Name: RTE Radio programme ‘My Education’ (interview with BOR)
Date of interview: 30 11 1994 .
Interviewer: John Quinn
An edited version of the interview was broadcast. The additional material indicated *in bold is transcribed from the original cassette recording of the interview, kindly loaned by John Quinn. The additional material does not interfere with the time checks from the recording on the uploaded copy from BOC.
John Quinn advised that the interview was published in the book My Education published by Townhouse
JQ: Brendan now I want to talk to you about your education and by that I mean all the things, all the influences that have made you the person you are and I go back to your earliest days, and I don’t know how fair a question this is, but what is your earliest learning experience, do you remember?
BOR: My father was a very strong character and I think my earliest memories are of the influence that he had on me, he was chairman of the Clare County Council when I was just a young fellow and he was filled with the possibilities of accomplishing things through the democratic system, in his time. And my earliest recollection are of stories that he would tell me of what was going on in Ireland in those days and the great efforts that were being made at the local council level to achieve the freedom that we eventually fought for
JQ: And of course when you say, the stories of what was going on in those days, they were stirring times, you were born just after –
BOR: In 1917, I can remember in the small village of Sixmilebridge, things like what would have that occurred after the ambushes which mainly, which would have been lead by Micheál Brennan and we had the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries at that time would have taken retribution in the village and so on, so it was very difficult. I can remember those though I was only four years of age, they are my earliest memories of those situations. And at seven I can remember coming back from France where my father had brought my whole family and somebody boarding the tender to tell him that O’Higgins had been murdered you know? That was a kind of memory in my mind also, early memories
JQ: Now that in itself would have been most unusual at that time, I mean it quite normal for families to go to France nowadays, but what duration was this and what was his thinking behind this
BOR: Well when I was ten years of age, in 1927, my father had purchased what he called the bones of the Old Ground Hotel, and he had decided that he was going to educate his family in how small hotels in France were run. So from a small place in Sixmilebridge the family of seven and a mother and aunt were all taken to northern France. We came back, I can remember from, into Cobh, and that is why I can remember that particular incident that I mentioned
JQ: And how long did you spend there?
BOR: We spent about three weeks there, during which time my sister Moira, who was the eldest of the family, and Jenny number two, had to do all the translations you know, from their rudimentary French and so on and then we came back and were the first management team in the Old Ground. It was very progressive from the very beginnings
JQ: And even at ten years of age, it obviously, that experience in France, did that impinge on you?
BOR: Yes because that was the beginning of a lot of other visits to the Continent where I would have gone with him and he was going to London, he apparently had me almost picked out at an early age to pass on any of the things he knew, to me, which I greatly appreciate. It – I haven’t found it so easy to pass on my knowledge to my own children because they are a different generation, quite different from – more free in their thinking and less, as it were affected by parental experience. That is good and bad
JQ: But he obviously was a very dominant influence on your whole life
BOR: He was yes. And my mother also who came from the Ryans of Kilrush, who were a pretty strong merchant trading family and I thank her for having got me into Blackrock, she wanted me to be educated in Blackrock, and that was a great experience because during the thirties when I was there, Blackrock was really a tremendous school at that time with Dr McQuaid as the President and he brought rugby and hurling teams, I was on the hurling team which was a great experience
*JQ: When you mention hurling, didn’t your father create some distinction in the hurling field as manager of the Clare team?
BOR: Well he was I think, manager I think would be the wrong way – I described him as such but in fact Hehir was the manager, trainer of the team, but my father as chairman of the County Council was the manager of the event and I once asked him ‘how did you succeed to get such a fit team that they won the All –Ireland, in 1914 and we have never won it since?’ And he said, ‘well we trained them all the time’ and he said ‘in the last three weeks we had them booked into a hotel in Lisdoonvarna and I and others stayed with them and saw that they went to bed at the right time and there was no drinking, it was a disciplined effort’. That I can remember very well
JQ: And again, that was ahead of it its time, I mean that would be very much the done thing now but it wouldn’t have been many teams that would have done that
JQ: In terms of politics and related to your subsequent involvement with the Peace Movement and Cooperation North, your parents would have influenced you in that way also –
BOR: My father was very much of the belief from the Parnell, Redmond days, that we could get what we needed by democratic methods and that certainly had a – played a part in the enthusiasm which I found myself infected with when the peace movements began, particularly when we began to – out of the southern movement for peace which was a supportive movement for the women’s movement in the North, to find out – what is better than the peace movement and for that I thank him for at least enthusing me to be with others in the creation of Cooperation North, which I believe still has a great part to play in what still has to be done over the next twenty years
JQ: And your mother, do you credit her in some way, you were saying love was all that matters, *do you remember that?
