RTÉ are running a poll to find the greatest Irish person ever. They have 40 people listed, and I am very surprised that some people have made it onto the list: Stephen Gately, Ronan Keating, Louis Walsh, Adi Roche, Joe Dolan, Colin Farrell, and Liam Neeson. Can these people really be counted as "great"? Try this quote about greatness from Buck Rodgers (American Baseball Player):
There are countless ways of attaining greatness, but any road to reaching one's maximum potential must be built on a bedrock of respect for the individual, a commitment to excellence, and a rejection of mediocrity.
There are some truly great Irish people listed - my shortlist from the RTÉ list is Pearse, Collins, Parnell, Dev, and Oscar Wilde. Of course these people all have one thing (apart from being Irish) in common - they are all dead! I'm a bit like the National Trust in the UK who will not put one of those "So-and-so lived here in 1948" plaques on the wall of a house the Trust owns until the person is dead (there's one on John Lennon's house in Liverpool, but not on on Paul McCartney's). The living can still mess things up and remove themselves from the list! Here's my reasons why I selected above (I don't expect people to agree with me on any of this):
I choose Patrick Pearse because I feel that he was an idealist who had a vision of Ireland as a Gaelic Society free from Britain's rule, and he was prepared to give his life for a doomed cause. Ruth Dudley-Edwards accurately reflects on his legacy as a "Triumph of Failure". As far as I know, he and Dev are the only educators on the list.
Michael Collins is on my list because of his contribution to Irish independence and to a "what might have been" factor had he survived the Civil War. He was also prepared to pay a savage price to get his way.
Charles Stewart Parnell makes my list, first as a Wicklow man, and second because he was the first real Irish man to put it up to the British right in the middle of Westminster, but also liked his "bit in the side". A real democrat who shunned the traditional violent way that Irish history documents over the centuries.
By now I might sound a bit like a republican (which I'm not), but my next choice is Éamon de Valera - to me a giant in 20th century Irish politics. He dominated politics from 1916 to 1973 more than any other Irish person. A divisive figure still, but none-the-less certainly saved this country from destruction in World War II, and played a central role in setting up the Irish state.
Finally, just to show that I am not a complete Philistine, I have added Oscar Wilde to my short-list. Mostly because of his wonderful quotes, but also because of his literary talent (I don't "get" Joyce or Yeats). One of my most memorable trips to the theatre in the past couple of years was to see "An Ideal Husband" by Wilde. I can't end this section without one of his famous quotes - The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.
There are of course lots of great Irish people not listed: St Patrick, Brian Boru, Patrick Sarsfield, Robert Emmet, Henry Grattan, William Rowan Hamilton, Ernest Walton, Brian Friel, Brendan Behan, George Best, T.K Whitaker, to name a few. Also, there are only three women on the RTÉ list (Sonia O'Sullivan, Adi Roche, and Mary Robinson) - what about Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Brenda Fricker, Maureen Potter, Constance Markievicz, Edna O'Brien, Maria Edgeworth, and Margaret Burke-Sheridan?
And finally...my vote on the RTÉ poll went to Patrick Pearse - patriot, writer, teacher, and revolutionary.