About the Site

This is the official memorial website for the former Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey, which has been established with the consent of his family. It is a work in progress and is intended to provide factual information on his career in public life and on his considerable contribution and achievements over many decades.

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Charles Haughey - Taoiseach : A Memoir by Photographer Bobbie Hanvey

Charles Haughey was special. He had that rare aura of greatness about him - it was almost possible to touch it. Meeting him was an experience I'll never forget.

Former Northern Ireland Ombudsman and Senator in the Oireachtas, Dr Maurice Hayes, was my contact with this most private of men.

Dr Martin Mansergh, former Fianna Fail politician, historian and special advisor on Northern Ireland, was Maurice's friend and within a very short time I was on the phone to Mr Haughey's P.A.

After introductions she said - 'Would ten minutes be long enough for your photo-session with Mr Haughey?'

'Ten minutes would be fine', I said. 'Good, then Mr Haughey would like you to come down next Wednesday at 12 noon.'

As Pauline and I drove up the long driveway to Abbeville, the Haughey family home, I was more than a little nervous. Not nervous at the prospect of meeting him, but nervous that there mightn't be enough light in the house. I preferred natural light to using flash, but if my back was to the wall, then I'd use flash.

I noticed that the curtains at the front of the house were closed. As my old Ford scattered the pebbles and came to a halt outside the front door, it opened and Mr Haughey and his wife Maureen greeted us.

I introduced Pauline and myself and he said, 'You're both very welcome to Kinsaley, please come in.'

Although ill at the time, his skin was in great shape, his eyes sparkled and his teeth, which were all his own, reflected every bit of light that hit them.

'I can never find a comb when I need one', he complained.

'You needn't be looking at me', I giggled.

'I see what you mean', he smiled, 'but it suits you'. 'Pauline, have you got a comb?'

'Yes, I've one in my handbag.'

Shaking his head, he laughed, 'Womens' handbags, one of the greatest mysteries of science'. He combed his hair without a mirror and took his seat.

My Hassleblad camera with its 150 mm portrait lens sat brooding on the tripod, loaded with colour film in case my ten minutes ran out quicker than I thought. I set up a black background behind him because black always makes the subject stand out more and at the same time it protects people's privacy and prevents showing the contents of their room.

The room curtains were pulled back and I had enough light coming through the windows to shoot at a 1/30th of a second at f5.6. 'Are you ready Mr Haughey?' I asked.

'Ready when you are. Say something funny to make me laugh.'

'Bertie Ahern', I ventured. That did the trick and away we went.

Taking the first roll of 12 colour shots out of the camera, I loaded up with black and white and asked him if my ten minutes would soon be up.

'Take your time, you're doing fine', he said. In total, I took around sixty photos in black and white and colour and as it transpired the colour, on this occasion, was the best.

My old and dear friend, Lady Rosemary Brookeborough, ran a riding school at her home at Ashbrooke and she was recognised throughout Ireland as the finest horsewoman in the land. As they say, what she didn't know about horses wasn't worth knowing. I hated horses ever since the day I photographed a horse for a local farmer. It was a complete disaster.

He spent half an hour getting its legs right and he wouldn't let me take the photo until its ears were up and forward. Then when I was kneeling on the ground changing a film, it kicked me in the back. I was in bed for a week. After that, I always refused to photograph horses.

'Have you still an interest in horses?'

'Indeed I have, but not being as young as I used to be helps keep me out of the saddle.' Mr Haughey was renowned for his love of horses but some people tried to belittle him for this most harmless of pastimes.

Lady Rosemary Brookeborough told me of meeting Charles Haughey on one occasion when he came to Ashbrooke to buy a horse. Her husband, Captain John, rode for the Ireland team and won many awards for doing so.

She said of Charlie, 'How I hated that man's politics but I must say he knew more about horses than anyone I've ever met.'

After the photographs were taken, some fifty minutes later (not ten), I reminded Mr Haughey of what Lady Brookeborough had said. He laughed and said, 'And I didn't think much of her politics either, but she was a beautiful strong lady, loyal to her people, as you would expect, and I enjoyed meeting her.'

I thanked him for his extra time and he replied, 'Bobbie, you're very welcome. I enjoyed the craic and meeting both Pauline and yourself. Now come with me to the pub and I'll buy you a drink.'

He then led us through rooms and corridors until we walked into a beautiful old pub which was situated at the other end of the house. He told us of a pub in Belfast that had been demolished and he had the bar interior brought to Abbeyville and rebuilt. It was amazing.

Two hours after arriving, Mr Haughey and Maureen were still waving when we turned right and headed down the driveway. It was a day to remember and one which I'll never forget. Gentle, genuine hospitality at its very best.

Within a year, Charles Haughey was dead. The 13th June 2006 was the day. He was 80 years. But my story wasn't over yet.

Sometime later I told Maurice Hayes about the 'ten minutes' and asked him how I managed to get fifty. 'Well', said Maurice, 'if he didn't like you, you'd have got your ten minutes'.

My friend Pauline's mother lived in Malahide. In the early stages of forgetfulness, Pauline took her to the doctor in Dublin for an assessment. Bertie Ahern, who worked hard for peace in Northern Ireland, even when his mother was dying, was Taoiseach at the time.

After asking her a series of questions, the doctor concluded by asking this one. 'Rita, do you know who the present Taoiseach is?'

She looked at him as if he was mad and said, 'Of course I do, it's Charlie Haughey'. So even memory loss couldn't dull the deep love Rita and the good people of Ireland had for Charlie. As Taoiseach he brought in free travel for pensioners. He gave them free television licences and concessions on their fuel and telephone charges and he gave tax free status to writers and artists.

Mr Haughey and his family really liked the photographs, especially one, and this is the photograph that was used on his memoriam card. I felt greatly honoured.