Following the launch by Graham Norton of ‘Bandon Grammar School: a History written by school principal,, Ian Coombes, at the invitation of the school and on behalf of everyone the speech of thanks to Graham Norton was given by the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton.
In spite of the school’s ‘chequered history’ with bishops, that Mr Coombes has just referred to, I am very pleased today to have been asked to proposed this vote of thanks to you Graham, even if you have come here today wearing my colour! Being a bishop might suit you; we could do with a few bishops of your calibre.
Many people think that book launches never pull a crowd – but look at the crowd here today – more than a thousand of you.
I’m having quite a few days of it in fact – on Saturday, a couple of days ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked me for a selfie – true story – and less than 48 hours later I’m sharing a stage with Graham Norton. Graham – you and the Archbishop of Canterbury in the same sentence – did you ever imagine that?
Looking around and seeing the vast crowd you have pulled to this important event in the life of Bandon Grammar School all I can say is – I have two vacant parishes in the Diocese at the moment, so if you fancy a career change …
You certainly pull a crowd. Not because you’re famous, but because people genuinely like you. That’s true in a special way for us here in Cork, and here in your old school in particular.
What I especially like about today is that you have come here to shine a light, not on yourself, but on your old school in general and on Ian Coombes in particular. Do you know, when Ian Coombes sent me the text of the history of the school, and asked me to write a foreword, one of two in the book, he was too modest to tell me that he had written this history, and that it had been a work of love for the last 14 years? In fact, he gave me the impression it was someone else’s work, to the point that I was wondering why he himself wasn’t writing the foreword.
I first met Ian 41 years ago at University College Cork. We parked our motorbikes in the same place at the same time each morning. That was a couple of years before I first met you also, Graham. This is undoubtedly a big day for Ian. You, Graham, have rightly turned the spotlight on him, as I say. And that says a lot about you, not only as a professional, but as a person.
I asked one of my millennial, hockey-playing sons over breakfast in Dublin yesterday (after the selfie with the Archbishop of Canterbury – did I mention that yet?) what it is that people find so appealing about you. He said: ‘Everyone thinks they know him. He’s someone you’d like to meet and to relax in his company. He is humble in his own way.’
And this is very true. Alongside your flamboyance, humour, unpredictability, mischievous, sometimes very naughty streak, there’s something profound and thoughtful with a light touch. You are good at, and have always been good at – to ‘mis’use the words of the Magnificat – the Song of Mary – ‘putting down the mighty from their seat…’ And I’m not talking about the red chair.
Sometimes, what you don’t say says it all.
You empower people to be themselves – in all the glorious diversity of their God-given humanity. Those of us who treasure values of justice, equality, and inclusion appreciate this in your leadership in the public space. You are always true to yourself – others see that, and that empowers other people in turn, including many young people in a place like this, many who might otherwise feel vulnerable.
Your humour and fun, as the best of those crafts should do, holds up a mirror and helps us to take a good look at ourselves and the world around us in relation to things that do matter. Your succinct answer not long ago to a question put to you on TV about Brexit is a case in point.
Anyway, before this starts to trundle into the territory of either a hagiography fit for an Archbishop, or an obituary, I’m going to sit down with two heartfelt words on behalf of us all: