MY FIRST meeting with Henry Mackle was in the first week I came up to Magdalen College, Oxford, in September 1949. It was on the football field, writes Raymond Bonham Carter.
We got to know each other better when, the following year, he became President of the Junior Common Room and, ex officio, occupied the rooms at the top of my staircase in Cloisters, originally, it was said, done up for the Prince of Wales: hence the bathroom and telephone - unheard of for an undergraduate in those days. At that time all students, whether under- or postgraduate, were members of the JCR. We were also fellow members of the Lily Club, the Magdalen literary society.
It may seem odd that during those two years I never became aware of the real nature - let alone importance - of Mackle's work with Leslie Sutton and Peter Allen. Nor, indeed, did I realise that Mackle was probably the outstanding graduate student in college at that time. I was not alone in this amongst my contemporaries. Henry Mackle talked little of his work, due no doubt to natural modesty, and perhaps because he thought (rightly) that few of us would understand it anyhow.
He became not only a scientist of international distinction, but was always - what was already becoming rare when we were at Oxford and is yet rarer today - a renaissance man to his fingertips.
The memories I shall ever most treasure, are those of his visits to me these last years since I became hors de combat, when we ruminated over our memories and talked of things past and present; of Ireland's history with its agonising host of 'if only's'; of Ireland today.
I admired the gallant, uncomplaining manner in which increasingly he seemed to put up with considerable physical discomfort and at times, no doubt, pain. But his spirit stayed unimpaired.
Henry Mackle was an Irishman from a country to which all strands, including, he once said to me, those of the Ascendancy, had contributed. He called himself a Catholic humanist. His attitude of tolerance was perhaps epitomised by his daughter Joanna's wedding in 1991 in Magdalen College chapel, where taking part in the marriage service conducted by the chaplain, the Church of England Dean of Divinity, were a Roman Catholic friar and a female minister of the United Reform Church. His friend Seamus Heaney, then the Oxford Professor of Poetry, read the poem he wrote to his wife on their wedding eve.
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