Michael Millerick (1937-2021) – An Appreciation

Michael Millerick was a child of an old East Cork family. Michael’s father had joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, and by the time Michael was sent to Glenstal (he had previously been in the Killashee junior boarding school in Co. Kildare) he had retired with the rank of Colonel. Michael was one of twins, and when he was six his twin brother William was killed in a drowning accident in Greystones, which cast a long shadow over the Millerick family life.

He started in Glenstal in 1949. A year later, I arrived, and on my first morning was staring uncomprehendingly at the playroom notice board. A boy with curly black hair standing beside me asked if I needed help, and then inducted me into the mysteries of the timetables. This was Michael showing his greatest qualities: his instinctive kindness, his
uncompetitive nature. Our long friendship started from that moment.

Our first conversation revealed his rigorous intellect, which combined beautifully with a sense of humour beyond his years, and a sublime sense of the ridiculous. Of course, Lower 3rd wasn’t the place where intellect was required as much as attention and memory, but Michael made it clear from his earliest days that he would follow his own star. So he
concentrated on those subjects which interested him, and was not at all ashamed to neglect those that didn’t. This attitude resulted in one of the all-time great Headmaster’s Remarks: at the end of his term report, Dom Columba Breen summarised Michael as being “complacent in his ignorance”. But I suspect that old Bossy Breen knew the truth as well as
anyone: that here was an unusual boy with unusual gifts.

Michael was popular in Glenstal: I think we were all a little proud to harbour such a rara avis, and he was never made to suffer for being different. At one stage in our lives, heavily influenced by the novels of Edgar Wallace, he and I went through a phase of forming secret societies which aimed to improve conditions for the physically weaker or less aggressive among us (such as ourselves). The last of these was dreamed up by me: the Council of Justice, I called it, and the Constitution and Rules, all drafted by myself in a tiny notebook, insisted that postulant members of the Council should sign their names in blood. I hid in one of the lavatories with a razor blade, and eventually and painfully coaxed enough of the vital fluid from a finger to sign my name. I passed the booklet to Michael demanding that he do the same. No: he would not. Despite his earlier commitments, nothing in heaven or earth would make him draw his own blood. I pummelled him, I pushed him, I called on his
honour, but no: he would not sign in his blood. In the end I had to let him use some of mine….I think I still have the vital notebook somewhere.

Michael did pre-Med in UCD, influenced by his father, but gave up medicine after a year and settled into his true academic love: History. He was a good student—because he loved the subject—and he graduated well. After a period tutoring, he joined the staff of St. Mary’s University College (Queen’s University, Belfast) and for several decades he lived between there and Dublin (where his mother, to whom he was devoted, lived).

I think it was in this era that Michael’s genius for friendship flowered and gave happiness to so many. He had several groups of university friends in Belfast. In Dublin, he had countless circles of friends, which only rarely overlapped. His bibliophilia was permanently on the verge of going completely out of control: in both Dublin and Belfast he spent his spare time haunting second-hand bookshops, and his purchases, once read, were given freely to his friends. My own shelves would not look under-stocked if they contained only Michael’s gifts to me. Every time we met—which was usually in a pub—Michael would carefully withdraw from his wallet a meticulously-clipped journal article dealing with some subject
we had been discussing.

But he was also a cineaste and a constant playgoer, and most prominently of all devoted to classical music. There are many of us still around who remember our wonderful Saturday afternoon outings to the State Cinema in Phibsboro, where the Irish Film Society would be screening the latest obscure offering from an Egyptian New Wave film maker, and the lively discussions afterwards in the Hut.

And of course, until a very few sad years ago, Michael would disappear every summer for the West Cork Music Festival, where once again he had a whole circle of friends who cherished his company. Needless to say, he went to all the classical offerings of the National Concert Hall.

In each of these interests Michael built up a circle of friends and acquaintances who loved him and looked forward to their meetings. Strangely, these circles rarely, if ever, intersected.

Michael never married, but there is no doubt in my mind that he was attractive to many women and not un-susceptible to a flashing eye… He maintained a flat in the Irish Life Centre near the Abbey Theatre, and from there was a regular attender at Mass in the Pro-Cathedral, and particularly at concerts by the Palestrina Choir. I understand that when he became ill his family could hardly get into the flat for the piles of books.

One of his constant loyalties was to the United Arts Club in Fitzwilliam Street: Michael’s one misstep in life may have been to accept the Honorary Secretaryship of this famed institution when the dogs in the street could have told him that administration was not his forte. I
remember his relief and delight when his term ended….

How do I stop talking about Michael? Perhaps by recounting how hard he was to say goodbye to. He loved his pint, and indeed also his John Power, and if he came to your house he would be the last to leave. But no loss in that…many’s the night that Anne and I stood at our hall door discreetly edging outwards in the hope of dislodging Michael from the
doormat, or reminding him that his taxi’s meter was running, but gaining from the conversation all the time.

To finish: Michael’s memory was destroyed by a stroke in 2014, and since then he lived in care, most recently in the Carysfort Nursing Home in Dalkey. Until the pandemic descended on us, a few of his old friends visited him regularly and took him out for pints or for lunch.

And here it was that the Creator recognised Michael’s peculiar preciousness: although his memory was gone, both short-term and long-term I think, his personality remained: brilliant, tolerant, witty, stubborn as a mule. Miraculously, he retained his full vocabulary and conversational powers to the end. If you introduced a conversational subject which required knowledge of current affairs, Michael was still sharp enough for his intellect to deduce a framework for the dialogue, and his contributions would be as to-the-point as yours or mine.

A unique human being. Rest in Peace.

Peter Kelly
March 2021