean himself would hasten to puncture undue solemnity. One evening in Rome we journalists were racked by scruples over whether to report a rumour which we believed to be true but could not confirm for want of a convincing attribution. Sean looked up at the Venerabile building across from the trattoria and mused aloud: 'That's there. We're here. So we could say "sources close to the English College".' Smile and laugh again. But remember greatness too.

The Most Serious and the Least Stuffy of Men

Austin Flannery, O.P.

I first met Scan Mac Reamoinn in the late 1950s when a group of us decided that we needed to discuss theology regularly. We were at a loss for a location suitable for a small group. For a time we met in a room over a pub; later, the flat provided for the director of what was then called the Municipal Gallery in Dublin's Parnell Square becamethe location for our conversations. Immensely well informed, Sean was most generous in sharing his knowledge. His fluency in Irish and French as well as his competence in other languages, including Italian and German, enabled him to mix helpfully, knowledgeably and entertainingly in all sorts of company.

As so many have commented since his death, reporting on Vatican II and on the implementation of its reforms made Sean known to a wide public, and not just in Ireland. In 1967 the American writer Robert Hoyt, of The National Catholic Reporter, was greatly impressed by the group of Irish journalists covering the Synod of Bishops of that year. He wrote:

I'm thinking of suggesting to the Pope that the whole Church should be turned over to them for a couple of weeks. They might not be able to solve the crisis of faith or the crisis of authority, but they would at least postpone the crisis of boredom.

The man to put in charge of the whole operation would be one Sean Mac Reamoinn, who writes for Irish papers and talks for Irish television, and who is at once the most serious and the least stuffy of men. He has a round jolly face, a round jolly belly, a moustache as thick as is his brogue and a twinkle in his eye that should be patented and put on the market for the salvation of souls. Sean was a most willing and active collaborator in ventures aimed at helping bring about reforms called for by the Council.

He was a member of the editorial board of Scripture in Church since its very beginnings, in the Spring of 1971. In fact, it was he who wrote the press-release when the periodical was launched. Like all of Sean's literary efforts it was beautifully written and was very effective. The press conference was splendid, thanks to him. When in February, 1980, readers of Doctrine& Life first encountered Sean Mac Reamoinn's column, 'Laylines', he himself came to them heavily disguised. In those days he used the pen-name, Oisin. I explained the reason for using a pen-name when introducing Sean to our readers - at that time I was editor of Doctrine &f Life. It is now under the able editorship of my confrere, Bernard Treacy. I wrote, in 1980: here we have a distinguished Irish layman who has much to offer in the way of insight, comment, gripe or suggestion. He is a civil servant and protocol decrees that he may not use his own name if he wants to write about matters of public(civil) interest - which he may want to do from time to time.

His column proved enormously popular. A writer in the London paper. The Tablet, likened Sean's contributions to fine brandy. Sean managed to infuse into his writings that all too rare combination of seriousness and unstuffmess, that twinkle in the eye, coupled with a profoundly Thomistic sensus theologicus, a sense of history, a love for the Church, for Ireland and things Irish, a courtesy and an elegance of expression.

As John Horgan points out in the obituary in The Tablet, in the twenty years after his retirement Sean's 'productive energies barely flagged', as he spent his time 'in a continuous cycle of stimulation, activity, and intellectual and theological exploration.' All this despite a growing burden of incapacity, which he bore with exemplary patience, and the prolonged illness of his wife to whom he was unflaggingly caring. I am deeply grateful for the blessing of having enjoyed Sean's friendship for half a century.

Orvieto, Books and Weeds

Liz Meldon

My first real encounter with Sean Mac Reamoinn was at an Easter Sunday lunch many years ago. My liquid offering was a bottle of Orvieto which Sean said was his favourite. With hindsight, had I brought cooking sherry, I feel he would have greeted me and the bottle with the same enthusiasm.

At the time I ran a small bookshop in Dundrum which was very convenient for Sean, as he attended the church there and frequently had his lunch in the 'House' across the road. 'Has that wretched man Colin Dexter written anything new?' might be the greeting followed by a string of expletives if the answer was in the negative. Sean was an avid reader of crime and had his favourites.

In time, I knew the birthdays of his wife, Pat, and the entire family. New poetry, the latest book on dance, some P.G. Wodehouse, and detective novels were the core Mac Reamoinn purchases. As the years went on it became too difficult for Sean to climb the stairs to the shop; so, a new arrangement was put in place. Phone calls would come and I would gather together the requested books and meet him in the 'House' for lunch. Books and money would change hands and then I would have to tear myself away from conversation that I never wanted to end, and he could never understand why I had to go back to work.

On one such occasion the phone rang and that distinctive Mac Reamoinn voice was on the other end: 'My dear, I need a thirty-pound book-token, please, and I will be in the usual place, at about 1.15 pm.' Five minutes later: 'You would be passing the Spar shop on the way up? Well, a small sliced pan and the Telegraph, if you don't mind.' 'No problem, Sean.' The receiver had hardly settled in the cradle when it rang again: 'I've just remembered it's Pat's birthday. Would you pick up a bunch of flowers as well - oh, and a birthday card.' Armed with book-token, Telegraph, bread, card and a beautiful (my opinion!) bunch of flowers I arrived into the pub where Sean was seated having light refreshment before lunch. Everything placed on the seat beside him, I was about to embrace him when his greeting was heard the length and breadth of Dundrum. 'F**""g weeds. They're f*****g weeds. How much did you pay for them?' We proceeded to have a discussion about perennials and I tried to convince my outraged companion I had chosen Mother Nature's finest.

