The death of former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds recalls to mind the many times I encountered him over the years. He was a gentleman and a fair minded person but one occasion, in particular, stands out for me.
It was Christmas, 1999 and I’d been invited to a small gathering in the Reynolds’ family home on Donnybrook’s Ailesbury Road. When I got there, Albert and Kathleen were on hand to greet each visitor, personally. He asked me where was my girlfriend? and I told him she was en route from London and would come here after dropping off her luggage. Sure enough, half an hour later, a taxi deposited Sinead on the doorstep and she was dressed in her full clerical garb of black suit and priest’s collar.
As the evening progressed, some of the revellers had repaired to the front drawing room where they gathered around a baby grand piano and sang Christmas songs. Then someone asked Sinead if she’d sing. And she did. She sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and the room fell in to an awed and stunned silence. When she finished, the silence hung, frozen, for a second. Then there was an uproar of applause.
At that point, Albert walked in, curious to see what had inspired such an outburst. I told him what had happened and he said he was sorry he missed it, before asking me if there was any chance she’s sing it again. I suggested he ask her himself. And he did. And so she sang it again.
By now the room was stuffed to the rafters but there was complete silence as she sang. Albert stood in front of the piano, staring straight at Sinead, standing to the left of the pianist, framed by a great bay window and the winter snow-light evening beyond. When she finished the song, there was the same hush in the room. Albert continued to stare at her, his own face illuminated by that same snow light reflection, his mouth open and a single tear, like a bead of light, on his cheek.