Seanad Éireann - Volume 144 - 18 October, 1995

Death of Former Member: Expression of Sympathy.

Mr. Manning: In paying tribute to the late Gus Martin I find myself in the strange situation of talking about somebody who, for over 25 years, was one of my oldest and closest friends and it is difficult to be objective. Gus Martin was a Member of this House from 1973 to 1981 during which time he sat on the Independent benches as a university Senator.

As an Independent, he was fairly typical of that category of Senator in that he was a free spirit, he had wideranging interests, he was unpredictable, he never heard the words party whip, he could be irreverent and he was very independent. His contributions to the House were enjoyed by all who heard them and he made valuable contributions on many, and perhaps most, of the major issues of the time. He, too, enjoyed being in this House and regarded his membership as one of the great privileges of his life.

Of course, it is as a teacher that Gus Martin will be best remembered. He was, quite simply, a superb teacher, a natural communicator, a person who brought his subject to life and inspired a generation of students, whether at secondary [1586] school in Roscrea or at University College Dublin.

He was also a leading scholar on Anglo-Irish literature. His first love, and perhaps his greatest love, was the work of Yeats but he also did valuable work on Joyce. He was founder of the Joyce Summer School. He did original work on Kavanagh too and, at the time of his death, was close to completing one of the major studies in recent times on James Clarence Mangan.

His reputation was such that students came from all parts of the world to study under Gus Martin at University College Dublin. Two students came to his funeral this morning, one from Canada and the other from the USA, when they heard the news just to be present and to say their final farewell.

I could talk at great length about Gus Martin but it is as a person that those who were privileged to know Gus Martin will most remember him. He loved life. He lived it to the full, and beyond sometimes. He was generous in spirit. He was generous with himself. He had an enormous capacity for friendship and he was never, nor could he ever, be dull. It was simply impossible to be bored in his company.

To have known Gus Martin, and to have been a close friend of his, certainly has been one of the great privileges of my life. All who knew him, in whatever capacity, will miss him more than words can say. On behalf of Seanad Éireann, I want to convey to his wife, Claire, and family the sympathy, respect and thoughts of all Members of this House. May he rest in peace.

Mr. Fitzgerald: As has already been said by the Leader of the House, Gus Martin was a most distinguished Member of the Independent benches of this House from 1973 to 1981. Unfortunately, I did not know him at the time. He was a member of the governing body of UCD for about 25 years and it was there, for the last ten years, that I became an honoured friend of Gus Martin.

[1587] I always found Gus to be good humoured. He was always ready for a joke and a chat. He passed many remarks about Kerry, football and so on. He was a great admirer of Patrick Kavanagh. He often spoke to me about him and, indeed, I received several invitations from Gus to come to some of the readings on Patrick Kavanagh.

When Gus spoke at governing body meetings, he was listened to very intently. I always respected his views and found them to be for the good. He was respected by all the members of the governing body.

I was deeply shocked when I heard the news yesterday because I had only come back from holidays and did not realise Gus had died until the meeting of the governing body of UCD. I was deeply shocked to learn of his sudden and untimely death.

On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, and on my own behalf, I extend to his wife and family our deepest sympathies. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Mr. Norris: I express sympathy on behalf of the Independent group. In doing so I am conscious that we are breaking with tradition in that it is normal for Members from the deceased's constituency, in this case the National University of Ireland, to pay the tribute. However, I knew Professor Martin for 40 years and I asked my colleague, Senator O'Toole, if I could have the honour. These tributes are often formal and empty so it is unusual for me to apply for the privilege of paying tribute to my old and valued friend and colleague.

Some people may be surprised I knew him for 40 years, although I look more ancient with every day that passes. Gus Martin took an H.Dip. in education and while doing so taught in High School, Harcourt Street. He was a remarkably humane, decent man and as his friend and colleague, Senator Manning, said, he was one of life's great communicators. He came from a rural Catholic background and had been educated in [1588] Roscrea. He never denied his roots, which was something we loved about him. He came from Ballinamore, County Leitrim, and brought a breath of fresh country air to that city school. All the children there came to love and value him.

I subsequently had dealings with him because of his interest in Anglo-Irish literature. I was chairman of the Joyce International Symposium in 1977, 1982 and 1992 and, always aware of the keen rivalry between the two universities, decided there should be a bridge. I invited UCD to put people on the board so it could be shared equally. Gus Martin was one of them. He turned up from time to time but by 1982 he was seriously interested and committed as an active member. By 1992 he had founded his own Joyce summer school with the sponsorship of Bailey's, which has made an international impact in Joyce studies.