A phone call that evening at home informed me that Mrs MacReamoinn was delighted with his flowers and had them in 'every damn vase in the house'.

Orvieto will never taste quite the same again.

Man of Encouragement

Michael Hurley, S.J.

As well as being the internationally distinguished journalist and broadcaster now on his death being acclaimed by the media, Sean Mac Reamoinn was a highly cultured person and an intellectual post-Vatican II lay Catholic with a robust faith. The Church is deeply indebted to him and rightly proud of him. As a Jesuit I may perhaps be permitted to recall that it was from the Jesuits at Colaisde lognaid in Galway that Sean got the beginnings of his love of English, French and Irish: the language and literature, the culture.

One of my first meetings with Sean was to do a television programme with him for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It was ages ago,the first year of RTE, and my first practical experience of the new medium. Closeted with him in a makeshift studio, a cubby-hole in the Donnybrook premises, I did a straight talk to camera and then of course we withdrew to the Trocadero for supper.

My last meeting with Sean was on 6 January last. I wanted to share with him as he lay on his hospital bed something of the joyful spirit of the funeral Mass a few days previously of his friend, the Carmelite liturgist, Fr Eltin Griffin. We went on to lament the recent decision of the Hierarchy of England and Wales to transfer the Epiphany to the following Sunday. Why, Sean wondered sadly, hadn't they simply removed the obligation and let the traditional date stand? Eltin and I, with many others, had the privilege of being friends of Sean. He was personally as well as intellectually involved in the post-Vatican II movement for Church renewal and unity. Indeed he seemed at times to go out of his way to mention and bless my name in his 'Laylines', the lively feature which for many years he contributed monthly to Doctrine &f Life. Sean was a great encourager. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.

Man of the People - of God

Anne Thurston

At Sean Mac Reamoinn's funeral Mass I was seated in a row next to three priests. 'What are you doing here?' I asked in jest, 'Should you not be with your fellow clergy?' 'Oh no,' one of them replied, 'Today of all days, we want to be part of An PobalDe. That is what Mac Reamoinn would have wanted.' He was right: that's exactly what would have delighted Sean - a commingling of priests and people with no divisions save for the functions of liturgical office.

He embodied the model of Church as the whole people of God. Sean Mac Reamoinn didn't just talk about Vatican II; he lived it. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he numbered so many of the ordained among his closest friends, Sean Mac Reamoinn had no time for clericalism. He had great respect for the office but not for
what he saw as a caste system. He talked of the clerical/lay dichotomy as a 'cancer' in the Body of Christ. He bristled at a description of a defrocked priest as 'reduced to the lay state'. 'Liturgy' and 'laity' - these were topics that he returned to again and again in his columns in Doctrine & Life.

I admired Sean Mac Reamoinn's tenacity, I admired his forthrightness, his fearlessness and what the obituarists called his 'simple faith'. What did they mean, I wonder? Sean didn't fit any picture of conventional piety. He loved (and with a passion) wine, women and song. Criticism of Church is commonplace; what is uncommon is to have this combined with dogged fidelity. Sean Mac Reamoinn was indeed a 'practising Catholic' which is to say he felt himself to be one of the flawed, failing, fragile, hopeful human beings among whom the Word was made flesh. And so he rejoiced!

Friendship, Talk and Fidelity

Robert Dunlop

Sean Mac Reamoinn was one of the most articulate and affable radio journalists whom I can remember hearing. I was privileged to enjoy his friendship and was frequently stimulated by his thoughts,words and wisdom.

He saw into the soul of Ireland and was skilled in interpreting the profound changes taking place in society, the Churches and local communities. He managed to maintain a clear orthodoxy while questioning many of the tired practices which stifle progress. His regular writings as a columnist in Doctrine &f Life, which he titled 'Laylines', were provocative and informative but never destructive. His reflections were highly readable; and while he was skilled in several languages, pedantic sophistry was not his style. Sean was a lively human being who enjoyed life, engaged with people, and was a brilliant conversationalist.

He was one of the founders of, and a regular participant in, the Glenstal Ecumenical Conference. Ecclesiastically, he cast his net widely and, while demonstrating a primary interest in his native Irish Catholicism, seen through the prism of Vatican II, he was ready to explore theological and churchly questions with Dublin Anglicans, Northern Presbyterians, Welsh Non-conformists, and anybody else who was ready to talk.

