His intelligence, integrity and soft-spoken manner earned Garret FitzGerald a reputation as the gentleman of Irish politics and at 80 the one-time Fine Gael leader has lost none of his charm, or his interest in today's Ireland.
Retired from politics for almost 20 years, Dr FitzGerald now travels around the world lecturing and has recently finished reworking his father's biography, Desmond's Rising.
From his birth, the Dubliner seemed destined to enter politics, being the son of Desmond FitzGerald, the first minister for external affairs in the new state, and Mabel McConville, an ardent republican from a northern unionist, Protestant background.
Born in 1926, as the southern state was still experiencing growing pains, Dr FitzGerald admits he grew up in a very political household, where life was sometimes extraordinary.
Following the assassination of Cumann na nGaedheal's finance minister, Kevin O'Higgins, as he walked to Mass in July 1927, the FitzGerald home was put under armed guard for several years.
"The army guarded us with four soldiers and I think 16 guns. My brother and I made bows and arrows and spears to fight off the IRA if they attacked us."
He learned from his older brother that the atmosphere in the house could be "difficult" and "sometimes conflictual" because of their parents' diverse political views in the earlier years.
Dr FitzGerald believes his mother developed her strong views in either Belfast girls' school Victoria College, or at Queen's: "She became a republican, a socialist and a suffragette at an early age."
Desmond FitzGerald, a poet, had been born in London but joined the Irish Volunteers while living in Kerry in 1914.
He was imprisoned three times in 1915 for making a political speech, after his involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising, fighting alongside Pearse and other rebel leaders in the GPO, and, finally, in 1921 before the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
A pro-treatyite, the former Sinn Féin MP served as a government minister and, later, senator before his retirement in 1943.
"He came to politics through literature really, I think. He had a great interest in Yeats in his late teens and, reading some literary magazine, came across political articles.
"My mother was the enthusiast who dragged him into politics, which wasn't fair because he had to go to jail. But she never went to jail, despite being more extreme than he was!
"She was always very fond of my father, despite their disagreements, and had great admiration for him."
Dr FitzGerald remembers as a child hearing stories from his father about 1916 but always with a humorous twist: "We were brought up on humorous stories about the national movement for independence.
"Our favourite story was about the battle in Ashbourne in 1916 in north Dublin when Dick Mulcahy, Richard Hayes and Thomas Ashe attacked an RIC barracks and captured 100 RIC men. I mean people were killed during it but there was a funny side to it."
He credits his father with passing on an interest in politics but it was his mother who inspired his desire to see Ireland's Catholics and Protestants, nationalists and unionists living peacefully together.
The FitzGerald children had been brought weekly to Mass by their mother, with young Garret only discovering she was a Protestant after making "some pejorative comment" about Ernest Blythe being a Protestant, to which Mrs FitzGerald replied: "Yes dear. You do know I'm a Protestant too, don't you?"
His father was against a political career for young Garret, believing children should not piggyback their way to the Dail, so his son attended University College Dublin where his classmates included future taoiseach and Fianna Fail leader Charles J Haughey.
Coincidentally, Mr Haughey once dated Joan O'Farrell, who became Mrs FitzGerald in 1947.
In his twenties a career in Aer Lingus followed, during a period when high romance surrounded air travel, with the thrilling exploits of aviators like Amelia Earhart.
Still with an eye on politics, Dr FitzGerald quit the airline to enter academia, lecturing in UCD while contributing to newspapers and the BBC, and setting up a consultancy firm.
It was during the 1960s that he was first offered the opportunity to enter the political sphere when he was approached by Charles Haughey and invited to join Fianna Fail. He turned the offer down.
"It was very clear that Charles Haughey would become one of the very prominent figures in Fianna Fail and the orientation of Fianna Fail would become very commercial rather than social.
"My interest in the sixties had moved from being a conservative to a social democrat. That's why I joined Fine Gael to help move it towards the left, to work with Labour in government as an alternative to Fianna Fail.
"I had been in disagreement with the earlier coalitions on Northern Ireland in particular because of the provocative policy of staking a claim to Northern Ireland.
"Keeping tensions alive there seemed to me to be totally wrong instead of trying to do something for the nationalist population that was being discriminated against."