It is important that people like Professor Martin should exist, because often the work of our great writers is taken over by academics from overseas. While we do not grudge them this, it is good that we should be intellectually represented rather than being a tourist focus for visitors from abroad. In 1982 there was a big festival of Anglo-Irish literature in Beirut. A large number of scholars from all over the world were invited; many of them accepted but only two turned up — Gus Martin and myself.

He hated claptrap and jargon and assailed it in every possible way — there is a great deal of it in academia. Intellectual life in Dublin and Ireland will be diminished by his death. There will be less humour and fun and unfortunately there may be much more pretence. Gus was a consummate politician, not only in this forum but also in academic politics, which is much more vicious. Someone who could survive not only this House——

Professor Lee: Speak for Trinity.

[1589] Mr. Norris: I can speak for Professor Lee's place also.

Professor Lee: No, he cannot.

Mr. Norris: I certainly can and if the Senator is not careful I will stand in his constituency and get elected. I think Professor Martin would have enjoyed that banter because he had a roguish sense of fun. We in the world of Joyce scholarship valued him.

We all knew Gus's health had been indifferent but he concealed it well. A friend of mine said at the removal that recently he told Gus how well he was looking and how active he was. He replied that he was a young man in an old man's body. I am afraid that was true. Senator Manning told me last week that Gus was ill. I hoped he would survive and I am sorry he has not. I send my love and condolences on behalf of the Independent group to his wife, Claire, and their fine children. I hope our tribute will be some small comfort to them.

Ms O'Sullivan: Professor Martin was one of the great teachers and communicators. He left his mark in many areas but he was probably most effective in spreading his love of Anglo-Irish literature. I remember him best for his work in second level education and Teilifís Scoile when television had just begun in Ireland and there were black and white sets. Many school children at second level learned to love literature through listening to Gus Martin and I remember watching those programmes many times.

He was a most effective teacher and he elucidated literature without, as Senator Norris said, using jargon. He did not talk down to people and he respected his audience whether it was second level students or university graduates. This was his great quality. He loved what he did and he wanted to communicate that effectively. One never felt there was extra knowledge which he would not bring out because one was too young as a 15 or 16 years [1590] old student to understand it. He always wanted to be clear and express his message. This is why he was such a great teacher and communicator.

He left his mark in many areas, as mentioned by other Senators, but particularly with regard to the Joyce and Yeats Schools and in establishing Anglo-Irish literature as a definite sector in world literature. He will be fondly remembered, particularly for spreading that net widely across Irish society. On behalf of the Labour Party I express our sympathy to his wife and family.

Ms Honan: On behalf of my party, I wish to be associated with the tributes paid to Gus Martin. I never met him but I felt I knew him from his appearances on Teilifís Scoile, as mentioned by Senator O'Sullivan, and his many talks on radio. I heard two tributes to him on radio yesterday; first, on the news yesterday morning and then on the “Arts Show” last evening. On both occasions programmes on which he had appeared were replayed. I heard those programmes the first time they were broadcast and he came across as a great wit and a person who enjoyed and loved life.

On the “Arts Show”, Mr. Tony Roche said Gus Martin would talk to anyone and had time for everybody. He was extremely generous with his time; he was not a snob when it came to literature. He also strove to bridge, as he put it, the gap between town and gown. This was a good way of putting what Gus Martin wanted to do.

He had a rich legacy in his love of Irish literature which he passed on not only to those fortunate enough to have him as a teacher but also in the huge changes he brought about in the second level English curriculum. Many thousands of secondary school pupils benefited from the rich legacy he passed on.

Senator Norris mentioned the rivalry and bitterness in academic and university politics. On the “Arts Programme” they said that Gus Martin said this was because the stakes were so low.

[1591] He had great regard for ordinary people. He tried to make poetry and literature available to everybody. He was very generous and gave unstintingly of himself. It is a pity his life ran out at such an early age because he had so much more to give. Although I was not privileged to know him, as other Senators were, I felt I knew exactly who he was and what he was like from listening to him on the radio. I recognised his voice even if I came in during his contribution. On behalf of my party, I extend our sympathy to his wife and family.

Mr. Sherlock: Ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh ar an gcéad dul síos. I did not know Gus Martin but all speakers, including the Leader of the House, have been most generous in their praise of him. Senator Norris confirmed one aspect about which I was not certain; he was a native of Ballinamore, County Leitrim. He came to the metropolis and made a tremendous impact on the education and political spheres. This indicates the man Gus Martin was and I wish to be associated with the condolences to his widow and family.