Sean had no time for waffle or sub-standard scholarship. When someone was giving a talk or lecture which Sean regarded as superficial or inadequate, he responded with overt disappointment. When dissenting from some opinion, viewpoint or conclusion, he would sit back and utter his 'growl' which indicated exactly where he stood. As a practitioner of good communication thorough radio, television and the print media, he was always positive in encouraging those who took their work seriously and aimed at accuracy and balance in their presentations. Even his tetchiness and impatience with sloppy work did not threaten his readiness to promote the Kingdom of God. Deep down, he had strong moorings in Scripture, theology, Church tradition, and spiritual fellowship. Externally he was an unlikely anam chara; but I, along with many others found in him someone who drank deeply of the wells of salvation and souught to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

Liberation Humour
Ricca Edmondson

The society which Sean Mac Reamoinn created around him - the pub conversation which he and his friend Herbert McCabe always said represented the kingdom of heaven on earth - evolved from his own ebullient personality but at the same time it was designed for a specific, eschatological purpose. It was open to anyone who could enjoy it, and the effect of its humour was to liberate; it was intended to turn conventional values upside down - or at least sideways - and to free us from enslavement to preoccupations of everyday survival, social acceptability or career advancement. To be part of this conversation was, in the most exciting, unnerving sense, an education. Undue solemnity about the wrong things was not squashed from above with a lecture on ethics: it was undermined from below with a joke which simul-
taneously showed one why one was mistaken and motivated one to try to be more right.

This is not to say that every joke had an immediate pedagogical purpose. This itself would have been a solemn arrangement. No-one was more conscious than Sean how love of humanity and of life diffuse enjoyment through everything - his humour was a constant marker of this, remembered now round the whole globe in countless tiny ways. Whenever he stayed at our house, he enchanted our children with unexpected remarks. He was going to get a cat, he told them, and name it Ceremony, and a dog which would be called Considerable Restraint. Then, when visitors called, he would ask them not to stand on Ceremony, and if they annoyed him he would announce his need to exercise Considerable Restraint. The children are now men, but last year when they introduced a kitten into the house they actually did call it Ceremony. Ceremony reminds us of much it would be dangerous to forget.

Loving to Share the Word of God
Margaret Daly-Denton

A precious memory that many people have of Sean Mac Reamonn is his reading of the creation story at the Easter Vigil. In 2004 I had the privilege of hearing him articulate his vision of the ministry of the word in a presentation to readers. The elegance and theological depth ofSean's title for his presentation said everything -'Reading the Scriptures: Word and Sacrament; Art and Craft'.

For Sean, it was essential that readers understand that they are asked to do 'a very sacred, important job': to carry the word of God, in their grasp, in their book, in their voice, and to bring it to God's people, telling them about God's love and care for all creation, especially as articulated in the coming of Jesus. As Sean saw it, this is what makes the liturgical reading of the Scriptures 'the primary missionary endeavour' of the Church. Sean was profoundly conscious of the responsibility of being brought so close to the centre of God's communication with humankind. He insisted that any artistry and craftsmanship that readers can bring to this ministry is simply their duty. He called for audible, intelligible reading that smooths the way for the word, so that at the end of the reading the people can genuinely say, Thanks be to God.' For him it was a particular joy that, unlike Communion ministers who can offer the Eucharist only to those who approach, ministers of the word can offer the word to everyone.

To quote Sean, 'Can we bring the word to people? We may never know, but there are times, in the mercy of God, when we hear from people that it has worked.' When Sean read in church, it worked. May he enjoy the reward of a good and faithful servant.

Friendship and Communion

John Horgan

The word anam-chara might have been invented for Sean Mac Reamoinn. Friendship was part of his extraordinary genius. But there was an additional, special dimension to it. It was not just that Sean made friends wherever he went: it was that, through some sort of osmosis, all the people who were friends of Sean's were likely, in the fullness of time, also to become friends of each other. In this way community was created, built, enhanced, and celebrated.

There are, I think, four words which are, in a sense, all different aspects of the same reality, and which defined and expressed Sean's nature and his commitment. They are: friendship, community, communion, and Church. They came together most memorably on that marvellous evening on 8 December 1965, the last night of Vatican II, when there was a motley gathering of around a hundred journalists, periti, and ecclesi-
astical hangers-on of all descriptions, clerical and lay, in the Trattoria Da Marcello, in a little streetjust behind Mussolini's Via della Conciliazione. At the end of a sometimes raucous, sometimes deeply emotional, and altogether heartwarming evening the journalists present appointed themselves cardinals and proceeded to the election of the first lay Pope. It was the shortest conclave in history, and there are no prizes for guessing at the name that accompanied the white smoke.

Sean generated many stories himself, and there are countless stories about him. But it is worth remembering also that the story to which he remained faithful was the greatest story ever - the Gospel,which was his benchmark for others, and the benchmark against which he knew he too would be judged.

Passion for the Best

Mary Troy

Somehow it seems impossible that all that Sean embodied when alive could be dissipated, gone forever, vanished. No, all that learning and love, the outrageous, acerbic, witty and clever sense of humour which came from the deepest seriousness could not just evaporate and fade into the air. His passion for the best, including language, poetry, music, the Catholic Church and so many other facets of life was laced with scorn for all that he considered venal, including lemon in his vodka, as many a barman knew only too well. In a prayer attributed to St Brigid she desires a 'vat of good cheer laid out for the men of heaven', that they would be 'cheerful in their drinking' and to which she would invite 'the three Marys', all the saints and 'Jesus too'.

