How Big Jack Taught Us To Love Proust, Speak Softly And Play The Tin Whistle

How Big Jack Taught Us To Love Proust, Speak Softly And Play The Tin Whistle

By Fintan O’Tool

Like all of my columns, this one is rooted in another great but unrecognized paradox of Irish life which only I can recognise.

Because it’s my job to tell you poltroons what you don’t know about yourselves, so don’t even bother writing letters to contradict me – they won’t print them and you’re wrong anyway.

From the moment he first set foot on these shores, I shared Big Jack’s twin passions for Proust and the practicing of exquisitely elaborate rituals of diplomacy in our daily lives.

Never a man to say one word where three would do, he sometimes combined his diplomatic sallies with a quotation from the great French novelist.

Once when asked for comment after a dismal at home draw against a team of wandering Baluchistan minstrels and stamp collectors, he simply smiled and in his trademark whisper, replied, “It is often hard to bear the tears that we ourselves have caused”.

I smiled because I knew that I, and I alone, had picked up on the Proustian origins of that wonderfully nuanced answer.

Eamon Dunphy was utterly baffled by it, of course, but I knew then that soon Jack would teach us all to play the tin whistle in a way that would eventually allow us to forgive ourselves for being Irish.