This coming weekend, along with a few hundred others, I will sit in the audience in the Dunamaise theatre and watch Professor Diarmaid Ferriter chair a session of the inaugural James Fintan Lalor Summer School. He will do so with his customary courtesy, firmness, erudition and aplomb. Diarmaid is to chairing what Robin van Persie is to the six yard box.
Like all the others gathered for the session ‘A country in crisis’ I will marvel at his intellect and his energy. I will wonder, not for the first time, how does he do it? We will gaze, and our wonder will grow, that one small head can carry all he knows. Diarmaid is a towering intellect, a skilled and committed commentator, a thoroughgoing and methodical researcher and an apparently effortless writer. You would hate him with all the ferocity of an Iago if he wasn’t also charming, affable, modest, engaging and funny.
And, as if all that’s not bad enough, he’s only recently had the decency to be forty!
His productivity is staggering, his ubiquity … incredible.
And that is where he has made his first mistake!
Because I am wise to Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, historian, broadcaster, and author of a gazillion books. He cannot fool this clever-clogs any more. He has finally been rumbled. Because if you actually examine his output closely it rapidly becomes clear that this simply cannot be the work of a single person.
I’m not suggesting for one moment that he has a gifted amanuensis hidden away writing every second volume. No, it is far worse than that.
It was while re-reading T.F.O’Rahilly’s The Two Patricks recently that the truth hit me like a Patrician (or Palladian) crozier. Why had I never thought of it before? It is all so breathtakingly simple.
Clearly there are TWO Professor Diarmaid Ferriters.
Setting aside my penchant for the works of W.S.Gilbert – in which mistaken identity and separated twins are a sine qua non – this is how I think Diarmaid has managed to hoodwink an Irish public eager to believe that one of their own is capable of such Olympian achievements, a sort of intellectual Katie Taylor if you will.
It is my absolute conviction that the man we know of as Professor Diarmaid Ferriter is actually one of a pair of easily interchangeable identical twins.
My proof is, I must admit, a tad insubstantial. It was while he was filling in for Sean Moncrieff, or maybe it was George Hook during the summer. I was listening idly on my iPhone while wandering towards the National Archives in Bishop St. It was the merest glimpse, more a hint than anything else, a Macavity moment, but as I rounded the corner from Aungier street, I was morally certain that while I was listening to Professor Diarmaid Ferriter performing live on radio, I distinctly saw him darting into DIT. There was a nano-second when I believe he spotted me and immediately aborted yet another trip to the Archive. But by the time I had reached the side entrance to DIT, like T.S.Eliot’s feline master criminal, he had vanished.
I encourage those attending the James Fintan Lalor Summer School to observe him closely for telltale signs – the butterfly tattoo that is obvious on Friday evening but mysteriously absent on Saturday, the strawberry birthmark that migrates from one side of the neck to the other on alternate days. (Please forgive me, I am straying into The Gondoliers again) Somewhere there is proof of my thesis. Like a roomful of Skibbereen Eagles we simply need to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the star of UCD History.
My anxiety in coming out into the open with this theory at this time is that it will be seized on by the most ardent Ferritophiles and twisted into egregious heresy. Conscious that their hero, already two persons in one, is a mere persona shy of divinity, they will advance the theory of a mythical ‘Holy Spirit’ Ferriter, a dove-like deity who haunts the National Library. This is not to be confused with the many pigeons who do actually frequent the old pile in large numbers.
Another fear is that one or other of the two Ferriters will simply rebel, drained from the ceaseless demands of Vincent Browne, Bryan Dobson, the Royal Irish Academy, University College, Dublin, the Irish Times, Twitter and the oddball in the queue for the 39A who thinks he knows who shot Michael Collins. I am concerned that he will burn out, become disillusioned, suffer the fate of all disenchanted academics and move into an obscure branch of psychology – perhaps making regular appearances with Marian as a cognitive behavioural therapist.
I would urge Diarmaid, as a friend and admirer, to come clean before such a tragedy occurs. Confession can be liberating. It is high time he fessed up. A forgiving nation will not hold such a trifling peccadillo against him. It’s not, after all, as if he’s a banker or something equally Gothic.
I look forward to reading the first chapter in The Transformation of Diarmaid 2013-2014 (Profile books, €28 hardback, €17 trade paperback)
(Professor Diarmaid Ferriter and Dr.Myles Dungan will be chairing sessions at the forthcoming James Fintan Lalor school in Portlaoise on Saturday. Dungan will also be interviewing the aforementioned Lalor on Friday evening – he kids you not – in the Dunamaise theatre.)