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Books: The odd couple - Haughey and Forsyth


Charles Haughey and Frederick Forsyth

Charles Haughey and Frederick Forsyth

Frederick Forsyth

Frederick Forsyth

AFP/Getty Images


Charles Haughey and Frederick Forsyth

Our Books Editor on the unlikely friendship between the then Taoiseach and the 'Day of the Jackal' author

Most of Frederick Forsyth's just published memoir deals with his real-life exploits in various parts of the world, some of which make his bestselling thrillers seem tame. But Irish readers will be intrigued by the revelation in one chapter in the book which deals with the five-year period in the 1970s, when Forsyth lived in Ireland and became good friends with Charlie Haughey.

The close friendship led Haughey to ask Forsyth for security advice for the Pope's visit to Ireland. And later, when Forsyth was worried that his young sons might become a kidnap target for the IRA, Haughey gave him his personal guarantee that the IRA would not touch his family while they were in Ireland.

The extent of the friendship between the two men is detailed in a chapter called 'Five Years in Ireland' in Forsyth's new book titled The Outsider - My Life in Intrigue.

"There was not the slightest reason why Irish politician Charles Haughey and I would get on, but we did," Forsyth writes. "To his political enemies he was relentless and vengeful for any slight or ill-turn. When relaxed over a dinner table, I found him an amusing rogue. And he was certainly a rogue. As a passionate republican he had little time for the English or anything British, but seemed to make an exception for me, perhaps because he realised I had quickly seen through him."

Forsyth and his wife had left the UK for Spain in January 1974 to escape the 80pc income tax rate imposed on high earners by the new Labour government there. In December that year they moved to Ireland and settled in the village of Enniskerry, Co Wicklow thanks to Charlie Haughey who, when he was Minister for Finance, had a tax exemption for writers.

Forsyth says that shortly after settling in Enniskerry he and his wife were introduced to Charlie Haughey by "his long-time girlfriend".

"It was a relationship that everybody knew about but nobody mentioned, and the entire media practised auto-censorship," Forsyth writes.

"The lady gave small, intimate dinner parties round the pine table in her basement kitchen and that was where we could converse with the other Charlie Haughey - shirt-sleeved, affable and humorous. I enormously enjoyed my five years in Ireland and recall with affection the innumerable and uproarious dinner parties."

The friendship continued when Haughey became Taoiseach in 1979. "Hardly had he got the top slot when Ireland received Pope John Paul II on a state visit," Forsyth writes. "Over the pine kitchen table Charlie put to me a pretty odd request. He said he needed a monograph to present to the cabinet on security - he was terrified of an attempt being made on the pontiff while he was in Dublin.

"I suggested it was out of the question for His Holiness to be in mortal danger in Dublin of all places and that the British government had a dozen security experts with years of experience. He countered that he would not turn to London but that the Irish gardaĆ­ had no experience of this sort of thing. He needed the techniques that had kept de Gaulle alive. There was nothing for it but to do what he wanted."

Forsyth had done in-depth research for The Day of the Jackal, his thriller about an assassination attempt on de Gaulle. Now he was able to call on that knowledge.

"I thought back to all de Gaulle's bodyguards had let slip - and put together a paper stressing the difference between close-up protection against the madman and the hazard of the long-range sniper.

"I never knew whether he put this paper to Cabinet as his own work, or mine, or that of some anonymous ace known only to him. Probably the last. Anyway, the three-day visit of the Pope went off without a hitch, though I noticed a few snipers from the Irish Army perched on the rooftops scanning all the windows opposite."

Haughey tried to return the favour to Forsyth later when his wife became concerned that they might be targeted by the IRA for a kidnapping. Forsyth's two sons had been born in Dublin, in 1977 and 1979.

"In the autumn of 1979 my wife developed an all-consuming fear that something might happen to our two babies," Forsyth writes. This was not an unrealistic fear at the time since the Wicklow home of their friends Galen Weston and his wife had been hit by the IRA, who had earlier kidnapped the Dutch businessman Tiede Herrema.

"So a kidnap attempt on one of the babies was not a complete fantasy at all," Forsyth writes. "It was time to go, and it was my Irish-born wife who was the more adamant for a departure back to England. It seemed courteous to inform our friend the prime minister (Taoiseach). Without explaining why, I asked for an interview at his office in Kildare Street.

"He greeted me warmly but somewhat puzzled. When the door was closed I explained that we were leaving and why. He was horrified and asked me to stay. I made clear the decision was made."

In an attempt to convince Forsyth to stay, Haughey offered to make him a Senator, thereby making him more Irish (Forsyth's grandfather was from Youghal). Forsyth says he thanked the Taoiseach, but declined.

"Accepting the reality he led me out of his office and then down the length of the long hall to the street door, his arm round my shoulders. Doors popped ajar as open-mouthed senior civil servants looked out to see their premier draped round a Britisher, never seen before or since.

"A few days later I had one last call from him. It was to give me his word that not a single IRA man in the country would dare raise his hand against me or my family. The only way he could have known that was if he had given a flat order to the army council of the IRA. Not many men could do that."

In April 1980, Forsyth moved back to live in England.

Indo Review