He served for four years in the Seanad before entering the Dail in 1969, serving as the Fine Gael's spokesman on finance in opposition and as minister for foreign affairs from 1973.
With the support of John Hume and Austin Currie he had already prepared Fine Gael's policy on the north, which covered the reform of the RUC, the dismantling of the B Specials and joint government in the region, which "the nationalists [in 1969] had not begun to look for".
"It was only in 1970 that, privately, John Hume made that suggestion to his own commission and that in 1971 the SDLP adopted it but it was Fine Gael policy in 1969.
"It was about trying to deal with the real problems in relation to the north and trying to get the two sides there to work together rather than persecuting one another."
Dr FitzGerald admits being "startled" by the events that led up to the 1970s arms trial, but particularly by Haughey's alleged involvement in smuggling arms to northern republicans.
"Nobody was surprised at [Niall] Blaney's involvement but when I was rung at 4am and heard that Haughey had been sacked I was astonished. Haughey was seen as somebody interested in business and economic matters but he wasn't seen as a nationalist.
"It was very worrying because there seemed to be a real possibility of destabilisation. The fact that Jack Lynch didn't feel able to tackle the issue seemed to show instability in Fianna Fail as well. But he did get on top of it. That boil was lanced, thank goodness."
He believes that "antipathy" towards the RUC prevented the Garda from fully investigating loyalist attacks in the Republic during the 1970s, including the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings in which 34 people, including an unborn baby, were killed.
"The antipathy towards the RUC, which was very understandable, meant there wasn't the kind of cooperation there is now."
As taoiseach in the early 1980s Dr FitzGerald felt the hunger strikes were "clearly having a radicalising effect on opinion in the north as well as the possibility that Sinn Féin would become the dominant nationalist party while still engaging in violence".
"The real problem that had never been tackled was aiding the nationalist minority. It didn't seem an immediate task for Margaret Thatcher who had fixed ideas and an absence of empathy with anything outside England."
He believed that setting up the New Ireland Forum in 1983 would provide a basis for "establishing some basic principles for an agreement that would be acceptable to the British while not being offensive to the unionists, as well as looking at various alternatives, including shared authority in Northern Ireland."
Dr FitzGerald had developed links with unionists in the early 1970s, at times enjoying "closer links with the unionists than the British government".
Dealing with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was "interesting" but the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement came about because of the persistence of British civil servants who "recognised that [the Irish government] were not seeking to satisfy any ends of our own but trying to achieve peace and stability in Northern Ireland".
"Unionist opposition was such that nationalists concluded it must be a good thing. I don't think unionists ever realised how much they contributed to the acceptance of the agreement, the swing back from Sinn Féin to the SDLP and Sinn Féin's decision to abandon violence.
"We had feared a more violent reaction. The unionists couldn't understand that what we were trying to do was defeat the IRA. They thought we wanted to get involved in Northern Ireland, which was the last thing anyone down here wanted to do."
Despite unionist opposition to the agreement, Dr FitzGerald believes that agreement planted the seeds of change that culminated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
For southern negotiators, DUP leader Ian Paisley had long cast a shadow over efforts to secure agreement over Northern Ireland and with lasting consequences.
"I remember a cousin of mine in Northern Ireland in the late 1950s saying that the man would destroy Northern Ireland. I didn't think it was possible people could be that mad as to follow him but they did. It was obvious even then that he had a major role to play. The UUP were unwilling to take him out.
"In retrospect we all thought at the time 'a unionist split what a good thing' but it wasn't, because if the unionists hadn't split this would have been resolved long ago. It was disastrous but I don't think we realised that at the time."
Six years after Dr FitzGerald's departure from politics, it was when John Hume told him "how far Sinn Féin had come and what they were prepared to agree to or accept in 1993 that I realised the agreement had a powerful effect that I had hoped for but hadn't actually observed in the previous years, so I was retrospectively justified".
He believes the SDLP continues to have a "strong and effective" role in northern affairs, while predicting that Sinn Féin has reached a plateau in its popularity in the Republic, being limited by its lack of support among the middle classes, women, "who are very anti-violence", and the older generations.
Dr FitzGerald, who says he will continue to monitor Northern Ireland and the peace process, concludes: "The record of constitutional politicians north and south, faced with trying to resolve the problems of Northern Ireland, has been remarkable and historians will speak highly of it although nobody notices at the time."