BOR: *Oh yes, I remember that very well. She was a very big hearted lady, very religious and she succeeded I would say, in convincing me anyway that human relations were probably the most important thing, good human relations, loving people and acting correctly towards them. And that had a big bearing I would say on whatever success I had in Shannon because from the beginning, we had the Sales and Catering organisation, or the Catering Service as it was called, operated on great respect between management and staff and at a very early age, we had a staff management council which met monthly and which was I believe one of the driving forces behind the great enthusiasm which eventually led up to Sales and Catering being given the task of setting up the development company by Lemass
JQ: When you mentioned she was a very religious woman I think that would also have rubbed off because I think religion has played a major part in your own life, would that be right?
BOR: Well, I suppose – I never think of myself as very religious but I do have a deep conviction that we have within us as individuals, a tremendous power which comes from the Creator, a spark of Divinity and that if we fully realise that then we are going to find nothing too great to try and achieve, provided that is a good thing to do
*JQ: Well now, let’s go back to Sixmilebridge, I presume you went to the local national school, does anything remain from that time?
BOR: Well the number one teacher there was James Donnellan, Jimmy Donnellan, and he was really a first class man. I remember after I had gone from the national school to Dublin, I found myself way ahead of, at least I felt I was way ahead in second and third year, of the boys that had gone through the Dublin schools and when I got back to Sixmilebridge, I told him that and he was highly delighted. Good national school teaching, very important
JQ: Did the extended family play any part in your early life, do you remember grandparents, uncles and aunts?
BOR: No. I remember my grandfather, of course, grandfather Ryan but my grandfather O’Regan was gone before I was born and my grandmother. But extended family in so far as my sisters, the two that I’ve mentioned already, Moira married Micheál O Siochrú, brother of the Seach(??), and they are a very strong Gaelic influence and all her family speak Irish, and Jenny married Lt. Colonel Keane, he was the OC of the Air Force and indeed strangely enough, was the man who flew the first aircraft into Shannon, so I had that sort of influence from both of those.
JQ: Now when you went to Blackrock that, must have been I suppose a bit of a culture shock to you, a country boy, as a boarder coming up to the big city
BOR: Yes I remember coming back for the first holiday and running up the stairs to my mother and telling her oh the house has got very small, but it was maybe a culture shock but it was certainly a great school. I mean the fact that that Holy Ghost Fathers were involved, not just in Blackrock but that they were involved in Rockwell but worldwide, in South Africa and all over Africa, particularly Nigeria and in South America gave us a great international feeling and they were certainly, there was a great team there of priests and so –
JQ: And the future Archbishop in charge of it all, John Charles?
BOR: Yes and I think he was quite a remarkable person and I think a very good man, it is topical now to criticise the clergy but I – my memories strongly enforce me in saying you know, where would we be without these great secondary schools that were set up by the Church
JQ: Well I suppose the image we have of him now is of being an authoritarian figure and reserved, and traditional in his views, but I suppose, in a sense they were different times and that was a different role
BOR: That was the Church of those days and the Church, the Christian churches seem to have, of necessity, to change with the times. I have often thought it was a great difficulty of formal religion that everything else moves forward in regard to new discoveries and new thinking, science particularly and because of the sanctity of dogma is held in almost a static position but still it changes and Christianity, and we are very fortunate to be Christians and to lose it, to lose that tremendous thing in our time, would be a great pity I think
BOR: Were you a good student academically, did you enjoy the learning process?
BOR: I think I was, yes, I was reasonably good, maybe I was a bit almost too intense, I have always been very intense at whatever I did. I certainly worked very hard academically. But I mean, I didn’t go beyond Blackrock for my education although I did perhaps pursue another kind of education afterwards through the Institute of Management and the Institute of Public Administration which became very active forces for educating people in management
JQ: But that was formal education but I think you will agree that all of us are being educated all of the time and any way you were, as you intimated earlier you were earmarked for the family business
BOR: At one particular stage, I remember Dr McQuaid, there was some suggestion that I was going to have a vocation for the priesthood, saying to me ‘it is a very very lonely life’, he said ‘you had better take that into account’. But my father had – my father’s influence and the Old Ground made me decide that’s what I am going to do, I am going to follow what he has set up. So the Old Ground, I really ran the Old Ground after my two sisters with the third sister, Josette, until in effect I decided, I have got to give all my time to the Shannon job, and I sold the Old Ground
JQ: But at the tender age, of what would it have been, nineteen, you went off in pursuit of hotel management studies to Germany, didn’t you?