So I do not imagine Sean lying 'in a wintry grave', but instead entertaining that good company in the same splendid fashion as he had done when alive, with gravely voice and growly laugh while reciting poetry in the many languages he spoke so beautifully. He was a good man, and as Yeats so beautifully put if. Tor the good are always merry, save by an evil chance and the merry love to fiddle and the merry love to dance', though Sean was a man who entertained with words rather than a iddler or dancer!

To offer to be Sean's driver was to enter on an adventure, and I often set off for an afternoon only to return home after two days of hilarity, having driven though the high ways and byways of Clare or any other county in search of musicians or poets or priests. He had a special love for two Irish towns, Galway and Clonmel. He
had gone to school in the 'Jes' in Galway and to university at UCG; and on his visits here he would meet up with friends and exchange anecdotes from his incredible memory. All this in the snug, Ti Neachtain, his favourite Galway watering hole. His capacity for friendship was such that to have once been a friend was to be a friend forever.

Sean loved, and often quoted on radio from My Clonmel Scrapbook,originally a scrapbook kept by my mother's father; and my mother loved the way he read from it. So, on a visit here in Galway I introduced her (she was then 96), and he read to her the poem The Two Travellers'. Later, she told me that since her father had died in 1924 she had never heard it read so perfectly. Afterwards they revelled on their mutual love of Clonmel and with much laughter discussed in detail all its nooks and crannies.

Sean was a man who shared his gifts with all. I first met when I was a naive student of 23, in Radio Eireann, then in the GPO, and over the next 40 years he became my mentor and friend.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.

Tribute writers

Austin Flannery, O.P., was editor of Doctrine & Life from 1957 to 1988.
Liz Meldon is proprietor of The Rathgar Bookshop, 100 Rathgar Road Dublin 6.
Michael Hurley, S.J., is founder of the Irish School of Ecumenics and of the
Columbanus Community of Reconciliation.
Anne Thurston is a writer and lecturer.
Robert Dunlop is a retired Baptist minister, living in County Kildare.
Ricca Edmondson lectures in sociology at the National University of Ireland,
Margaret Daly-Denton is a liturgical composer and a teacher of biblical and
liturgical studies.
John Horgan reported on Vatican II for The Irish Times.
Louis McRedmond reported on Vatican II as editor of The Irish Independent.
Mary Troy teaches Scripture at Western Theological Institute, Galway.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Fr Tom Stack: Rite and Reason, Irish Times, 27 February

At the funeral home, standing before the open coffin of Seán Mac Reamoinn, his friend, musician and former RTÉ producer Tony McMahon leaned towards me and pronounced: "There are no words to describe this man." And of course he was right, as I suspect all of you who knew Seán would agree. Certainly I'm not going to attempt that futile task.

Interestingly, Seán himself, veteran funeral-goer that he was, spoke vehemently to me on more than one occasion of his aversion to panegyrics, insisting that instead, the Gospel and only that should be proclaimed on such occasions.So I intend to follow his instruction on the matter. And anyway, anything I could say would be nothing less than cliches and limp truisms, to this congregation, so many of whom knew him so well.

I must admit to the sneaking thought, which of course quickly perished, that maybe Seán delivered himself against eulogies, sensing that no one could do him justice at his own obsequies and that that, at least subliminally, was the real ground for his opposition to funeral panegyrics in principle! But on this moot point, I opt for the safe and healthy Christian axiom: Nil, nisi bonum de mortuis.

But whatever one says or does not say about Seán, it is hardly a truism to say that he believed that the Christian vision of life was something well worthwhile. Seán used to say that mystery is not something about which we can know nothing. It is rather something of which we can never know everything. The recognition of mystery helps us moreover to avoid placing false limits or boundaries on reality. As Patrick Kavanagh's poem Hero reminds us: "They had the wrong ideas of God, who once all known, becomes ridiculous."

Issuing from this inclusive, mystery-inflected world view, Seán embraced the pivotal mystery of what we call the Incarnation: embraced it with gusto, but also with acuity. For the Christian, the Incarnation of the Word ushers in a new world of hope and meaning. The mystery of the Christian God, identifying totally with our flesh, becomes part of our human condition: enters into our own frailty and fallibility even, and shares our plight as well as our destiny, in the authentic humanity of the person of Jesus Christ.

This truth it is possible for Christians to assimilate, though imperfectly, through the gift of religious faith. That in turn enables the Christian, earthbound and restricted as we may be, to grasp and esteem the world of ritual and symbol; the world of what we call sacramental signs - pre-eminently embodied in the sharing of the Eucharist. And that to my mind was Seán's cherished attachment; the love of his Christian life.

I am reminded of an occasion in Rome which illustrates Seán's uncanny predisposition towards the celebration of Eucharist. One Sunday evening he and I were part of a small group invited to a friend's apartment for dinner. It was during an international Synod which both of us as journalists, in different capacities, were covering for RTÉ. Seán had being interviewing leading theological personalities all morning and for that reason was unable to attend Mass.

