Dara Ó Briain is surely one of the most successful of Irish comedians, mostly living and working in Britain, though currently on tour in Ireland. He’s the genial but sharp host of the hugely engaging Mock the Week satirical programme on BBC. Dara is also an award-winning debater and a brilliant mathematician who has partnered with the science boffin Brian Cox on television programmes about astronomy and space exploration.
Only relatively recently has Dara, born in Bray, Co. Wicklow in 1972, made it public that he was an adopted child. And his attitude to his adopted status is so amiably confident, so breezily normal, sane and well-adjusted that it makes you want to give him another round of applause, not just for his comic gifts or his mathematical brains, but for his rounded character and positive attitude.
He always knew he was adopted, he told Dónal Lynch last week in the Irish Independent magazine, but it was never a big issue. It was “just part of the background of your life and you kind of forgot”, he said. He regarded his adoptive parents as his real parents. But he did have questions, like about his baldness – hereditary? – or his great interest in maths.
Recently, he met his birth mother, and, typically for Dara, that too seems to have been a kind of normal life experience – not some big drama. It didn’t, for him, answer any major questions: it was just about getting acquainted with a lady in her seventies. We’re all just individuals, he concludes, and what makes us what we are is a complex mixture of genes, formation, experiences and our own unique characters.
There have been so many different post-adoption stories – many of them involving trauma, sorrowful memories and a long trail of searching often obstructed by secrecy. For some adopted people, finding a blood-relation involves a Eureka moment, when the jigsaw pieces fall into place. For others, there are problems of fitting in with a whole new constellation of kin who are not always adjusted to the relationship.
What’s striking about Dara Ó Briain – who is himself married with three children – is his air of upbeat normality. Okay: so, you have one family network, and now you have another as well, but so what? It’s all part of life’s patterns!
Winston Churchill once said that “attitude is everything”. Dara Ó Briain’s positive attitude to his background and situation is so refreshing, sunny and intelligent. Everyone should be so lucky.
Pragmatism or principle?
Did F.W. de Klerk, the last white prime minister of South Africa, bring apartheid to an end from pragmatism – international pressure against South Africa was huge – or from Christian principle? As a stalwart member of a small branch of the Calvinist Dutch Reformed Church, de Klerk maintained he ended apartheid and freed Nelson Mandela because he came to believe it was the right thing to do. He also left a note, after his recent death, apologising for the white South Africa policy which had oppressed blacks and others, and maintained division and separation.
The Dutch Reformed Church was deeply entangled with apartheid – they believed the Tower of Babel episode in the Bible indicated that God wanted peoples to live separately. De Klerk’s grandfather was a minister in the church, and a founder of the whites-only National Party. More than a hundred years ago, Irish nationalists were great admirers of these Afrikaners – they had been the ‘gallant little Boers’ who had taken on the British Empire. Many a pet dog in Ireland was named ‘Kruger’, in honour of Stephanus Kruger, the Boer war hero who challenged the British.
Maybe de Klerk was sincere in his motives of abolishing apartheid. Maybe there was a politician’s pragmatic touch. Maybe it was both. But at least he did the right thing in the end.
Interestingly, he was more criticised by the Afrikaner people for leaving his wife, Marike, than for any political policy. Tragically, she went into a depression and was afterwards found brutally murdered.
We indeed lament the harsh treatment of children in institutions in the past. But nobody, it seems, has yet found a perfect solution to the issue of proper care for youngsters who are in a troubled family situation.
Forty-two young people died in the care of the Irish State between 2010 and 2019. Eighteen of these died by suicide or drug overdose. Others occurred from accidents or natural causes.
In response to a parliamentary query by Peadar Toíbín, Tusla, the care agency, has revealed there are 5,800 children and young people now in State care. In Britain, there are currently 80,080 children in care, up two per cent from last year.