Tuesday 16 July 2019

I twice walked out on Charlie Haughey: Des Peelo

Des Peelo tells Barry Egan of the day Charles Haughey was called an effing b**lix, and how things could get heated in Kinsealy

Des Peelo
Des Peelo
Charles Haughey
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Moore Street, the election trail in November, 1982. Charlie Haughey's apparatchiks had staged a walk down the crowded Dublin shopping street, complete with lots of Fianna Fail-friendly faces planted along the way. The greetings were all decidedly on-message . . .

"Nice to meet you, Charlie!" (egged on by apparatchiks - the crowd cheers.) "You're a great man, Charlie!" (crowd cheers.) "Good oul', Charlie!" (crowd cheers.) Then, unexpectedly: "You're nothing but a f**king bollix, Haughey!" (stunned silence.) The words seemed to echo up and down the street. "F-*-*-k-i-n-g bollix!"

Haughey, without batting as much as an eyelid, turned and replied: "Go f**k yourself."

Three decades later, over lunch in the Shelbourne hotel, one of Haughey's oldest confidants takes up the story: "Then Charlie continued on his campaign trail as if nothing had happened," says Des Peelo. "The funny thing was, politicians are well used to that kind of abuse in the street and normally they would just ignore it. Charlie heard exactly what had been said to him. But he didn't let it go. So this one little gurrier had just been told by the Taoiseach of the day to, 'Go f**k yourself.' That was Charlie Haughey as the street kid."

Peelo recalled another occasion when the street kid emerged in the most controversial and charismatic politician of his generation. "Did you see what that f**ker O'Brien has said about me? Jesus, isn't it time for a kind neighbour to take that f**ker down to the vet - to get him put down!"

This is what Haughey said to Peelo upon reading what Conor Cruise O'Brien had written one Saturday in the Irish Independent - to the effect that Sean Lemass had objected to his daughter Maureen marrying Charlie. "It was completely untrue. It was too much for Charlie," says Des, who, having known the late Taoiseach for 37 years - particularly in the last 10 years of his life when they became very close - is full of stories.

Des recalls in the living room in Kinsealy once telling Haughey of two people, who Haughey both knew in political circles, who were having an affair in Dublin. "Neither of them have taste!" was Haughey's assessment. Des recalls one hilarious if cold November evening at dinner with his wife Philo and Haughey and his wife Maureen in Le Grand Vevour restaurant on Rue de Beaujolais in Paris in 1992. The hilarity came when the waiter kept referring to the one-time Fianna Fail leader as Hockey until finally Hockey snapped. In no uncertain terms, he told the poor waiter that he was "not Hockey but Haughey!" The waiter returned again five minutes later to tell the Irish politician that he had done as he had instructed and "turned down the heating."

Des remembers, on the regular Saturdays he would call over to visit his friend, that the temperature in Haughey's Kinsealy mansion would sometimes rise of its own accord - usually around the time of a disagreement.

"I had rows with him. I walked out of Kinsealy, I can recall, on two occasions after having a row with him. Actually one of them was quite funny," smiles Des who first met Haughey in his mid 20s, when he joined Haughey Boland, the firm of Chartered Accountants.

"I called in on the way home from work and when I got out there at 6pm I realised he was pretty jarred. He had obviously had a good lunch. Anyway without getting into why - a row developed between us fairly quickly and I said: 'Charlie, I'm off. You can feck off.'

"I walked out. I live about 25 minutes away in Sutton and when I got home my wife Philo said: 'Charlie rang looking for you. He would like you to ring him tonight.'

"At first I wasn't going to ring him but I rang him at 8pm. He didn't apologise. Charlie wouldn't apologise. He didn't know how to spell the word. But he said to me: 'Ah, you know, I'm not always great after lunch. Would you come back in the morning?'" Des returned to Kinsealy in the morning. Did he apologise in the morning?

"He didn't apologise in the morning either!" laughs Des. I ask Des did Haughey ever say anything like, 'Would those f**kers in the Tribunal ever leave me alone?' "No! Much more impolite than that!" Des laughs.

Asked about the perception that some hold that Haughey was corrupt, a crook, Des says that "it wasn't so much that Haughey was a crook," before admitting that he believes that it "was highly undesirable that the prime minister took money from people. You couldn't agree with that. But Charlie used to point out things to me like - and he wasn't likening himself to him - that people like Winston Churchill were totally kept by Aristotle Onassis, and had gifts of houses."

"Charlie's downfall was, in my view, in terms of the money not politics was that he had a heightened sense of entitlement. You couldn't shake him on that. In other words, 'I did great things for this country therefore the country should do great things for me'. Like he was entitled to live the way he did. And I would disagree with that."

I ask Des his opinion of Bob Geldof's view that Haughey was on a par with contemptible Zimbabwean despot Robert Mugabe."Bob Geldof's a loudmouth," he says.

He then goes on to muse: "Charlie Haughey is eight years dead and here we are talking about him still. People will always talk about Charlie Haughey."

Even on Moore Street.

Sunday Independent

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