BOR: At nineteen I went to work under the famous Toddy O’Sullivan who my father knew of and he was running the Rock Park Hotel in Llandrindod in Wales and I had a very good indoctrination under Toddy, and I was always grateful for that, he has passed away recently and I had a great period, he initiated me into the hotel industry, he and Niamh, his wife and very shortly after that experience, when I got back to the Old Ground I found that my father had set up an Austache(??) and exchange with me with a young German, Albert [unclear] who came and worked at the Old Ground and I went to Albert [unclear] hotel in south Germany and found myself there when Hitler was coming to power, in fact he was in power because I was there in thirty six, thirty seven
JQ: It was interesting times to be in Germany
BOR: It was. I must admit I couldn’t see at that stage, and I am sure that a lot of the Germans couldn’t see it either, the evil that was to come. Because it was an exciting time with Hitler Youth and bands and all the marching, and in retrospect I can see what was being prepared, but it wasn’t apparent to me when I was there
JQ: Didn’t you get into some small trouble though, over shouting Heil DeValera?
BOR: No, but the Heil Hitler, like I mean I couldn’t take that, that seemed a very stupid salutation and I never used it, of course, but in southern Germany that it was quite acceptable to say ‘Grus Gott’ which is like Dia duit, so I also said Grus Gott, and I would always say Gut Gott to someone who Heil Hitlered me you see, but I was working in the buffet of the hotel and six or seven hefty brown shirts came in and they all together gave me a Heil Hitler, I thought that that was far too much altogether, so I said Heil DeValera and they were aghast and they thought I had said something very insulting about the Fuhrer and [BOR repeats their question to him in German] I said Heil DeValera and they were almost coming at me across the buffet when I was rescued by the proprietor who said, [here BOR explains how it was made clear he was an Irish man, in German] he said he is not an Englander, he is Irlander [laughter]
JQ: I am sure DeValera would have been pleased with you
*When you mentioned Toddy O’Sullivan there, he was as you say one of your great mentors particularly in the hotel trade, but there were a great number of people there, in the thirties and forties who were your mentors
BOR: Well of course the great hotelier in those days was Mrs Huggard who ran the Butler Arms and ran it excellently and of course in those days the English tourist was the great tourist, and she used to come regularly, she was a great friend of my father’s and she would, particularly when they took over Ashford Castle, and Noel was running Ashford Castle, she used to regularly call at the Old Ground and she would have been an inspiration for me.
BOR: And of course after Germany I came to work in London in what was the Carlton Hotel, one of the best places then, and then my father sent me a wire to come back that he had leased the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon and that I was to run it. And in those days you did whatever your father told you to do, you did it, so I came back, even though I had, I was very disappointed because I had succeeded in getting a job as a steward for that winter, to go down to South Africa on the SS Narcunda and I missed out on that. But I came back anyway and found that my father had leased from Francis McNamara, Francis was one of the great, we used to say, Irish aristocrats of the time, who had converted his hotel into a very first class place and who had run it for two years at a considerable loss, but had given it a great bohemian atmosphere, and in London a lot of the bohemian class used to come to the Falls. So I ran it for five years, I made my salary, I didn’t lose, but I just about made the equivalent of a salary when I was running it
JQ: And do the bohemians still come?
BOR: A lot of them still came and there were great jokes about pyjama parties and so on, so I was fairly well educated into that kind of thinking. In fact Dr McQuaid who I mentioned to you, hearing that I was running the place wrote to me once and said to me that he was on the way to the bishop of Galway at the weekend and that he would like to come and see the hotel that I was running, he had heard that it was beautiful from the doorstep inwards. I was horrified of course, because amongst others staying at that time was a Mrs Winterbottom, who had an escort of several young men with her and – I was, I would have done anything to get him to change his mind about coming. I suppose a guardian angel, or somebody stepped in anyway, because at the last moment he cancelled, he had to cancel his arrangements, and he never arrived
JQ: It sounds like it was a high old time in Ennistymon
BOR: Well you know well – a lot of it was harmless, in many ways, I mean it wouldn’t be regarded as high living now at all (but in those days it was high living.
