Friday 19 July 2019

'His wife had died six months before and my father had left the farm against his wishes' - Bertie Ahern opens up about grandfather's suicide

The former Taoiseach visits family farm owned by his grandfather in RTE's Who Do You Think You Are? tonight

Bertie Ahern features on the next episode of Who Do You Think You Are? on RTE One, Sunday September 30th at 9.30pm
Bertie Ahern features on the next episode of Who Do You Think You Are? on RTE One, Sunday September 30th at 9.30pm
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern reflects on his grandfather's suicide publicly for the first time on RTE's Who Do You Think You Are?.

In the course of the programme, which airs tonight, he visits the family farm in Cork where his grandfather Maurice Ahern died in 1933 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The documentary reveals that Bertie's father Con Ahern decided to go to Dublin rather than take on the family farm and this decision was very much against his father's wishes.  The farm went to his Con's younger brother instead.

During his visit to the farm the former leader of Fianna Fail is given a news report into the inquest into the suicide which revealed that the coroner found that Maurice died on September 3rd 1933 “due to shock and haemorrhage due to gunshot wounds to the chest, self-inflicted”.

“His wife had died just six months before that and then my father had left against his wishes. As I understand it from the timing of the incident, that was the story. It was a sad end to him because he apparently was a very hard working man.” says Ahern.

Bertie had been aware of his grandfather's suicide, as his father spoke openly about it, which would have been unusual at the time.

“At that time very few people would have ever said somebody committed suicide because at that time people covered that up. But my father, I think for his own reason, made sure that we all understood that," he said.

Ahern also referenced a speech he made in 2007 in which he made a controversial remark about suicide.

In a speech that year he said, "Sitting on the sidelines, cribbing and moaning is a lost opportunity. I don't know how people who engage in that don't commit suicide because frankly the only thing that motivates me is being able to actively change something". 

He later apologised for the comment, saying it was a bad choice of words.

Speaking on Who Do You Think You Are? he says, “I remember at one time getting myself into a bit of political argument about using the word even though it is regularly done on sports programmes and others, I did it on a political programme and some of the people who wouldn’t have loved me said ‘if you understood it in your family, you wouldn’t have said that’. 

"Now, I didn’t bother saying that I understood it very well in my family because I had grown up listening to that.” 

Bertie's father never returned to the family farm following his father's death. 

“My father after that funeral went back, never to return again for the rest of his life. He died in 1990 so it was 57 years. He never came back to any of the funerals of his brothers or sisters even though he kept in touch," he says.

"It must have been very hard on all the family that were living in the area but, thankfully, they stayed put, they stayed on the land, stayed in the farm and stayed in the house and we’re here today in the exactly the same house as it was at that time."

Also in the programme, Ahern discovers that his father had been an IRA messenger boy and was arrested during the Civil War and spent time in Cork City Gaol.  Con later spent time in Tintown Camp on The Curragh where he took part in a hunger strike.

On his mother's side, Bertie finds out about the notorious K Company branch of the Auxiliaries who attacked his mother's Cork home during the War of Independence.

Also on his mother's side he finds out he has relatives who ran a Workhouse in west Cork for more than 50 years.  They saw their son killed in an ambush during the Civil War while fighting for the new Free State Army under O'Duffy.

Who Do You Think You Are? airs tonight on RTÉ One at 9.30pm.

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