| 13.1°C Dublin

The place where 'Charlie' is still revered and loved

DIGNITARIES and politicians were thin on the ground but the handing over of Charles J Haughey's Inishvickillane papers to the State was a day for the "ordinary" people of west Kerry.

The former Taoiseach's enduring popularity in the area was reflected by the turnout at the Blasket Island Visitor Centre in Dunquin; local people who consider themselves "friends" of the Haughey family.

Far from the political pariah that he's regarded as by some, in Kerry, and particularly the Dingle Peninsula, Haughey remains a much beloved figure.

"You'd be hard pushed to find any Haughey detractors here," said curator of the visitor centre, Micheal de Mordha. "He's still 'Charlie' down here."

The former Taoiseach's widow, Maureen Haughey, accompanied by her sons Sean, Conor and Ciaran and her daughter Eimear and members of the extended Haughey family, formally handed over seven boxes containing more than 3,000 documents relating to Inishvickillane, one of the Blasket Islands purchased by the former Taoiseach as his island retreat in 1974.

"It brings everything back since he died. I was out on the island once this year but I can't get out and climb the cliffs anymore but it was very moving," Mrs Haughey said.

"We have very happy memories of family occasions when we were all together on the island and when the children brought their friends."

The documents given to the Blasket Island Visitor Centre on permanent loan relate to the archaeology, ecology and history of the island and includes correspondence from the late Taoiseach to academics as well as hand-written notes to local people.

One letter dated September 10, 1979, was written to Dan Brick from Ballyferriter, inviting him to Sunday lunch on Inishvickillane.

Mr Brick was the works manager on the building of the Haughey home on the island and leader of the so-called 'Charlie's Angels'.

"Maureen and I are having some of our Dingle friends to lunch next Sunday before the All-Ireland," Haughey wrote.

"We hope you will be able to join us. We are having lunch at 12 noon so that everybody will be able to get to the match on time."

Kerry of course were playing that weekend and would go on to become the All-Ireland champions.

Archivist Daithi de Mordha said the documents also included Mr Haughey's environmental reports, nature studies, folklore and place-name research as well as maps and photographs.

"He had two main ecological projects and one of these was that he introduced a herd of native red deer to the island," Mr de Mordha said.

"At the time there was a fear that the native herd in Killarney would cross breed with the introduced Sika deer so the idea behind the project on the Inis was to keep a pure bloodline of the native deer."

The project proved a success and from the eight deer introduced in the mid-Eighties there is now a herd of around 90 deer on Inishvickillane. Not so successful were his attempts to reintroduce the white-tailed eagle.

"I read in his papers that the local seabirds didn't take so kindly to them and every time the eagle took flight the seagulls would harass it and eventually the project failed."

The documents also detail correspondence relating to the Ogham stone which is now on permanent display at Trinity College.

Haughey had wanted to repatriate it to the island but was advised against doing so because it would have been outside, exposed to the elements. He had a fibre-glass copy of it made and this is still in the house on the island.

Minister of State Sean Haughey said Inishvickillane was very important to his father and the family felt they had made the right decision in handing over the papers.

"I think it will be a source of great interest to scholars of the future in relation to the Blasket Islands and the heritage of this area.

"It's an emotional day but it's a happy occasion as well because there are so many of our friends here," Mr Haughey said.

Long-time friend and supporter of Haughey Paidi O Se said the handing over of the papers was a great recognition for west Kerry.

"It's a very generous gesture by the Haughey family to hand over such treasured material and it's something that's going to be treasured for years to come," he said.

Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) Dr Martin Mansergh, who accepted the papers on behalf of the State, said that he felt proud to have worked with Haughey, who he said had made a huge contribution to preserving Ireland's cultural heritage.

He said despite all the controversy surrounding the former Taoiseach, he had left "a varied legacy" across a whole range of fields.

"I think he made a great contribution and on a cost-benefit analysis -- and I'm not in denial that there were some costs -- the benefits far outweighed them," he said.

"He probably had a broader range of interests than any holder of his office either before or since.

"I would be critical of different things but I think he has so many critics that that can be a safety net to them.

"I remember one time telling a Franco-Irish studies conference that I was as proud to have worked for Charles Haughey as I'm sure the former collaborators of President Mitterand, his friend, had been to work for him and he was not a man without flaws either."

The collection is now being archived. A selection of the papers will also be available to the public by means of an interactive touch-screen unit at the visitor centre.

Sunday Independent