*And of course there is a book written about those days by Nicolette McNamara who wrote Two Flamboyant Fathers her father had married about three times, at least he had left her mother and she was so distressed about this that she adopted another father, Augustus John the great painter so a lot of those people came at that time, Two Flamboyant Fathers, she has written about the situation
JQ: Well eventually well I suppose, through your success in the hotel industry and the catering industry you came to the notice of people like Sean Lemass and John Leydon
BOR: Yes, the Falls Hotel was patronised in those years, quite a lot by members of the professional Dublin elite, many of them members of the Stephen’s Green Club, and in the fifth year that I was there, they asked me, during the winter, when the hotel was closed down, would I help them to remodel the catering in the Stephen’s Green Club, which I did, and that brought me to the attention of the people in Dublin. Particularly to Sean Lemass, and – who used to I think play poker in the Stephen’s Green Club in those days, and to John Leydon, because I got a ring from Tim O’Driscoll to say that they wanted, he wanted to see me at the request of Mr Lemass and I was offered the job to set up the restaurants in Foynes. I hadn’t applied or anything like that, I mean it would be an impossible situation now, there were no people then, or very few, I think I was nearly the first or the second who had gone abroad for training, well formal training in catering, so I found myself at twenty five years of age being offered a contract to run, to take over from BOAC or Imperial Airways, as they were called, in Foynes, a small restaurant which they had. I am told that DeValera went down there in the early days and found he was having a meal in a restaurant, a small restaurant run by British Imperial Airways, and wrote on a file this should be run by, we should run this. So I was very fortunate at twenty five, twenty six, to get that job and to get it at a time when people like Lemass and Leydon and Tim O’Driscoll were involved in developing the concept of an Irish airport. And the restaurant was a vital ingredient in giving a new message about our ability to the people from America and Europe who were using it at that time and they were nearly all the important people
*JQ: Well Foynes, I suppose, it was a small beginning it was the flying boat centre, where the flying boats came in from America, but it was an important step, I suppose, to transatlantic flight to Ireland
BOR: It was very important at the time for the British and the Americans because of course was the fastest link they had with Europe and the war had begun and they were able to use it as a link point.
BOAC as it is called now, British Imperial Airways it was called then, had three hundred staff there, and when I went there I said ‘my goodness, it is like a British colony’ you know? And one of the driving things, that drove me and people like Joe Lucey and others who were the first people to join me, was like, ‘we will show them what the Irish can do’ and that was almost an emotional situation because people who, young people now won’t realise, but there was a very serious inferiority complex in Ireland in that time, vis à vis the British and –
JQ: We were still a very young –
BOR: Well we hadn’t proven ourselves, Aer Lingus hadn’t come, we had no management institutes and so on and we were really operating on an import substitution experiment which wasn’t working very well because you can’t industrialise on a small base.
*And it wasn’t until later that that was accepted and it was after that that I found myself involved in industrialisation in Foynes, but as you say Foynes was a small beginning but it was an exciting beginning
JQ: I am actually surprised to learn that there were actually three hundred people employed there, that is bigger than I imagined –
BOR: That would have been everything they were doing, including the catering and –
The department under John Leydon in those days had purchased the Monteagle Arms and that had to be remodelled, the first time it was remodelled was in the winter of forty two, and fortunately for me at that time I got to know John and Putzel Hunt, very cultured people who, eventually as you know, donated their great collection to the Nation and so on, and when I saw their house I said this is what we want the restaurant to look like.
*They advised and Tim O’Driscoll went along with it and so I got backing for it and at that time the architect was Garret Fitzgerald’s brother, who had already got a prize for designing Dublin airport. When I began to look for certain things in Foynes, he said to me ‘you think it is Dublin airport’ and I said ‘it is going to be better than Dublin airport’. And the interior decor was splendid, done by Mrs Hunt and John.
And from the very beginning I remember at the earliest stage, the British had appointed Lord Headford as their station manager,
*and it was difficult for them to have their restaurant taken over, it was only a small restaurant, but we took it over anyway, and we did a much better job than they were capable of doing because we had the funding which they hadn’t got and the decor and perhaps more trained people, but I remember in the very early days, he said to me
‘oh’, he said, ‘that was an astonishingly good meal, you Irish are very good at doing things once or twice but you never keep things up. And I met him about ten years later and I said ‘ do you remember saying that to me?’, ‘did I say that to you?’, ‘you did,’ I said, ‘because it was of tremendous advantage to me because I repeated it every year at our annual general meeting, and we have kept it up now for ten years, of course we have kept it up for fifty years but it was – I mean those who may listen to this, particularly young people should know that the biggest driving force in those days amongst the Irish was the love of Ireland
JQ: Now when you talk of the love of Ireland, there are two names that you keep mentioning there, they have come back, that is John Leydon and Sean Lemass. Sean Lemass I suppose, a lot of people would be familiar with, he went on to the rank of Taoiseach. But there were, John Leydon, every time I talk to someone of your generation, this name crops up and it strikes me that they really were a breed apart, if you like, the civil servants of those days, they seem to have a great, a sense of idealism and sheer patriotism
BOR: John Leydon was special, I think, I mean I met a lot of very good civil servants over the years, and they do an awful lot behind the scenes, and certainly in regard with what I had to do, Sales and Catering service, must share a lot in the success because they gave me the freedom to do what we had to do, but I would say that I wouldn’t have got that freedom without the backing of Lemass and Leydon, who regularly came to the airport. I mean John Leydon would ring up on Christmas day and find out how things were, you know? It was quite extraordinary
JQ: What was his official title?