An Cathaoirleach: While it is normal procedure that only the leaders of the groups speak in tributes, I have had indications from two County Leitrim Senators that they want to speak. Since Gus Martin was a Leitrim man, I call on Senator Mooney.

Mr. Mooney: As the late Mr. Martin came from Ballinamore, I will be happy to let Senator Reynolds speak first.

Mr. Reynolds: I knew Gus Martin in a different way. He came from Ballinamore and was born close to where I lived.

Gus Martin was a huge inspiration to many young people in County Leitrim because he made it in the world of academia, which was not often the case for people coming from such a background. He was well known and respected [1592] within the county. He was proud of his roots. We are all aware of the role he played in devising the “Exploring English” textbooks for secondary schools, which students read for their intermediate and leaving certificate examinations.

Senator Norris said he had a roguish quality. I had just been accepted to Trinity College in 1978 and an article had been written by Gus Martin about Ballinamore in the Irish Independent. Ballinamore did not often hit the headlines of the national newspapers, so it was with great ado that I bought the newspaper but, after reading three paragraphs, I realised I could not understand a word of it. I deciphered what he was saying with the aid of my English dictionary. I could imagine what the people of Ballinamore were saying about this great academic who made it in Dublin. Gus arrived in Ballinamore a week later and people told him how much they enjoyed reading his article and that he had a great command of the English language. However, no one told him they could not understand a word of it. I assume that was the roguish quality of Augustine Martin.

I send my sincere sympathies to his family and his brother Johnny who still lives in Ballinamore.

Mr. Mooney: While many County Leitrim people liked and had great affection for Mr. Martin and were proud of his achievements, many did not fully understand him. Listening to the comments of my distinguished colleagues reminded me of the funeral of a priest I attended when I was a small boy. I was not so much intimidated but in total awe of the sultans who turned up. It was full of priests, monsignors, vicar generals and even bishops. A local person said they are looking after one of their own.

The deep affection with which Mr. Martin was held in academic circles has been well articulated and, like Senator Reynolds, I would like to show the other side to him. I extend my sincere sympathies to his wife, Claire and his [1593] family on their sudden loss of a husband and father.

Mr. Martin's academic excellence was recognised early in his native county. In 1972 he was the recipient of the first M.J. McManus award by the Leitrim Guardian, which is the annual magazine of County Leitrim and has maintained a proud tradition of giving a positive and upbeat view of our county. The analysis was carried out by another distinguished writer, Mr. Desmond Fennell, who was asked at that time if he would assess and analyse the four previous contributions in the literary section of the Leitrim Guardian and decide which should receive the first award, which was named after another distinguished County Leitrim author, M.J. McManus. Mr. Fennell came down very much in favour of Mr. Martin's contribution which had been included in the Leitrim Guardian in 1971, titled “Adventures with an Ass”. Perhaps this gives an insight into the deep affection Mr. Martin had for his native hearth.

At one time, he said he felt sorry for children who had not been brought up in a shop, as he was. His father sold shoes, agricultural machinery, furniture, pots and pans, wellington boots, bales of wire, watches, bundles of leather etc. He said it was an Aladdin's cave, that he used to ask what everything was and for what it was used and in that way he learned all kinds of interesting facts.

Shirley Synnott, who wrote the interview with Mr. Martin consequent to his receipt of the M.J. McManus award, said: “If you didn't know him, you might have trouble guessing what his occupation was. He doesn't have the pale bookish air you might expect of a university lecturer (he teaches English at UCD).” I wonder whether any of his colleagues would relate to that. He also said that his mother and father came from farming stock; I do not think he ever forgot that. He said that although he would never leave Dublin, he thought of Leitrim with great affection and was quoted as saying that “Leitrim is very beautiful. It has lots of little lakes at every turn in the road”.

[1594] The interviewer concluded, and perhaps it is the best way to conclude my contribution, by saying that Mr. Martin was an intellectual whose mind takes wing at the drop of a phrase. It is unquestionable that he was a giant in Anglo-Irish literature and in his love of the written word and English. Many students will be eternally grateful for what he has brought to them.

Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for allowing me this opportunity to put on record the sadness that many in County Leitrim feel at the loss of an academic giant who was obviously of the soil of Leitrim and who, despite the excellence of his achievements in the world of academia, never really forgot his humble beginnings in County Leitrim. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

An Cathaoirleach: We will stand for a minute's silence.

Members rose in their places.