Albert Reynolds: 1932 – 2014
By Matthew Skwiat, Contributing Editor
August 22, 2014
Albert Reynolds the former Taoiseach of Ireland and one of the leading peacemakers in the 1994 IRA ceasefire died August 21 after a battle with Alzheimer’s, he was 81. He is survived by his wife Kathleen and seven children. Reynolds legacy is one that will not be quickly forgotten in Ireland and around the world. Niall O’Dowd, co-founder of Irish America and founder of Irish Central, said after his passing that he “was the greatest leader of my lifetime” and that “he turned peace in Northern Ireland from an impossible dream to a startling reality.” Reynolds was a shrewd business man who brought his many years of experience into the political arena, and while he only served as leader from 1992 to 1994, his indomitable and steadfast adherence for peace and the ending of the Troubles forever changed the course of Irish history.
Albert Reynolds was born on November 3, 1932 in Roosky in Co. Roscommon. He attended Summerhill College in Sligo and later began working for CIE. In his early business career he started a number of ventures including a newspaper and a pet food company while creating contacts on both sides of Ireland which would prove beneficial when he later ran for office. Reynolds first foray into politics began in 1977 when he was elected to the Dail for Fianna Fail in the Longford-Westmeath constituency. Throughout the years he served in areas of finance, industry, and transport but was later booted by Taoiseach Charles Haughey in 1991 for supporting a vote of no confidence.
Reynolds returned to politics the following year when he succeeded Haughey as taoiseach, beating out Mary O’Rourke and Michael Woods in 1992. A series of scandals marred his two years in office beginning with his firing a number of Haughey supporters from their minister roles and becoming further weakened by a poor turnout of Fianna Fail in the elections. Still, Reynolds accomplished more in two years than most and his fearless determination to bring about peace in the Downing Street Declaration in 1993 will keep his legacy alive for generations to come.
Reynolds life and work are being mourned on both sides of the Atlantic. Reynolds came to power during a decisive moment in Irish and American history. Former President Bill Clinton who worked alongside Reynolds offered his condolences saying of Reynolds, “his leadership alongside British Prime Minister John Major was instrumental in laying the foundation for the Good Friday Agreement, and our world owes him a profound debt of gratitude.” Flags are being flown at half mast on all government buildings in Ireland and the outpowering from many Irish politicians and businessmen are overwhelming. Business leader and progressive in the Northern Ireland peace agreement William Flynn said of Reynolds, “Without any question, whatever, Albert Reynolds was the finest Irish gentleman ever to become Taoiseach. Without him and his lovely Kathleen, the beautiful Reynolds family would have never come to be. Without him, the savage civil warfare, in Northern Ireland, would have continued on and the Good Friday Agreement would have never come to be. Taoiseach Albert Reynolds was especially loved and honored as a man of peace in Ireland, in America, and in the world, generally.”
Irish America co-founder and editor in chief Patricia Harty said of Reylolds, “Albert was one of a kind. A man of conviction, he had the common touch and was much loved in Irish America. He will be remembered through all time for his massive contribution to the peace process.”
President Michael D. Higgins said Mr. Reynolds will be remembered as “a most dynamic Cabinet minister and Taoiseach with courage” with current Taoiseach Enda Kenny adding that “he played an important part in bringing together different strands of political opinion in Northern ireland.” Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and Northern ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness both tweeted condolences to Reynolds, Adams saying “Albert acted on the North when it mattered” and McGuinness added “Albert was a peacemaker.”