Tuesday 25 June 2019

'I wanted to jump out the window, but wept on the floor until morning': Tim Pat Coogan's grief at the death of his lover

Memoir reveals heartbreak and 'dark night of the soul' after woman was snatched away in accident, writes Jerome Reilly

The controversial journalist and biographer Tim Pat Coogan has written a poignant remembrance of his lover Barbara Hayley, with whom he conducted a secret six year affair, which ended when she was tragically killed in a car crash -- after leaving him at Dublin airport.

On hearing of her death, conveyed to him by his son Tom, Tim Pat, by then in a hotel room in California, felt like killing himself.

"My immediate reaction was to try to open the window to jump out. Then I sat for some hours on the floor, weeping, in a corner of the room as far from the window as I could get. For a long time, morning did not appear to be coming. By the time it did, I felt I understood the meaning of the expression 'a dark night of the soul.'

In his new book titled simply A Memoir, Tim Pat Coogan -- best knowns as editor of the defunct Irish Press newspaper and author of authoritative books on the IRA -- devotes a chapter to the gradual disintegration of his marriage to his wife Cherry, with whom he had six children and who he had first met when they were young teenagers, and to the new love he found in the September of his life.

But in a bittersweet recollection titled Hard Times, he writes: "I now come to a chapter in my life that I wish did not have to be written"

In his memoir, he describes how his life changed around 1985 when he attended the paperback launch of Nothing Happens in Carmincross a novel written by his friend Benedict Kiely.

"At the paperback launch, I met Barbara Hayley. We left together and commenced a relationship that lasted for more than six years. Barbara was some seven years younger than me, approaching her fifties. In the Ireland of the time, she held an unusual position, a Protestant and a woman, she was professor of English at St Patrick's College Maynooth," he recalls.

He says that his new love was in a deeply unsatisfactory marriage, but had not separated because of concerns for her two children, both girls, and her position in Maynooth College, "and then, ironically, after we had met, because she did not wish to create a scandal for me and my family".

"Despite the secrecy we had a few idyllic years; September roses bloom sweetly. Our relationship played a part in helping to save both my life and my career," he says, a reference to his eye problems caused by a melanoma of the conjunctiva. Without her insistence that he seek a second opinion, the former journalist believes that he would have lost his life to malignant melanoma.

He also credits Barbara Hayley with giving him the encouragement and inspiration to resurrect his writing career, which culminated in the publication of his highly regarded biography of Michael Collins. He reveals how his wife Cherry learned of the affair shortly before Barbara was killed in a road traffic accident.

"In May 1991, Barbara obtained a legal separation from her husband and bought a house in Londonbridge Road in Ballsbridge."

"The compass of life seemed to be set reasonably fair. However, the impossibility of conducting an affair in secrecy in Dublin was about to be forcibly brought home to me. Cherry was told about it and decided on a separation," he remembers.

On May 15, 1991, Barbara picked him up and drove him to Dublin airport and he boarded a flight headed for San Jose, where was booked for a number of speaking engagements.

He was met at the airport in America and collapsed into bed in his hotel. In his memoir, he recalls how he heard the news of her death.

"At two o'clock in the morning, California time, the phone rang. It was my son Tom ringing from Dublin to tell me Barbara had been killed in a car crash. She had gone driving in the country after seeing me off, and hit a wall. 'I wish I could be with you, Dad,' he said. Lines from a favourite poem went through my mind:

'Break, break, break,

On they cold gray stones,

O Sea!

And I would that my tongue could utter

The thoughts that arise in me'."

Later, the author tries to sum up what had happened during those bleak times in his life: "It was a tragedy for all of us -- Barbara, ( her mother) Mabel, Cherry, myself, our children, grandchildren and Barbara's two daughters. But that awful year of 1991 passed and family wounds healed with the passage of time," he writes.

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