BOR: He was the Secretary of the Department of Industry and Commerce and of course during the war he and others in that department would have been the brains in regard to helping Ireland to survive despite the fact that we couldn’t get supplies of any kind
JQ: But he and his colleagues seemed to be men of great vision
BOR: Yes, they saw clearly that we – the manner in which we were cut off from the rest of the world would be eliminated by the air age. William Cosgrave senior, on one occasion came down to Foynes and my father entertained him to lunch and subsequently I saw a letter that he wrote to my father in which he ‘Dear James, you asked me who were the originators of the airport idea’ and he said, ‘I wasn’t sure, but’ he said, ‘I know now that it was not my people it was DeValera and his people who originated the idea’. And I once was shown, by Mr DeValera the globe, across which he, and I assumed Lemass, had stretched a piece of chord from New York to Paris, showing that we were directly on the flight line. And of course you see DeValera in those early days, when Lindbergh came over dressed in an aviator’s suit, and of course Lindbergh was given the credit of having selected Shannon, but he endorsed it but it was selected by the Irish engineers who were involved in the search at that time
JQ: I suppose it was inevitable then when you had Foynes up and running and successful from a catering point of view that you would go on to bigger things in Shannon which was just emerging then
BOR: Well a strange thing happened as you know. I was only in Foynes a little over a year when the battle between the sea plane and the land plane was won by the land plane, and at that stage the Irish government were backing both Foynes and Rineanna and had begun to build the terminal building at Foynes and which I subsequently prevented it from being a white elephant, and was requested by Lemass to run. And I ran it for about three or four years until it became a children’s hospital and we called it the Foynes Country Club and it was filled with people from – coming in on seaplanes still, from England through Lunn’s Travel Agency, booking them for five meals a day, supper and afternoon tea, and you can imagine how important that was to people who had been living on rations
JQ: That was really living, five meals a day
BOR: That was the ad which we used I remember at the time. But for a period I found myself running both the restaurant in Foynes and the new restaurant in Rineanna. And the new restaurant in Rineanna was really an extension of the Old Ground Hotel because we didn’t have the equipment there. So in the early days it was run with supplies coming from the Old Ground with Maggie McArdle, the cook in the Old Ground being the behind the scenes chef. I remember one of our first meals there, Lord Headford, not knowing where the food was coming from asked if he could meet the chef, to congratulate the chef on the meal, and I couldn’t produce the chef of course, I said he was off duty. And he said ‘my God’, he said ‘if you can do it like that with the chef off duty’ [chuckle] – behind the scenes was a – I think the food came in those days in a laundry basket from the Old Ground, prepared by Maggie McArdle who was a first class chef of course
JQ: And then that whole, and again I use this word, vision, of Shannon literally rising from the marshes at Rineanna, you obviously saw its possibilities and you went on then to develop it in so many ways much beyond the whole catering side of things
BOR: I am often asked that question about, you know, how did the Duty Free Shop idea come, how did the Industrial Free Zone idea come, how did the castles idea come and so on. And I know it is very important to be truthful about these things, because we need new ideas all the time and incidentally you know, Shannon has been a place for new ideas long after my time, because I was thirty five years there, but I mean the last seventeen years, Aer Rianta International has created remarkable new ideas there. But how did it come about. Well the Duty Free Shop idea which has really gone around the world began out of necessity. I think ideas came out of necessity. I had to run a catering service and I had to make sure that it didn’t lose money and I can remember one winter when we had a bad time and we almost, we began to look as if we were going to lose money, and I suddenly realised the questions and answers that I would have to deal with the department on, if I were getting money from the department, so there was a fierce necessity to find a new way, and it was out of that necessity and following through on an idea that had been launched earlier by the government in an international conference in San Francisco where in order to draw attention to Ireland’s willingness to act as a major link on the way into Europe they declared Shannon a free airport, not quite knowing what a free airport would be. But the fact that they had done that made it possible for me to later come up with the idea of selling duty free liquor and duty free cigarettes. Now with regard to the other ideas, as I have said, we had a group of people there who were very enthusiastic about what they were doing to prove that Ireland could do it as good as any other country in the world. So I never want to claim any of the ideas there. While I would have implemented them and pushed them through and I would say that these ideas would come up in discussions with people and so on, the castle idea –