On arrival at our venue he was distinctly uneasy and suddenly declared "we have among us a 'clerk in Holy Orders' (referring to myself) so perhaps we might have a brief Eucharist before dinner". At that the hostess duly produced a Bible, but I demurred pleading that without a missal I could not trust myself to recite from memory the essential Eucharistic Prayer. With a growl of indignation, Seán grabbed an empty brown paper bag nearby (in which he had brought a bottle of wine), tore it asunder and proceeded to write out verbatim, the entire text of the Third Eucharistic Prayer which he then thrust at me with disdain for my perceived professional incompetence and tartly addressed me as follows "now reverend sir, please begin!".

May Seán, gifted soul, irrepressible and irresistible, rest in peace as he departs our company ar shlí na firinne. Amen.

Mgr Tom Stack is parish priest at Milltown in Dublin. He celebrated Seán Mac Reamoinn's funeral Mass.

Friday, 16 February 2007

Guardian obituary, 16 February

Sean Mac Réamoinn, who has died aged 85, was a broadcaster and writer with a deep interest in Gaelic culture and religious affairs. He once remarked that everything in the Catholic church was either forbidden or compulsory, and remembered with much amusement an American bishop's commendation of "the passionate chastity of the men of Ireland".

From 1962 to 1965, he reported on the second Vatican council, which raised both hopes and fears among Irish Catholics. For his part, he enthusiastically welcomed it for bringing the church, "kicking and screaming", into the 20th century. He was happy to bid farewell to some of the minor stupidities of Irish life: "We have got rid of the prudishness and petty puritanisms that made us think sexuality was a tremendously important thing."

A "card-carrying Catholic", he sided with "the loyal opposition", a concept disapproved of by the institutional church. He delighted in "the whole of God's creation", from good food, to fresh ideas, to good jokes. He supported the ordination of women and married men and believed that there should be a strong distinction between the clergy and the ministry. He strongly believed that the Roman collar should cease to be a symbol of class or power.

Mac Réamoinn was born in Birmingham, the third child of James and Wilhelmina Redmond. His father was from Boolavogue, county Wexford, and the family returned to Ireland two years later. He was educated by the Christian brothers in Clonmel, the Jesuits in Galway, took a double arts degree at University College, Galway, and did postgraduate work in Old and Middle English.

He entered the Irish diplomatic service in 1944, transferring to Radio Éireann, then a part of the civil service, when the station was substantially expanded in 1947. He was attached to the outside broadcast unit and worked with the distinguished uileann piper, Seamus Ennis, travelling the country to record the music and folklore of rural Ireland. On one occasion, a farmer took a break from haymaking to explain what made one poem better than another: "Better words, better placed."

Mac Réamoinn was proud of Radio Éireann's role in the revival of Irish traditional music through introducing regional styles to a national audience and providing a platform for young musicians. He later held a number of senior administrative posts in Radio Telifis Éireann, as it became in 1960, and was a member of the station's governing body, the RTÉ Authority.

Mac Réamoinn spoke Gaelic fluently. His wish was that it should be preserved as a living language and cultivated to a point where it came into flower again. But he warned that negative and sectional attitudes to the Irish tradition would have to be abandoned if Gaelic was to become again a dynamic force for cultural growth and a focus for national unity. He maintained a lifelong interest in things Welsh and, in August 1979, was robed as a bard at the national eisteddfod in Caernarfon. The citation described him as a regular interpreter of Wales in Ireland and a scholar in Celtic studies.

Mac Réamoinn was fully committed to public service broadcasting. A radio station that was entirely highbrow held no appeal for him; it should first educate, then inform and entertain, but he saw little merit in radio based purely on commercial criteria. He was opposed to section 31 of the Irish broadcasting act, under which representatives of Sinn Féin and loyalist paramilitary groups were denied access to the airwaves (the restrictions have since been rescinded). While he had no time for the IRA, he described the measure as anti-democratic and potentially destructive. "People in broadcasting should be trusted," he insisted.

Mac Réamoinn was a stalwart of Cumann Merriman, founded in 1967 in honour of the poet Brian Merriman, which in 1967 began organising lively summer (and later winter) schools to discuss political and cultural issues. He was a member of many other groups and organisations ranging from the anti-apartheid movement to the Irish theological association.

He nailed his political colours to "the mast of the battered Irish left" and thought there had to be a social stand against giving market forces free rein. He regretted that Fine Gael leader, Garret FitzGerald had not aligned himself with the left earlier in his political career.

Mac Réamoinn regularly wrote for newspapers and magazines. His Vaticáin II agusan Réabhlóid Cultúrtha (Vatican II and the Cultural Revolution, 1987) assessed the cultural and spiritual revolution in Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. Other publications include The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry (ed) (1982), The Synod on the Laity: An Outsider's Diary (1987) and Laylines (1993).

He had catholic musical tastes and, when called on to sing, could draw on a repertoire that included the songbooks of Cole Porter and Jerome Kern, Irish ballads and vaudeville favourites.

He is survived by his wife Patricia (née Hall), daughters Seona and Laoise, and son Brian.

