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Dublin Report Embattled Haughey a genuine Irish ‘character’

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

Ireland is now up to its armpits in sleaze. It oozes from Dublin Castle like fog creeping along the Liffey, crawling into every nook and cranny of Irish society. A lot of it whirls around the person of Charles J. Haughey, the baron of Abbeville, the man who has done more than anybody to power the Celtic Tiger.

While Haughey is criticized in almost every quarter, I have a sneaking sympathy for the man, coupled with a degree of admiration.

Perhaps it is partly due to a natural desire not to kick somebody when they are down. Or, possibly, it expresses a normal human liking for a person who can achieve more than any others in the most unorthodox of ways.

Haughey is that most loved type of Irishman: the "character." The Irish character is different. Almost every street in every town has one. Some even exist on isolated farms, but very tenuously, it must be said, because they are much too idiosyncratic for what is essentially a serious and hardworking business. Characters, thus, are generally townies.

Charlie, for all of his considerable panache, his wine cellar, jammed with thousands of pounds worth of vintage grape, his yacht, his island, his horses, and, of course, his baronial estate, is still essentially a townie.

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Even if you take his Mayo background half seriously, remembering that it is in the context of him being the son of an Irish Army officer who was frequently shoved from pillar to post, you still have to concede that he is a quintessential townie.

From his earliest arrival in the north city suburb of Marino, he exhibited all of the qualities of the species. He was street-smart, often in trouble, occasionally as the result of religious faction fighting with Protestant schoolboys from a nearby school.

Clearly, he harbored strong republican convictions, which is not surprising for his generation. It would be even more surprising if he had not, since his family was one of many known in Dublin as "Northern refugees," who trekked south of the border as the result of sectarian pogroms.

Despite his hard upbringing, which was common enough in the Dublin of his era, Haughey managed to secure a university scholarship. None who knew him in those years, whether they are admirers or not, will deny the fact that he was very clever and able. Even more important, he learned the system thoroughly. He could pass exams with ease and with distinction. He would often use the knowledge accumulated by students who were possibly better versed.

One close friend of his in those years in the accounting faculty told me that in the last nervous minutes just before a final examination, Haughey asked him about a particular mathematical formula because he thought it might come up in some question.

Sure enough, it did come up. But his friend, the young man who had written the formula down for him, did not realize that it was the one applying to the particular question. He didn’t get it right. Haughey did.

Haughey was always a good listener and a man to draw the limelight. In his student years, he was one of the ringleaders of a republican pack from UCD who made the headlines when they tore town a Union Jack flapping at the front of Trinity College, which was then a bastion of unionism, peopled by unashamed "west Brits."

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