BOR: Bunratty idea and Rent a Cottages idea, those two ideas I must say came as a result of a 1950 visit which I paid for six weeks to America as part of a Marshall Aid invited team. And there were two others, one was the man who was the general manager of Bord Fáilte in those days, and the general manager of the CIE hotels, three of us went and when we came back there was some difficulty in the department about our making a report which would be recommending what should be done and this might have looked to them as if the Americans were going to tell us what to do. But I made a separate report at that time recommending a whole series of things which included Bunratty and the Hotel School
JQ: Well it eventually got to the stage when you had a whole new town, the Shannon new town
BOR: The new town was again a necessity. We had to find a way of stopping the overfly and there were only two ways. One was by promoting disembarking traffic, it was all transit traffic, ninety five per cent transit traffic. And so the idea of the industrial free zone came out of the necessity to create payload for the aircraft, so they would have to land for it. And for the first two years while the town and – the town had to come to balance the industrial estate, we promoted with each of the airlines the idea, we are going to do this. And you will miss out if you leave us off your schedule, so we slowed up their decisions to overfly with the jets at that time. And – I think that the possibilities that exist now are at least as great as they were in those days. There are new ideas coming up through Aer Rianta International will safeguard the future of Shannon. I don’t think it’s any longer, going to be wiped off the map as some people think it will be, you know. There is too much ability and training and too much has been put into it and the whole vision of aviation is one of increase, increase, (background noise), just as the population of the world is increasing, people are getting richer and there will be more and more tourism and more and more use of aviation and Shannon is a vital link and of course it is the centre of our tourism anyway, you know
JQ: So I mean if we are talking about your education, for a minute, I gather what you are saying is that working among all these patriotic, I think is the word, people in Shannon, it must have been an education and an inspiration for you
BOR: Yes I suppose I was very lucky in fact coming from a small village near the airport, to find that at twenty, twenty six, that happened, I mean it was just fortunate circumstances, and – I think the Shannon story it is worth talking about it and worth studying, because we were in a way the first generation of free Irishmen who had a chance to do something at an international level. We have a great need to do exceptional things now at an international level because of the frightening crisis of unemployment so I think we should be able to at least show what happened at Shannon as a challenge out of which the Irish imagination began to work. It is accepted that Irish people have strong imaginations and if you link that with the ability, management ability to get things done, then we are creators of a new situation.
*Your own organisation now, the television, you know, I think through people like you and O Murchu, Liam and the new Ireland and so on, you have a chance to getting across to people, that we have a tremendous energy bursting out from us, the Irish, it was coming out of us you know. I remember a friend, a Pole once said to me, I said ‘you have got great imagination and great energy’ and he said, ‘I have five hundred years of suppressed Polish independence’. Which was an interesting parallel with Ireland,
you know, we have in our time, we have the opportunity and now the possibility of working together with the Northerners, who I know from Cooperation North are very talented people, and they have a need to make a go of it on the island with us. I mean, a total new possibility arises
JQ: Well now that you have brought the subject up, that is another area you became involved in, in more recent times, the Cooperation North movement. How and why did that come about, why did you feel you had to get into it?
BOR: You will remember at that end of the seventies, the women of Belfast protested against violence and I with, Colonel Keane and Dorothy Cantrell and others down here, were involved in doing something to support them, to give the women of the North support in what they were doing. And we set up the Southern Movement for Peace, and that, when eventually there was a Nobel Peace prize given in the North, and somehow or other, the peace idea got a bad name, we looked for something instead. And Gerry Dempsey, it was who suggested, why don’t you do a peace role in the south and out of that suggestion came Cooperation North. Cooperation North has been in existence now for fifteen years. It has been spending over a million pounds a year on North/South cooperation of what we would call track two diplomacy. I only hope that the politicians who are involved in track one realise the power of track two diplomacy. It has no threat within it, it has no political strings attached to it, and I believe that it is the fastest way to bring about what we all desire, that we will live and work together on this island, recognising our differences and accepting that we have two great traditions on the island, the Irish – Irish tradition and the British – Irish tradition.