- PJ Gillan

Sean Séamas Criostóir Mac Réamoinn, broadcaster and writer, born November 21 1921; died January 17 2007

Thursday, 8 February 2007

From The Tablet, 10 February 2007

Seán Mac Réamoinn, the veteran Irish broadcaster and journalist, who died in Dublin last month, aged 85, was a seminal force in the introduction and dissemination of the concept and ideas of the aggiornamento in Ireland during and after the Second Vatican Council.

He was born in Birmingham to Irish emigrant parents, who returned to Ireland shortly afterwards. In Galway he was educated by the Jesuits who, with his family, instilled in him not only a mature spirituality but a deep attachment to the Irish language. A brilliant academic career led to a position in the Irish foreign service, but the young diplomat’s communicative skills rapidly diverted him into the Irish broadcasting service, now known as Radio Telefis Éireann (RTÉ), then experiencing massive post-war expansion.

Much of his work with the station was initially focused on the Irish language and culture: his surviving archival recordings from that period demonstrate not only his linguistic skills but his versatility as a broadcaster and his keen sense of cultural values as a collector. In 1963, however, he was sent to Rome by the station to cover the opening of the first session of the Second Vatican Council. The experience, and his passionate desire to share that experience with an Irish Catholic Church that was at the time largely passive and uninterested in change, were profoundly to mark the rest of his career, and the society of which he was a part.

RTÉ was in fact the only Irish media organisation to send its own staff to cover the first three sessions of of the Council. When the print media finally followed suit, at the beginning of the final session in 1965, Seán, already a senior figure in the throng of journalists who had been following the evolution of this extraordinary initiative of Pope John XXIII, became a mentor to his Irish colleagues. Generous to a fault with his insights and his contacts, he inducted many of them into a crash course in the theology of renewal and the intricacies of Vatican politics. His fame, however, was by then more than national: at the end of a convivial dinner in a trattoria on the last night of the Council in December 1965, one hundred or so of his journalistic colleagues from many countries, along with assorted theologians and Vaticanologists, held an impromptu conclave at which he was unanimously elected the first lay pope.

Back in Ireland, there was serious work to be done, especially in a Church marked by a combination of episcopal timidity and rigidity. He was a key member of an unusual organisation called “Flannery’s Harriers” (after another founding member, the Dominican Fr. Austin Flannery OP, the much-respected editor of Doctrine and Life). This was a theological discussion group of which it was unkindly but not altogether inaccurately said that it had Protestant and Jewish members before it had any female members, but which played a key role in placing intellectual rigour, and the role of the laity, at the centre of the Irish renewal.

His broadcasts on religious topics for RTE in the years that followed, supplemented by a constant stream of articles in newspapers such as the Irish Times and periodicals such as Doctrine and Life, not only earned him a wide and appreciative public, but introduced that public to key issues and debates. He was at the forefront of the nascent Irish ecomenical movement, and a key contributor to its manifestations at conferences in Glenstal, Ballymascanlon and elsewhere. At the centre of an ever-growing circle of friends, collaborators and allies, he was in a continuous cycle of stimulation, activity, and intellectual and theological exploration. Even in the two decades that followed his retirement, his productive energies barely flagged. His funeral on 20 January was marked by an extraordinary outpouring of public respect and affection for the man who habitually described himself simply as a member of “the People of God, Dublin Branch”.

Seán Mac Réamoinn born Birmingham, 27 November 1921; died Dublin, 17 January 2007.

John Horgan

Friday, 2 February 2007

Tribute by Michael Hurley SJ

From the AMDG Newsletter on the Irish Jesuit website

As well as being the internationally distinguished journalist and broadcaster now on his death being acclaimed by the media, Sean MacReamoinn was a highly cultured person and an intellectual post-Vatican II lay Catholic with a robust faith. The Church is deeply indebted to him and rightly proud of him.

As a Jesuit I may perhaps be permitted to recall that it was from the Jesuits at Colaisde Iognaid in Galway that Sean got the beginnnings of his love of English, French and Irish: the language and literature, the culture.

One of my first meetings with Sean was to do a television programme with him for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It was ages ago, the first year of RTE and my first practical experience of the new medium. Closetted with him in a makeshift studio, a cubby hole in the Donnybrook premises I did a straight talk to camera and then of course we withdrew to the Trocadero for supper.

My last meeting with Sean was on 6 January last. I wanted to share with him as he lay on his hospital bed something of the joyful spirit of the funeral mass a few days previously of his friend, the Carmelite liturgist, Fr Eltin Griffin, O.Carm. He would have been there of course had he been able. As it happened to be 6 January we went on to lament the recent decision of the Hierarchy of England and Wales to transfer the great feast of Epiphany to the following Sunday. Why, Sean wondered sadly, hadn't they simply removed the obligation and let the traditional date stand? Despite breathing difficulties he was still his old self.

