Tuesday 16 July 2019

Charlie Haughey: what became of all those assets?

RTÉ's popular drama on Charlie Haughey lays bare his opulent lifestyle, but while many of the spoils of his controversial political career were subsequently sold, his treasured island off the coast of Kerry remains in the family.

Charlie Haughey at his home Abbeville
Charlie Haughey at his home Abbeville
RTE's Charlie
Charles Haughey and Maureen on board Celtic Mist
The late John Byrne told the Moriarty Tribunal he never gave Charlie Haughey (pictured) "a penny in his life, or a pound"
John Meagher

John Meagher

Mick Sheeran knows Inishvickillane better than most. The boatman based in Ventry, Co Kerry, has been ferrying tourists around the Blasket Islands - of which "the Inis" is the second most westerly isle - for decades.

Inishvickillane was known to few outside the Dingle Peninsula until 1974 when then Fianna Fáil TD Charles Haughey, recovering in opposition from the fallout of the Arms Trial, bought the island. Over the following few years he set about building a holiday home there - a task that necessitated materials to be brought by helicopter from the mainland.

Sheeran would get to know the future Taoiseach later on - not least on those occasions when he skippered Haughey's yacht, the Celtic Mist. His connection with the Haugheys continues to this day and he still brings family members out to Inishvickillane during the summer.

More than 40 years after he first bought it, the rugged island - uninhabited outside peak season - is owned by Haughey's four children, Eimear, Conor, Ciarán and Seán and they are said to have little interest in parting with it.

Inishvickillane and Haughey's other significant assets - not least his Abbeville mansion in Kinsealy, north Co Dublin - are in the spotlight again thanks to RTÉ's hugely popular drama series Charlie, which concludes tomorrow night.

Focusing on three key years in the Haughey story - 1979, 1982 and 1992 - the series, which stars Aidan Gillen as Haughey, lifts the lid on a messianic politician who was happy to use ill-gotten funds to sustain an opulent lifestyle. Haughey's extravagant material acquisitions were more in keeping with a brash oligarch than an outwardly prudent Taoiseach who famously warned his people that "as a community, we are living way beyond our means".

Last week's episode saw much of the action centred on Inishvickillane, including a scene in which Haughey and the French President François Mitterrand feasted on a tiny bird, the ortolan, a now banned delicacy of Gallic gastronomy, much to the disgust of his lover of 27 years, Terry Keane.

It's not known whether Haughey ever sampled this dish (although it was reportedly on the menu for Mitterrand's last meal before his death in 1996), but Mitterrand did visit Haughey's island in a private capacity in 1988. Photos from the occasion show a tricolour flying from the clifftop.

Right from the start, Haughey's purchase of the island caused controversy. How was it that as a TD on a salary of £5,000 was able to spend five times that amount on his own personal island? And, then there was the not inconsiderable cost of building a house on an outcrop some nine miles from shore. Simply getting the bricks and mortar there would set Haughey back many thousands of pounds.

As with his purchase of the Georgian pile, Abbeville, in 1969, many wondered just how a politician who had pulled himself up from a north Dublin council estate and with little outward source of income outside of Leinster House, could possibly afford such a lifestyle. The answer was provided in his twilight years of disgrace, when it came to light that he had received huge sums from business tycoons such as the now deceased property mogul Patrick Gallagher and Dunnes Stores supremo Ben Dunne and been allowed to run up a £1m overdraft by AIB (which he never repaid).

Haughey's desire to live extravagantly was signposted when he was just 32 years old. That year, in 1957, he bought a large mansion in Raheny, north Dublin, for £13,000. He sold this property, Grangemore, to one of the country's wealthiest men, Matt Gallagher (father of the aforementioned Patrick) for £204,000 in 1969. The handsome profit allowed him to purchase Abbeville and its 250 acres for £145,000 that year as well as a 127-acre stud farm in Co Meath.

As Charlie shows, Abbeville became famed as a magnet for the country's movers and shakers and social evenings there became the stuff of legend. In the latter years of his disgrace, just as the Celtic Tiger was nearing its apex, Haughey sold the mansion and its land for €45m to the Cork-based Manor Park Homes. The deal was done on condition that Haughey and his family could live there until his death (which occurred in 2006). At the time of its sale, Haughey made a €6.5m settlement with Revenue.

Manor Park was one of the casualties of the recession and after it was wound up, Abbeville was placed on the market for €7.5m in May 2012. The house and its 250 acres were finally sold in September 2013 for €5.5m. Much speculation surrounds the buyer, reportedly a consortium headed by a Japanese businessman.

A spokesperson for agent Sherry FitzGerald says it is believed the property is unoccupied at present and is being extensively refurbished. By the time of its sale, the property was said to be badly run down and in need of considerable investment.

As for Inishvickillane, a Cork-based estate agent (who does not wish to be named) has made inquiries to the Haughey family but they are not interested in selling. "It's very difficult to know what the island could command, but it could make €1m. It would have very limited interest and it isn't helped by the fact that the house itself is very modest and it's not the easiest place to land a boat. You really would need to be using helicopters to enjoy it properly."

Haughey's yacht, meanwhile, had been on sale for €175,000, but with no buyers to be found, it was donated to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

 

On location: Why Abbeville moved to Kildare

Palmerstown House in Naas, Co Kildare, doubled for Abbeville. "It worked well because of its scale, because it was not in use and because it was sparsely furnished," Magee says. "Better to have a blank canvas."

With constraints of schedule and budget, the scenes at Inishvickillane were shot in Howth, not Kerry. "In the wide shot, where they are drinking champagne, we erased part of the headland in post production to reduce the scale of 'the island' a little," she says.

"In period drama it's all about the attention to detail and the production designer Derek Wallace and costume designer Kathy Strachan were great at recreating that period with limited resources. Phones, furniture, cars, stationery, typewriters, double-breasted suits - everything has to researched and sourced. The money for brown envelopes had to be specially printed - you can't do that from your laptop!"

The most difficult challenge turned out to be filming the exterior of Haughey's mother's house. "In the end," Magee says, "we shot the scene off the South Circular Road at a location where there were no parking meters, where three houses in a row didn't have contemporary looking porches or doors or railings and where we could remove the satellite dishes."

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