*BOR: And I believe the Peace Process is greatly helped by the strengthening of cooperation North I mean to get a million pounds a year, we get about ten per cent from the two governments the rest we have to get by fiercely difficult fund raising from America and elsewhere. I mean it is not a million pounds a year Cooperation North should have it is about three million. The cost of the violence has been a million pounds a day to the South and maybe six million to the North. Money has to be spent on overcoming hate and fear and suspicion and distrust that has been caused by the violent campaign of the last twenty years
JQ: When you decided to get involved in the Cooperation North process, obviously the lessons you had learned in Shannon would have stood to you, I mean, as you suggest that the key to the peace is organisation and management
BOR: Yeah, the key to peace is human cooperation but it has to be skilfully managed. It can’t come about by just wishing it, it has to be managed and what astonishes me is that the lessons, this country doesn’t seem to have learned, the lessons of Europe, where in our time, wise men in Europe said, we will never let it happen again, that Europeans will slay one another in two great wars, and they didn’t look for a political solution, they looked for an economic solution. So they set up the OECD and cooperation, skilfully managed economic, cooperation, brings about human cooperation and forty years later now, they are talking about you know political cooperation, but to try to talk about political cooperation before you have done the work, you know, is not the way to do it. Lemass – at a particular time with O’Neill was on to the idea of we will cooperate, without political strings and I know it well because I was given the task as chairman of Bord Fáilte to bring the two tourist boards together and actually at that time, and it is forgotten now, the chairman of their board came on our board, and we agreed together, Tim O’Driscoll and I went to London and agreed with the British with the Northerners with us, to have one brochure for the whole island and they agreed and one brochure for the two islands as well, which would go through all the British offices and they agreed at our insistence that it would be called Ireland and Great Britain, not Great Britain and Ireland which was a political – So we might have doubled it –
JQ: What year was it?
BOR: That it was before the violence began, you know? And it was stopped then, it should be revived again. We should have no problem now about promoting, you see forty four per cent of all American traffic goes down on to our neighbouring island. We got five per cent, the North got one per cent. Quite evidently if the two islands are vigorously sold together, the British have many more offices than we have, we lose nothing, I mean it is just like selling the Iberian peninsula
*or Norway, or that part of Scandinavia together, but it should be done and we have been afraid to do it because we are afraid we might be linked with the Northern troubles. But that has stopped now and we should do it, it would have a big effect. We should be courageous about it. The quickest way to bring us together is tourism
JQ: And bringing people together. I was listening to John Hume last night and making the point that the problem is not about territory and land, the problem is about people
BOR: About people about understanding. And of course the great wave of our shoppers going North now is good anyway. Because essentially the Irish people are very friendly people and the Northerner is different. I can tell you I have got to know them very well over fifteen years and we have had, if you look at the Cooperation North report, some of the most important of the Unionists have been members of Cooperation North for a long time and they have made, and if you look at some of the things that are said in our reports about working together and about where we are trying to get, and so on, you will recognise that they have already accepted in Cooperation North that this is the way forward. But the problem is they are afraid that we are going to try to make them into what we are, but would we like to be made into what they are?
JQ: The difficulty as you say, is overcoming that fear
JQ: And after a long career in catering and hotel management and building up Shannon, and as you say, you were chairman of Bord Fáilte at a very young age, just forty years of age, and then into Cooperation North, but like many of you, you don’t settle down into cosy retirement, I mean in recent years you have become very much involved in the whole notion of community development down in your native county
BOR: *Well of course Clare generally is, as they say is the Banner county, ahead of other counties they think and there are two forces there now, you have the Development company and you have Aer Rianta, devolved power from Dublin, ok. You have Father Harry Bohan, who has been a major pusher of community development.
