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.
Interests & Hobbies
Dingle and the Sea : by Lorcán O'Cinnéide
Charles Haughey: Dingle and the sea - Lorcán Ó Cinnéíde.
GETTING TO KNOW CHARLIE
I don't know when I first met Charles Haughey, he seems to have been a permanent fixture in the life of West Kerry in my lifetime. I always knew he was great friends with my Godfather, the late Micheál Ó Catháin, who was himself my late father Caoimhín's closest friend and as I grew up Charlie could be spotted here and there - always in the middle of a throng of some kind, having the crack.
I didn't have much to do with him but I was amazed that he knew my name and asked after my father whenever I fell across him. I knew he was particularly friendly with the Fitzgeralds, the Ashes, O'Sullivans and the Flannerys and it was in the Star Inn that he would hold court on Dingle Regatta Day, but he seemed to be on first name terms with everyone! He had that extraordinary knack.
It was only later on when I was in my twenties and onwards that I could say I got to know him a bit. I recall a big chat we had in Ashes pub one night the summer after my father had died in 1985 when he took the time in a crowded night to seek me out and talk to me with great warmth about Caoimhín.
Needless to say, we liked Charlie in Dingle and I personally liked him a lot. I used to read and hear about people being afraid of him and hating him and of course there was always plenty of criticism for all sorts of reasons. Certainly one would occasionally despair about some of the political stuff but that was never important to us. We were of the view that he had plenty of critics and we shouldn't feel obliged to join the chorus! We retained that view right to the end, in recognition of himself and the real and deep interest he had in the town and the area, its people, its language, culture and history. In my dealings with him I found him warm, friendly, thoughtful, serious, irreverent, exceptionally funny and intensely interested in everything. Others may have a different view and the best of luck to them.
I think when he came to West Kerry, he felt he had some sort of a refuge from the vicissitudes of public life and, from the time he bought the Inis and spent time there, that was certainly true. I'm glad that was the case.
He told me he was introduced to West Kerry in the late nineteen forties by Colonel Ó Catháin and that he used to visit Daniel Keane's pub in Baile an Fheirtéaraigh - as he said, Dingle was in those days a fairly drab town one went through to get to Ballyferriter! They had some wild times there at that time, by all accounts! Charlie also told us one day about his friend Micheál Ó Catháin stopping the car at the top of the Conor Pass one morning while he as bringing Charlie into the train at Tralee after a weekend in West Kerry way back the day, "Look around you Charlie, just look at that view.... God's country! And you going back to Dublin....., I'm sorry for you!"
When Charlie bought Inishvickillane - a whole story in itself - he went there every Summer and it was from the early seventies on that he really got "in" with the West Kerry and Dingle community.
In the early nineties, after he had resigned as Taoiseach, late one night at the celebration of the Blessing of the Boats - a highlight in the fishing year in Dingle that time, a gang of us in and around the fishing decided that we should have a lunch for Charlie the following day just to express our appreciation of him. I mentioned it to him and he was game ball. The following day, I recalled our invitation but also remember that lunch might not be the most welcome duty - for any of us - so I made off for the Skellig Hotel to consult Charlie. "What time was it when we made this arrangement?" he demanded sharply when I met him. I told him it was about one in the morning. "Well Lorcán", says Charlie with a glint "you should know that any arrangements made after 1PM yesterday in Dingle are null and void. I'm getting out of here as soon as I can, so maybe next year!"
The following August we duly held a marvellous lunch, which became an annual fixture with Charlie and Maureen the day after Dingle Regatta from then on, with a disparate cast of characters but always including Paddy Flannery and Martina, Nicholas and Maureen O'Connor, Micheál Ó Catháin, Brian Farrell, John Brosnan, Michael J. Flannery, Bridie Fitzgerald, Joan O'Connor and more of us. It was great fun for us and I hope for Charlie and Maureen. Charlie was a great man to recount a story and had great recall of poetry, plays and prose which he recited bits from by heart. We got many humorous tales from his long political career and plenty of stories too that he told against himself, with Maureen also not a bit shy about giving at least as good she got in the exchanges! We have many happy memories of stories and mis-adventures and songs late into the afternoon which we treasure even more now that Charlie has passed on.
