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Friday 14 December 2018

Revealed: Horace Woolington - spoof champion of the Ascendancy

OUTSPOKEN: Alan Wilkes made no bones about being unimpressed by political corruption
OUTSPOKEN: Alan Wilkes made no bones about being unimpressed by political corruption
MARRIAGE: Alan Wilkes and his wife Clare Boylan

Campbell Spray

When we die many of our secrets go with us, but thankfully sometimes not - and now The Daily Telegraph in London has outed Alan Wilkes, the Dublin journalist and widower of the novelist Clare Boylan, as the person who in the 1990s wrote some 30 pseudonymous letters to the paper from Ireland championing the traditional values of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy.

Writing, for reasons of office politics at the Evening Press (where he was motoring correspondent and deputy editor) as one "Horace Woolington" of "Castleknock, Co Dublin", Alan, who died in February aged 75, made no bones about being unimpressed by the political corruption which had betrayed hopes for the Irish State.

Instead he championed the policy of "Home Rule", which he argued could have prevented the Easter Rising.

On the release in 1996 of Neil Jordan's film Michael Collins, "Horace" wrote a letter to The Daily Telegraph declaring that Collins was responsible for the deaths of 117 Irish policemen, and dismissing claims that he died in an attempt to remove the gun from Ireland's politics as "fatuous tosh".

The renaming of the Royal Ulster Constabulary recommended in the Patten Report in 1999 was not only sad and craven, he wrote, it was ridiculous, since more than 60 organisations in the Dublin phone book still bore the "royal" prefix.

And when the "academically unqualified" Martin McGuinness was appointed as Northern Ireland education minister, Horace Woolington wrote that McGuinness's enthusiasm for restoring the Irish language heralded "a new era of nationalist bloody-mindedness cloaked as linguistic individuality".

Richard Annand Wilkes, known as Alan, was born in Dublin on September 16, 1942. He went to the Carmelites at Terenure College, then University College, Dublin, before joining the Evening Press, where he met Clare Boylan, then a feature writer and later a novelist. He became a fine motoring correspondent, driving a Morgan, a more dubious Triumph Stag and an excellent Subaru, while rising to deputy editor, like his father before him.

In the early 1990s, which were uncertain times for the Irish Press group, he was introduced to the The Daily Telegraph's obituaries' editor Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd, who invited him to contribute.

Since The Daily Telegraph's obituaries were anonymous there was no problem - but a potential difficulty arose when Wilkes offered to write letters, since The Irish Press was still owned by the de Valera family.

Taking the name of the Wilkes's family cat, Horace J Woolington, his letters indicated a man of mature years, since he signed one "Woolingham".

Although we in Dublin are not renowned for keeping secrets, the truth about the authorship was successfully restricted to Wilkes's family. But, of course, it became the subject of speculation - particularly at Mulligan's, the famous press pub in Dublin's Poolbeg Street.

One intrepid reporter even went out to Castleknock, where she knocked on doors and interviewed the local Church of Ireland rector - to no avail. She was said to have concluded that the letters must have been dreamt up by The Daily Telegraph leader writers. Wilkes retired from his epistolary career after more than a decade, but he continued to write obituaries, concluding with a colourful advance notice for Charlie Haughey. "All the dirt's there," he said on filing his copy.

After the Press group closed in May 1995 Alan also wrote excellent motoring supplements for the Sunday Independent and was brilliant company to drive or dine with - although he was absolutely acerbic and unforgiving of bureaucracy and muddled thinking. He also lectured at DIT. When Clare, whose novels included Holy Pictures, Last Resorts, Black Baby, Home Rule and Room for a Single Lady, was sick from cancer she and Alan spent long periods in Brittany, where he kept a fine collection of Hornby trains. Clare died in 2006 aged 58. Her best-known literary adventure was the completion, in 2003, of Emma Brown a novel begun by Charlotte Bronte in the 1850s and cast aside after just two chapters.

According to The Guardian "tempted by her knowledge of Charlotte's letters and writings, and frustrated by her attempt to write a play about the last year of Charlotte's life, the prospect of achieving a seamless continuation was a tantalising challenge" for her. Clare was also a fine editor of Image magazine.

After her death Alan became a fierce contributor to Facebook, admired by some for his Tory beliefs but dismissed by others as a "user and abuser of social media".

According to The Daily Telegraph obituary which was only published last week, Alan Wilkes had no further contact with his letter-writing creation - but Horace has become one of the immortals, occasionally reported on internet blog sites, at rugby matches and even in the racing world.

Additional reporting © Telegraph

Sunday Independent

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