Community development is associated in the past, with, well it doesn’t go very far, it doesn’t get things done. It is now quite clear that community development is our greatest hope because unless the people get into the act, the State alone is not going to be able to overcome the tragedy of unemployment. So I found myself involved, at their invitation with the people in Newmarket on Fergus, one parish of three thousand people who are going to prove that it can be done, parish by parish. Parish by the way, precedes county you know, it goes back to our clan days, you know we all have a sense of belonging to a parish, this is not in a religious sense now. But nevertheless I do think that the sense, the religious link has got to be there, because we are not going to get up out of this tragedy without help from the man above, and I think to do it on a parish by parish basis, whether it is Protestant and Catholic in parishes, working together to eliminate as far as possible, the agony of unemployment for those who have it and the fear of young people, it can be done but it can’t be done except there is management skill introduced into the lowest level, and that is the lowest level, next to the family, which can be done. And I see that particular parish of Newmarket on Fergus setting an example, because a lot of the people there saw what happened when the airport, a lot of them were employed in the airport and they know that if you have determination and the will and give it the time, that you can accomplish, mankind can accomplish anything it wants to. I mean that is the gift that we have from the Creator, that if we are sincere and give it the attention and manage it and get cooperation on it, cooperation I suppose is closest to the great virtue of loving one another, that you can’t love one another unless you cooperate and work together, so there’s – something spiritual in the word cooperation, and I think that it has to be done at every parish level throughout the country and that the management companies like the Development company and Fás which is a great power as well, have got to ensure that they do not dominate the situation, that they work very closely with the communities, give them the skills and so on, and do all the things that they should do, but as far as possible, focus the credit in to the people themselves
*JQ: And in a sense you are coming full circle, and you talk now about working in the parish, in your local community, and it was that type of small community that you started out with in Sixmilebridge
BOR: Yes it was, to a certain extent. Muintir na Tire were in existence when we were setting up the Development company and the Development company did a lot of the work with Muintir na Tire in its early days, but Muintir na Tire didn’t get, and to a certain extent in those days, and still to a certain extent, voluntary bodies, are regarded by management organisations, as badly managed. We have got to help them to be well managed. I mean take the Vincent de Paul now, is a great voluntary organisation, that needs any backing it can get at any level. Unless the State thinks that way, thinks about the people it will, as it were disempower people, because the people will sit back and wait for the government to do it. Or wait for the State company to do it. By the way one thing I haven’t said in this interview is about this State enterprise and I have been in State enterprise all of my life and they were the best creation since we got our independence, I know we have a good civil service and so on and it safeguards the public purse but it is not the kind of instrument to get the dynamism and to get the things done, and Lemass and Leydon recognised that, setting up the State companies, there has been in my time a struggle for power going on between State companies and civil service which should be eliminated and as far as possible, the civil service should get, in the doing, should get whatever kind of power that the State companies has got. State companies should not be eliminated but if they are not working right, we should find out why they are not working right and we should put them right, but they are probably the biggest instrument that we have for bringing our country forward. They are also probably the biggest instrument we have to help the international scene where you have at our time four hundred million people who have given up the idea of communism, which is bureaucracy dominated and they are searching to move into private enterprise. The best way for us to help them is to help to move into well managed state enterprise, state companies, small ones first and they can make the jump from that then into private enterprise but the state company is essential and should be held and preserved in this country
JQ: When you look back now over your long career, I know you don’t want to talk about this, but you must have a great sense of achievement
BOR: Eh – I have a great sense of incredulity from time to time, you know, of having been involved in so many big things, and I recognise that it puts me under an obligation to the end of my days to try and do anything that I can to continue to pass on the benefit of the extraordinary experience I have had, in any way I can.
* I am not a good writer so I can’t do it in writing, I can probably do it talking to you and as I have done on television a few times, but and I think there are a lot of people my age, and you have got them together now in the Tinakilly Senate, who have a lot to give and that was a great idea by the way, and I don’t know, maybe people have read the book that you produced on it, – we did have a summing up operation there, at some time and I would like to get that tape because I think Whitaker and the others who contributed at that time said a lot of things that should be listened to by the government and particularly the two government parties who are trying to work together because there is a great danger that in trying to achieve accountability that they will achieve a bureaucracy of a higher level if we don’t watch ourselves you know. You need accountability but you have to get things done
JQ: And I suppose a lot of what you did achieve goes back to your roots, to the influence of people like your father
*BOR: Yes, I think that is how humanity seems to move forward isn’t it, from generation to generation, one generation passing on, – in my time the young generation, have to a certain extent, almost, because of its faults, rejected the previous generation but you don’t want to throw out everything you know, continuity has to be preserved in man’s forward march
And I think that it is an exciting time to be young in Ireland, because I think we have a great country and we have a lot of very well educated young people and they have got to look at Ireland’s past as having moved very rapidly. America for a hundred years after independence floundered around, you know, but we haven’t had our independence all that long and we are moving, we have got to make the South an efficient, effective and organised community so that we will win the kind of cooperation that we need from the Northerners to really make the whole island a magnificent example
*It has in our time, played a major part in regard to, not just Europe, but it has of course, played a major part on the English speaking world through its culture and its literature and the fact that most of the great, some of the greatest of the British – in the English language, is a mixture of the Irish and the English. I, by the way, my wife is English and I have had forty four years of being able to see how compatible these two are, we have been pulled apart by history but I mean there is a great synergy arises out of the cooperation of Irish and British and this is why we have a great future on the island because of the British and Irish influences that are mixed on the island, all of us have a bit of British influence and a strong bit of Irish influence and the Northerner has this very, a strong bit of British influence and a bit of Irish influence and these are great qualities to have