Eltin and I, with many others of course, had the privilege of being friends of Sean. He was personally as well as intellectually involved in the post-Vatican II movement for Church renewal and unity. Indeed he seemed at times to go out of his way to mention and bless my name in his 'Laylines', the lively feature which for many years he contribnuted monthly to Doctrine and Life. Sean was a great encourager. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Eoghan Harris, Sunday Independent, 28 January 2007

In memory of Sean Mac Reamoinn

By some serendipity I was in Litchfield, Staffordshire - the birthplace of Dr Johnson - when I heard that Sean Mac Reamoinn was dead. I say serendipity because although I was sick at having to miss his funeral, I was in the right place to review my many memories of a mentor and guide. Because the figure Sean Mac Reamoinn most resembles was the benign figure of Dr Johnson, as brought to life by Boswell.

Tony MacMahon said that no words could describe Sean Mac Reamoinn. And I agree. But in the absence of a Boswell, those who knew him should share some of the fun with a new generation. Because Sean Mac Reamoinn was to Irish broadcasting - and, by extension, to Irish life - what Dr Johnson was to the world of literary London.

Back in the Sixties most producers in Irish television came from Britain or Canada. Few of them had Irish or insight into the riches of Irish culture, then going through a remarkable renaissance under the aegis of artists like Sean O Riada and Sean O Tuama. Trainees like Sean O Mordha, Brian Mac Lochlainn and myself craved role models who could combine tradition with modernity.

We found them among a group of brilliant broadcasters brought in from Radio Eireann or back from the BBC - Aindreas O Gallochoir, Brendan O hEithir James Plunkett Kelly, Muiris Mac Conghail and Donal Farmer - who were promptly dubbed the Gaelic Mafia, although some of them, like James Plunkett Kelly, had no interest in Irish.

In fact the so-called Gaelic Mafia was merely a meeting of minds among those who wanted to invigorate the Irish imagination by integrating the Irish language with the reform of Irish society along radical lines. But if the Gaelic Mafia had existed, Mac Reamoinn would have been its Godfather. In that company he was primus inter pares, first among equals.

Mac Reamoinn's pluralism made nonsense of any such name-calling. In time his wit won over many who had been hostile to Irish and made them feel at home in Mac Reamoinn's republic. And I am convinced that any future Irish Republic must look like a meeting of Cumann Merriman, where Northern Protestants will rise before dawn to roust the lazy republicans out of bed.

When it came to wit, Mac Reamoinn, like Dr Johnson, was fast on the draw. Asked about his summer, he said, "I spent it with my wife at that well known watering place, near loggerheads." Indeed his beloved and beautiful wife Pat and his cherished children were regularly used as comic feeds or to point up a punchline.

Complaining to him about an RTE colleague who briefly turned his house into a B&B. I remarked: "Imagine coming home come home to find a German hitchiker in the house." Mac Reamoinn bulged his eyes: "Imagine coming home to find your wife and family in the house!"

Mac Reamoinn's sense of humour was benign but gently barbed, and worked both at home and abroad. John A Murphy points out that most witticisms are well rehearsed, but that Mac Reamoinn's sprang spontaneously from the soil of the situation. "Mac Reamoinn redeemed the pun from its low status and made it a socially desirable skill."

As proof Murphy recalls how one morning on his way to speak in the Senate, Mac Reamoinn accosted him and asked him what he was going to speak about. Murphy said he planned to attack Haughey's thuggish style of politics and ask (again) the source of the wealth behind the lavish lifestyle at Kinsealy. Mac Reamoinn: "So you're going to denounce him brute and ranch?"

But Mac Reamoinn could be deadly serious when dealing with the armed struggle which he despised. On the day of the Mountbatten murders, Murphy remembers Mac Reamoinn, reaching for a shared reference, and murmuring softly in mimicry of Yeats: "We have disgraced ourselves again."

Abroad, his wit was accurate too. On one occasion (I cannot recall the exact date) he returned to RTE from Moscow, after attending what I think was the first mass ordination of seminarians in the Russian Orthodox Church since the Russian Revolution. Because the Soviets seemed unsure whether to harass the ceremony or parade it as an example of a thaw, the ceremony had attracted both the attention of the KGB and the international press corps, at that time anxious for any sign of a thaw.

As Sean seemed to know the liturgy of every church, and had languages, as they say in Irish, "at his will", he was able to make the correct responses to the lavish and literally Byzantine rituals. An alert agent of the Patriarch spotted his devotional risings and fallings and (to the ill-concealed envy of his English colleagues) a discreet invitation was issued to join the Patriarch of Moscow "for a coffee".

So when he came home we asked him with awe what he and the Patriarch had talked about. Sean pulled his nose and said, "Well first of all I confirmed that a cup of coffee means in Russia what it means in Ireland, that is the cup that cheers. And thanks to our sharing of bog technology with the Soviets, the Patriarch also had three words of Irish. 'Bord na Mona' to be exact."

Sean paused to pull his nose for effect. "After that we spoke about the Great Schism of 1054, which you, Harris, as an historian, will recall, centred around the doctrinal question of the addition of the filioque clause of the Nicene Creed. [Pause.] Generally I let the Patriarch know I wasn't from the Daily Express."

That reply was pure Mac Reamoinn: the lightly worn learning, the poke at the tabloid press and of the flattering implication that we young whippersnappers shared his scholarship. No wonder young men and women worshipped him. And their enthusiastic enjoyment of his company kept him boyish to the end.

