Monday, July 04, 2005

Charles Haughey

Their Dread Commander

John Milton foresaw the rise of Charles Haughey. What else is the demonic assembly before Satan in Book I of Milton's Paradise Lost if not a vision of a Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis in the 1980s?

Their dread Commander. He, above the rest
In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
Stood like a tower. His form had yet not lost
All her original brightness, nor appeared
Less than Archangel ruined, and the excess
Of glory obscured: as when the sun new-risen
Looks through the horizontal misty air
Shorn of his beams, or, from behind the moon,
In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs. Darkened so, yet shon
Above them all the Archangel: but his face
Deep scars of thunder had intrenched, and care
Sat on his faded cheek, but under brows
Of dauntless courage, and considerate pride
Waiting revenge.

Charlie standing like a tower might having jam on it a little, but the rest seems pretty much on the money to An Spailpín's sepia-tinted remembrance. Shape and gesture proudly eminent, original brightness, care on the faded cheek, but brows of dauntless courage and pride crying out for revenge? Doesn't sound much like Le Petit General from Limerick or Dr Fitzgerald, does it?

It's astonishing to remember just how much Haughey was hated, despised and reviled, at the time, and still is in some quarters. It would seem that hatred still so coruscates through Dessie O'Malley that the PD Paterfamilias was in the Sunday Independent recently claiming he didn't know that the recent documentary series was about Charlie Haughey at all. Well, he must have been the only one in the country that didn't know that Haughey was Miriam O'Callaghan's grand design, because it was fairly clear to everyone else.

Martin O'Donaghue told last week of some mythical Zorro who appeared on the plinth outside Leinster House to save Jim Gibbons by skilful used of the sabre, Gibbons being at that time on the business end of a kicking from Haugheyite apparatchiks. What characters were doing wandering around the Irish Parliament with swordsticks, and God knows what other concealed weapons, the former Minister for Arithmetic did not go on to elaborate. I guess it was the 'eighties, man.

It is further indicative of how much Haughey was hated by Dublin's chattering classes that a Certain Politician (God, isn't Irish libel law such a bastard?), damned for years over his central role in the infamous 1977 Fianna Fáil manifesto, has been feted as some sort of hero for trying to bribe another minister to switch sides during one of the heaves, whereas the delivering and accepting of bungs in other jurisdictions is generally frowned upon.

Haughey's story will be spun and respun until we're all speaking German and nicht scheißen about Irish politics anymore, but An Spailpín has a theory about Haughey, how he maintained, and still maintains, a fiercely loyal rearguard of admirers, through revelation after revelation. It is this: Haughey might have been a scamp, but he was no eejit. When he delivered his his farewell address to the Dáil as Taoiseach, he was correct in quoting Othello; Haughey had indeed done the state some service, and considerably more than his detractors ever did. One of the many fascinating nuggets that the Haughey mini-series has given us is what a bunch of muppets George Colley and Dessie O'Malley were as conspirators. Imagine them running the country if they couldn't even run a coup? The mind boggles.

It's hard to know what the Eagle of Kinsealy makes of all this, as he doubtless watches the final episode on telly tonight. However, as one deeply cynical yet strangely prescient FF-er told An Spailpín recently, who ever thought that Haughey would bury Doherty? Perhaps a few more of Haughey's enemies will meet their varied Waterloos before the great survivor himself must finally admit defeat and turn his face to Eternity?

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost-the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome.
That glory never shall his wrath or might
Extort from me.