I recall another occasion in the Taoiseach's office when I brought in a couple of people from Hollywood who were interested in making a film of Fiche Bliain ag Fás, or Twenty Years a Growing by Muiris Ó Suilleabháin, the great Blasket writer. We were allotted twenty minutes. After interrogating them pretty thoroughly and reminding them that the Great Blasket was, as he put it, "part of our spiritual heritage, not to be mined", Charlie then began quoting from memory whole passages from An tOileánach (the Islandman) and Fiche Bliain ag Fás. Our visitors were stunned at his detailed knowledge and I must admit, intimidated by his admonitions to tread carefully as we left - an hour later than scheduled. It was only later that I realised how unusual this was for Charlie in his work mode - he was a stickler for time!
I had a lot of dealings with Charlie from 1985 on in connection with Fondúireacht an Bhlascaoid, the Blasket Island Foundation. He was very friendly with Paddy Moriarty, who was Chairman of the Foundation and Charlie took an exceptional interest in everything to do with it. I used to help out Paddy who was another great man, himself from West Kerry and Chief Executive of the ESB at that time.
Charlie came to the Foundation's launch and to some fundraising events and made what turned out to be ill-fated legislation to establish the Great Blasket Island National Historic Park. Charlie correctly opined later that the flaw in the bill was because he himself was too sentimental to have the state compulsorily acquire holdings on the island still owned by the original inhabitants (and therefore exempted them from the provisions of the Act), which was subsequently deemed unconstitutional in treating the later owners of the majority of the land differently from the original inhabitants. His heart was I think in the right place.
I was present in the public gallery of the Seanad in May 1989 when Charlie, quite unusually for a Taoiseach, introduced the Great Blasket Island National Historic Park Bill himself and sat in on the debate for a number of hours. Some Senators were surprised that he was not disappearing after his own speech:
Mrs. Fennell: Do we finish at 4.30 p.m.?
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: No, the Taoiseach is staying.
The Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey
The Taoiseach: I have no constraints. I have nothing to do
He gave a detailed speech in Irish and in English on a subject close to his heart and a reply to the debate which included the following, which is an expression of how Charlie saw things in a wider context, referencing his old friend, French President Francois Mitterrand :
"I have heard President Mitterrand of France, for instance, speak very enthusiastically about the unity and diversity of Europe and how important it is that we should preserve that diversity of cultures and languages and cherish them and particularly that the Community should pay attention to strengthening and preserving the minority language of which Irish is always mentioned as one. Perhaps I might name-drop for a moment and point out that President Mitterrand visited the Blaskets last summer and expressed enormous interest in the whole cultural ambience of the Blaskets and its literature and An tOileánach is now being translated into French and we intend to present the President with a copy of that new edition. How proud Muiris O Suilleabháin would have been, and George Thompson his great friend and mentor, if they could ever have visualised that Fiche Bliain ag Fás from the Blasket Islands would one day assume such important international cultural significance."
Charlie retained that abiding interest until the day he died and he did us many kindnesses over the years both in power and after it, ready to open an exhibition of Tory painters in the Blasket Centre or to give what was usually pretty astute advice.
CHARLIE'S BUST ON DINGLE PIER
In later years, Micheál Ó Catháin and I called up to Kinsealy to have a chat a few times, on days when Kerry would be playing in Croke Park and there would be a great welcome from himself and Maureen. We also had great crack one day in 2005 when Tom Fitzgerald, Brian Farrell, Finbarr O'Shea, Tom Kennedy and I went to show Charlie a bust of him we planned to erect on Dingle pier - something we were even more happy we had done in hindsight as he was unable to be there for the unveiling.
At that time, many people especially in the media asked me what were we at putting up a bust of Charlie at a time when he was getting a lot of stick about all sorts of things. I think some of them thought we were some sort of sycophants but they obviously knew very little about us in West Kerry! I think we succeeded in saying that irrespective of Charlie's flaws, we had great admiration for him - and we liked him - and we'd put up anything we liked in his honour - which we did. The late Micheál Ó Catháin, who died two days after Charlie, having been at his funeral, often said we should have put up a statue, not a bust! I tend to agree. It's still there and hopefully will remain so, much commented on and much photographed by visitors, supporters and detractors alike!
CHARLIE AND THE SEA
Charlie had a huge interest in the sea as is well known and he had his share of scrapes on it as is well known - stories best told by someone else. He got to know Dingle well and there was a famous fishing trip he took in August 1966 while Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries out to Smerwick Harbour with one of the Dingle boats, accompanied by the local TD "Chub" O' Connor, Tommy Devane, Thomas Ashe and others. This trip is well recorded both in writing and in a series of marvellous photographs by the late and great Pádraig Kennelly of Tralee.