But Mac Reamoinn's attraction for youth was not merely mental. Like Dr Johnson he had the physical stamina for what I call "rambling", by which I mean the ability to put cosy habits aside, and to roam out on a whim, to see what the world has to offer.

If you want to know what Mac Reamoinn in later life was like, read Boswell's account of how two drunken young dogs, Bennet Langton and Topham Beauclerc, in a tavern at three in the morning, worked up the Dutch courage to knock on Dr Johnson's door.

Johnson, who was then touching 60, came out in an old wig with a poker in his hand and instantly took in the situation. "What? Is it you, you dogs? I'll have a frisk with you." Frisk they did all that night and far into the next day, shocking the fruiterers in Covent Garden, taking a boat to Billingsgate, pausing in a tavern to listen to Johnson declaim the poet's address to Sleep, which could equally serve as an epitaph for the mighty Sean Mac Reamoinn.

Short, O short, be then thy reign,

And give us to the world again!

Eoghan Harris

Friday, 26 January 2007

John Cooney - Western People

Novelist Colm Toibin tells the story of inter-viewing Sean MacReamoinn, the broadcaster, Irish language and music enthusiast and leader of the Irish Catholic Church’s ‘loyal opposition’ who has died in Dublin, aged 85. The two were enjoying a good lunch in a busy restaurant when a friend of Sean’s approached the table, and politely asked “How are you?” According to Toibin, MacReamoinn’s answer deserves to be cited in any self-respecting dictionary of quotations. “I’m like a page from a census form,” Sean replied. “Broken down by age, religion and sex.”

Sean was a master of such one-liners that came spontaneously from his sharp intelligence and love of companionship. His gravel voice and bouncy personality in a small square body adorned with an impish moustache made him instantly recognisable wherever he went as the man who made the Irish language and music come to life on Radio Eireann - and as the man who introduced Ireland to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

My own favourite MacReamoinn-ism is of his attending the Patrician Congress in Dublin in 1961 when he heard the renowned American radio preacher, Bishop Fulton Sheen, extolling “the passionate chastity of the men of Ireland”.It was MacReamoinn who introduced novel-ist Edna O’Brien to “Nescafe society” in Dublin, and of the Ireland of the 1950s he said that it was “the culture not so much of the poor mouth as the closed mouth.” "Everything in the Catholic Church is either forbidden or compulsory,” he once quipped.

To borrow the title of Leon O’Brien’s memoir, it seems “just like yesterday” that I first met Sean. This was 1971 in the Sala Stampa, the Vatican’s press room, where I was on my first foreign assignment as a raw young reporter for the Glasgow Herald.
While most journalists were hammering away at their typewriters or delivering their news copy to the telex room, Sean was always in a phone-booth either taking a call or waiting for a call. For hours, he never moved from his booth - and he never stopped talking!

Luckily for me, as I did not know anybody when I arrived in Rome and was unfamiliar with the Vatican’s communications system, I was taken under the wings of the late Joe Power, the Irish Independent’s Religious Affairs Correspondent, and T.P. O’Mahony, then the Religious Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Press and now a columnist for the Western People.

Joe and T.P. integrated me into the company of the Irish press corps who were covering the world Synod of Bishops. Both the lunch-time conversation topped up with copious carafes of wine in Marcello’s garden restaurant in the Borgo Pio and in evening exchange of gossip and stories in trattoria in the Piazza Navona introduced me to a remarkable generation of Irish journalists who were at home in Rome as if they were honorary Italians.

There, I met - and became friends ever since - with John Horgan, the Irish Times Religious Affairs Correspondent, Louis McRedmond, Des Fisher, Sean Duignan, the late Fr Romuald Dodd O.P., all of RTE, as well as Fr Tom Stack and Fr Austin Flannery O.P. and the late Gary MacEoin. And, of course, the doyen of them all, Sean MacReamoinn. They were my first teachers of the revolution which had been brought about in Catholic Church thinking by Pope John XXIII. It was Louis McRedmond who introduced me to the Italian liquor, Sambuca.

A year later, autumn 1972, I was installed in the Irish Times in Dublin through the recommendation of John Horgan as his successor as Religious Affairs Correspondent. Several mornings a week Sean MacReamoinn would arrive in the office and get into a gaelic huddle with news-editor Donal Foley and Eileen O’Brien to write the Irish language Tuarascail column. There would be gales of laughter as the trio chuckled at their rendering in Irish of modern English technical words that had no equivalent in Irish, or as they poked fun at the airs of grandeur of government ministers that would not have been published if penned in English. Often, we would adjourn for long boozy lunches, now outlawed in today’s more politically correct days in journalism. We would be joined by novelists Meave Binchy and Ben Kiely and journalist Con Houlihan . It was like being back in Rome!

These memories came back to mind when I attended Sean’s removal to the parish church of Holy Cross in Dundrum on Friday evening. There gathered well-known faces but now carrying three more decades in appearance and age. There was laughter when the parish priest, Fr Donal O’Doherty recalled how Sean had described himself as a card-carrying member of the Catholic Church, Irish Branch.