Saturday 10 December 2016

Castro's 'Cuban missile' for Haughey was a seven-inch cigar

Published 27/11/2016 | 02:30

STOPOVER: Fidel with Barbara Kennedy at Shannon in 1982
STOPOVER: Fidel with Barbara Kennedy at Shannon in 1982

Fidel Castro's favourite cigar was the famed Cohiba Coronas Especiale, and it was probably these fat seven-inch smokes famed for complex aromas of cedar and coffee that the Cuban leader sent to former Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

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The gift of cigars and a special wooden casket to hold them in, was delivered at Shannon Airport in the winter of 1982, documents in the National Archives show.

Why Castro pitched up at Shannon remains a mystery, but there has been conjecture that he may have required a stopover when he travelled to the USSR for the funeral of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in November of that year.

Liam Skelly, who was a director of Shannon Airport, and then Minister Sylvie Barrett welcomed Castro.

He was accompanied by President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua which adds weight to the theory about both attending Brezhnev's funeral.

Skelly told the Sunday Independent yesterday: "He chatted with us and had an Irish coffee. He quizzed me about what crops were grown in Ireland and what livestock were reared."

The airport, which celebrates the 70th anniversary of the first duty-free shop this year, presented both men with Waterford Crystal decanters.

"It wasn't just Mr Haughey who got cigars, myself, Sylvie Barrett and the President all received gifts," Skelly said.

Haughey wrote a rather gushing private letter to the Cuban President on December 9, 1982 to express gratitude for the gift Castro had left for him.

The Fianna Fail leader thanked Castro for the "magnificent gift." Haughey told Castro: "The hand-carved casket is most impressive and the cigars will be greatly enjoyed by my family and friends at Christmas."

When Mr Haughey did get around to having a smoke under the Christmas tree, he was no longer Taoiseach. A Fine Gael, Labour coalition was in power led by Garret FitzGerald following a general election.

Ironically, 23 years before Castro made his fleeting Irish visit, the man he replaced, the Cuban dictator General Fulgencio Batista, sought refuge in Ireland. Just months after fleeing his homeland, Batista and his family were looking for a new home in exile.

In a letter to the then Irish President Sean T O'Kelly, the dictator's wife Marta de Batista who was at this time staying at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, expressed the hope that the General and his family could set up home in Ireland.

"Knowing of your presence today in the city, and faced with the circumstances under which I live these days, it is that I take the liberty of addressing you in this informal way," she wrote to the Irish President.

"It is my hope and that of my children, that my husband, the former President of Cuba, General Fulgencio Batista, would be granted permission to reside in your beautiful country, so that we can establish our home there and be all together again.

''If this were to be possible, we shall always be grateful for your Excellency's kindness."

She received a letter of acknowledgement but no offer of sanctuary.

Sunday Independent

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