There is a note somewhere in the files of the Department of Justice from Charlie's period as Minister, which details a conviction of a fisherman from South Kerry who was caught for some trivial offence "three miles west of the Foze rocks", to the southwest of Inishvickillane. Charlie wrote on the bottom of the file, "Any man earning a living in a small boat three miles west of the Foze Rocks deserves a medal, not a conviction!" My late father Caoimhín later wrote a poem about an epic fishing expedition made at the time of the famine to the same Foze Rocks, which are visible from the window of Charlie's house on the Inish. Charlie's intervention was testament to his humanity and empathy with people of the sea
Charlie was not an uncritical admirer of the fishing industry. He was tough enough when he wanted! When a blockade of Dublin port was mounted by fishermen protesting the closure of the Celtic Sea herring fishery in 1980, he ordered the Naval Service to clear them with little ceremony, something that rankled with some quarters of the industry for a time. During an election tour as Taoiseach which included Inishmore, on the Aran Islands, he reportedly laid down the law in no uncertain terms in response to a request that the Naval Service back off the salmon patrols.
On the other hand, he would sometimes mischievously call up on the radio a naval vessel approaching from the south towards the Inis, inviting them in for a cup of tea - and a nod was as good as a wink to the salmon fishermen of Baile na nGall who might be listening to their radios and had a little warning of impending trouble!
Incidentally, while some thought otherwise, Charlie had little use for "yes-men". I was told a story about a certain Naval officer who was on the Inis just before Francois Mitterand came to vist. Charlie suggested that he might bring a few lads from the ship up to clean up the house before the French president's arrival. The officer expressed the opinion that that might not be the most acceptable use of naval personnel and Charlie, having fixed him momentarily with that look of his, commented "You know, you're right", muttering that he could do with a few more people like this officer around him. He got on with the cleaning himself.
I recall one day in my fairly short fishing career hearing Charlie on the VHF radio as we sailed past the Inis towards Dingle. All I could hear was Charlie's side of the conversation but it was clear that he was getting some instructions about batteries and phones and he didn't sound best pleased with all this. After a while, I butted in on the conversation to say hello to him. "Who's this?" he says, so I told him that we were listening in. " Would you ever get lost and mind your own business!" said Charlie, clearly not enchanted with the idea that his technical difficulties were being overheard. We had a good laugh about it when I met him some time afterwards!
Charlie got to know many fishermen on the Dingle Peninsula over the years and his love of sailing brought him into contact with many more in Baltimore, Kinsale, Dunmore East, Kilmore Quay and Howth. He "got" them and they liked him. He was impatient to develop fishing and no more so than in Dingle, where he brooked no opposition from civil servants to the redevelopment of the port from 1987, a project later described as an excellent investment by the Fine Gael led Committee on Public Accounts. He was responsible for the very controversial "Dingle Licenses" - not an entirely accurate description as they were distributed from Greencastle to Castletownbere - but which mainly were taken up in Dingle. Twenty licenses to fish whitefish in deeper waters were issued and while the fleet introduced did not fare so well as it turned out, it was key in securing quotas for Monkfish and Hake for Ireland when these became quota species later.
Charlie was first given the task of firing the starting gun at Dingle Regatta, the annual festival of naomhÓg (and back then, Seine Boat) racing in Dingle back in the early seventies I think and he returned year on year to undertake the job with relish, which offered the newspapers with an eye-catching photo for the Monday front page, much to his amusement and always guaranteeing plenty of publicity. He would sail in from the Inis with family and friends and there were plenty of visitors who came to see and meet him as much as to see the splendid racing, organised by his good friend Eddie Hutch the larger than life oarsman, naomhÓg-builder and leading light behind the preservation of the traditional sport. It was part day out, part haphazard rolling clinic, part holiday for Charlie I think, as he met all and sundry, posed for photos, kissed babies, listened to troubles, dispensed often humorous advice, met old friends and generally fell in with the festive mood. It did no harm at all for Dingle and West Kerry that he put the place in the spotlight but he was himself always relaxed and in good form among us.
I, like a lot of people who knew him I suppose, am not blind to Charlie's flaws and failings. His life and those flaws - like everything else about him - were, unlike those of rest of us, played out on the public stage and subject to the most minute scrutiny. It is fashionable - almost mandatory - to belittle him and his memory. But he was a unique, cultured, able and far-seeing man who did an awful lot of wonderful things for a lot of people and his country. I am proud to say I knew him.