For he’s a jolly good fellow – and so say Bill, Fergie and Tony
THE unholy trinity of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Alex Ferguson were in Croker last night - at least in spirit.
The former US president, British prime minister and current Manchester United manager all sent video tributes to Bertie Ahern which were played at his party in Croker last night. There was plenty of praise from the trio – which must've made a pleasant change for Bertie who's been getting it in the neck from all quarters of late. Bill hailed him as “a great ambassador”, Fergie called him the “best ever ambassador for Irish sports interests”, and Tony lauded his role in the peace process.
But it seems that the star of the show was less sure of getting a warm reception outside the doors of Croker last night. Astonishingly he chose to be smuggled into his own party like a hidden six-back of beer into a concert. Into his own party, for god’s sake. In the very heart of his own home turf, in the stadium into which he had poured millions (of the taxpayers' money). What happened to the Bertie who loved the cameras? As Taoiseach he was famous for being unable to pass a microphone without saying something into it. And it's his Big 6-0 after all.
It was assumed he'd pull up outside and stroll past the photographers and reporters, cool as a breeze. It's the Bertie Party. The Big Bash. But then time ticked on from the 7.30pm kick-off of his party in Croker. Guests trickled in – including his family – but there was no sign of the Birthday Boy. Could he really have snuck in the back way, under cover of darkness like a thief in the night? Could he have been whisked in at high speed in the back of a large car, in through an entrance where he could't be captured by the cameras? It sure looked like it. Backdoor Bertie it was.
It could all have been so different if Bertie's life had followed the track it was supposed to. He always planned to continue at the top of the political tree until he was 60 – preferably as the nation's longest-ever serving Taoiseach, then step down and run for the Park as Bertie The Beloved. But then it all went horribly wrong and what began with personal dig-outs ended with national bailouts. Bertie's Celtic Tiger is dead and its stuffed carcass now hangs over the desk of our new overlord, Ajai Chopra. Imagine the 60th birthday bonanza he would've thrown if all the bad stuff had never happened (none of which was his fault). He would've hired the newly-built state-of-the-art Bertiebowl football stadium (named after its political benefactor of course), and filled with it with former heads of government such as his pals Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.
There would've been rivers of champagne, buckets of Bass, photographers from Hello magazine, A-list actors, and all of the adoring ranks of the Soldiers of Destiny, past and present. Instead – even as his own party scrambles to distance itself from their three-time Taoiseach, and even amid much public cribbin’ and moanin’ about the fact that he had the temerity to host a hooley at all in the middle of the doom and gloom – Bertie had a bit of a do. All the fighting talk about a big protest turned out to be just that – one sole protester, Dubliner Eamon Reid, turned up bearing a large poster and a tin collection can with Bertie's Dig-Out written on it.
And the first two guests to arrive were the two hostesses, who turned up along with Georgina's husband, Nicky Byrne, at 6.30pm to ensure that everything was ready for their dad. The sisters, both dressed in cream, posed for the cameras with the patience of experienced troupers.
This party was perhaps remarkable for who didn't show up – or at least walk openly into Croke Park - than for who did. None of the current members of the Fianna Fail party were spotted, nor his old girlfriend Celia Larkin. His old buddy from the boomtimes, former Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy rolled up bold as brass as one would expect. Was he expecting to have a good night?
“What are you talking about? I'm here for a match' “ he declared, in typical breezy form. But there wasn’t much chat out of the various old pals from the Dig-Out Days, including Des Richardson, Dave McKenna and Joe Burke who hustled through the doors. By midnight the first guests began to leave. They'd had a great time, they said loyally. Rose Clarke, a friend of Bertie's for 20 years, said that he had given a short speech. “He talked about his friends and he said he was delighted we were all there. If everyone worked as hard as he did the country would still be doing well,” she added.