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Bertie's plasterer pal bathes in the light of a magical sun

RONALD QUINLAN HE FIRST hit the headlines last September, at the height of the payments controversy surrounding Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Paddy Reilly - or 'Paddy the Plasterer' as Mr Ahern affectionately called him - emerged briefly from the depths of Drumcondra as one of the so-called 12 Apostles who contributed to the Taoiseach's now-infamous ?50,000 'dig-out' in 1993.

And then he disappeared again, until December 21.

This time, it was Mr Ahern who did Paddy a favour, securing him a much-sought-after ticket for the magicalwinter solstice at the 5,200-year-old Newgrange passage tomb in Co Meath.

Mr Reilly and his wife joined 23 other lucky dignitaries in the trek down the 62-foot passageway to witness the one time in the year when the sun's light reaches the chamber at its centre.

Mr Reilly - a plasterer turned property investor - attended the event as an official guest of the Taoiseach, according to a spokesman for the OPW.

Putting Mr Reilly on the Newgrange A-list was certainly a generous gesture on Mr Ahern's part, when one considers that 20,000 members of the public put their names into a hat each year in the hope of gaining access to the chamber over the four days surrounding the December 21 event.

And the gift is even more impressive when one considers the names of the great and good who watched the sunrise with him.

Mr Reilly and his wife literally rubbed shoulders with newly appointed ambassadors from the US and Britain - Thomas C Foley and David Reddaway, and their wives.

Such was the fuss surrounding the diplomats' presence, Garda sniffer dogs searched the Neolithic passage for bombs.

Also basking in the dawn sunlight at Newgrange were Tom Parlon, Junior Minister in charge of the OPW, and his fellow Progressive Democrat TD Liz O'Donnell.

It isn't known if the TDs from the junior coalition partner seized the opportunity to ask Paddy about his role in the Taoiseach's 1993 dig-out, which is arguably more of a mystery than anything surrounding the magical history of Newgrange.

Also joining Paddy and the political elite for the big event were the OPW's Director of Heritage Services, Dermot Burke, Finian Matthews from the Department of the Environment, and archaeology professor George Eogan.

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