Sunday 19 November 2017

Haughey myth still casts a spell

Taoiseach Charles Haughey at his Abbeville residence at Kinsealy in 1995. Photo: Eamon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Taoiseach Charles Haughey at his Abbeville residence at Kinsealy in 1995. Photo: Eamon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Editorial

Editorial

In 1966 after Jack Lynch became the Taoiseach, the Fine Gael grandee James Dillon declaimed that he had seen Haughey's face, 'white as parchment and I said Haughey has gone down the sink. Remember, when he failed to land his fish last Wednesday night, he will never land it. He is finished'. The shadow cast by this political giant is still not extinguished in this thin age of conformity, where priggishness is confused with ethics. We still yearn for the drama this fabulous adventurer brought to Irish politics.

The philosopher John Walters famously compared Haughey to the sort of fat chieftain who is kept in the hope that some of his good fortune might trickle down to the ordinary citizens. Mr Haughey, however, with his delusions and illusions, was far more than that. There was an element of those Elizabethan pirate adventurers who having burnt a sufficiency of enemy ships would buy a dukedom from the Queen. But Haughey, with his cultivated patronage of the arts, was also a Renaissance Prince who brightened a grey land ruled by thin prelates.

Truth requires us to note that many of the consequences of his unique personality were for ill. In a very real sense his vices allowed toxins to enter the Fianna Fail bloodstream that would eventually destroy that party after it destroyed the country. But, there are two sides to any Renaissance Prince, for had Mr Haughey been sitting behind the desk on the night of that fateful guarantee, it is unlikely the banks would so easily have stuffed their saddlebags with the citizens' money.

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