A quite personal, colorful, and lengthy remembrance of Ivan Illich appears on the website of Dara Molloy, who describes himself as a Celtic monk and priest. (He's also a pilgrimage and tour guide on the island of Árainn (aka Aran), where he lives and runs an inn.) Molloy is one of the persons behind Aisling Magazine, which over the years has published several pieces by Illich.
Molloy describes his learning of Illich's death in 2002, recalls a visit in 2001 to see Illich in Bremen, and describes in much detail the three days in 1989 when he was host to Illich on a speaking tour of west Ireland. His account of Illich's appearance in a small village called Corofin is well worth a look.
Illich upends everyone's expectations. He declines to submit to interviews by the local radio station, for instance, but he puts on a show that nobody will forget:
The whole scene had completely the wrong effect on Ivan, so that by the time he got his turn to address the crowd he was in a rage. He told the assembled audience that he would not speak to them through a microphone, because he would not have any technology get in the way of his face to face encounter with them. He criticised the adults who had organised the singing and dancing of the children, accusing them of turning something at the heart of their culture into a package for the entertainment of tourists and visitors. And finally he said he would not speak from the stage but wanted everybody to turn their seats towards him while he stood in the middle of the hall. This latter was a major logistical nightmare as the hall was completely packed and it meant every single chair had to be moved.
The ensuing discussion was fiery. Quite a number of people from the audience got involved, and Ivan himself, already hot under the collar from the welcoming reception, got even hotter. Tom Collins, the chairman, had an impossible task trying to contain and direct the discussion. It was not what one would call a pleasant evening, unless one could be so detached from the proceedings as to enjoy the cut and thrust of passion-filled arguments and Ivan's impatience with and intolerance of fools. Many people probably went home feeling insulted. On that particular evening, Ivan was all barb and no balm.
Much to Molloy's surprise, however, Illich invites him to spend some time at Penn State, where Illich teaches for much of each year. "I could stay for a month or two and participate in some conversations he was organising, attend his lectures in the college, use the university library, have access to all his writings, and meet many of his friends. ... This is exactly what I did - an experience that has been a major watershed in my life."
Molloy ends up staying and participating in Illich's discussion group for six weeks. One recollection:
Ivan was a nomad on this earth. He owned no property, never married or had children, lived with friends, and took on work only where he was invited to do so by friends. He told me he made very little money out of his publications. His contracts with universities were always on the basis that he could lecture on topics he had chosen himself. At lectures that I attended in Penn State, most of those attending were members of staff, there out of interest. He was ruthless with college students who chose his courses simply to get points. He would weed them out on their first day, tell them they had their points and order them not to come back.