Michael J Noonan, who passed away this Tuesday while in the care of Milford Hospice, was a politician of the old style, who made a considerable contribution to local life during nearly three decades as a Fianna Fail TD for the former Limerick West constituency. Perhaps just as importantly, his exit from public life in 1997 did not mark the end of his contribution; on the contrary, his efforts on a voluntary basis continued to make a difference for the rest of his days.
His community spirit and eagerness to do whatever he could for a worthwhile local initiative, were typified in a comment he gave to the Leader’s Martin Byrnes eight years ago. “I’m in excellent health,” he said then, shortly after he had entered his eighth decade. “I don’t feel 70 and I won’t slow down until God calls me.” He was as good as his word.
Like many politicians who come to national prominence, Michael J Noonan’s fortunes ebbed and flowed depending on the fate of those he chose to align himself to. It was ever thus in politics. A Cabinet minister under Charles Haughey, whom he supported in the explosive 1979 leadership election, he was less well-in with Albert Reynolds and found himself on the backbenches when the Longford man’s turn came to lead Fianna Fail and the country.
Away from the ups and downs of life at Leinster House, though, you will find his most meaningful accomplishments. He consistently fought the Mid-West’s corner while in office and threw himself into many a local cause. His sheer delight at the perhaps unlikely success of the Bloomsday celebrations in his native Bruff in recent years was obvious and he played his full part in that good-news story.
Among the many tributes paid to Mr Noonan, there was a phrase that resonated in the affectionate words of Fine Gael’s Patrick O’Donovan, one of his successors as a county-based TD – a party rival but a good friend.
“Many people across Limerick and further afield will feel a sense of loss at the news of the passing of this gentle person,” he said. Those who made his acquaintance or enjoyed his friendship, particularly in latter years, will recognise that description.
Gentle as in gentleman. May he rest in peace.