Charles Haughey / Garret FitzGerald

Haughey and Stephen Roche, 1987
Charles J. Haughey (Castlebar, 1925 – Kinsealy, Co. Dublin, 2006) paid many visits to Paris in an official capacity—most memorably when he turned up on the Champs Elysées in July 1987 to congratulate Stephen Roche on winning the Tour de France, a rare moment of justifiable pride for the Irish in spite of subsequent rumours that Roche had been taking performance-enhancing drugs. But down through the years, CJ had a number of unofficial appointments in Paris as well, often in the company of his mistress, Terry Keane, and with two Garda bodyguards in tow. Keane recalled once flying with Haughey to Paris “for an incredibly swish party hosted by friends of the deposed Shah of Iran”.
         The former Coq Hardi
Long-haul flights on official trips abroad sometimes involved stopovers in Paris, where Haughey would rendez-vous with Keane. The couple dined well, sometimes at the Coq Hardi in Bourgival (now part of the Chez Clément chain) on a bend in the river Seine just outside Paris. Another favourite place was Lasserre, one of the top Parisian restaurants, at the bottom of the Champs Elysées (8th arrondissement). For CJ was “not a steak-and-chips man. He loved caviar, foie gras, turbot, crispy bacon salad, understood what the French mean by eating well”.

Sometimes flying on the government jet, the couple frequently visited the stud farm of Mahmoud Fustok at Chantilly to the north of Paris, “the most spectacular monument to vulgarity imaginable”, and paid Sunday visits to the races at Longchamps. Otherwise, they would stay in fine hotels, such as the Georges V on the avenue of the same name (8th arrondissement). The journalist Kevin O’Connor recounts a scene where Keane rang friends in Ireland to tell them she was lying on a circular bed in the Georges V while Haughey was having a shower. Keane herself in one of her innuendo-laced columns for the Sunday Independent suggested that the Irish authorities facilitated excursions by François Mitterrand and his mistress (a mysterious "Madame Guimaud") to Keane's holiday home in Kerry and that the French authorities returned the favour whenever Haughey and herself turned up in France. “Danielle Mitterrand (François’ wife) knows all about it too, and I doubt she has a problem with it,” wrote Keane.

 Charvet's on the Place Vendôme
François Mitterrand was accorded special reverence on his trips to Ireland, with or without his mistress, for Haughey was an ardent Francophile even though his French was “execrable”, according to Keane (“but God loves a trier”). His heroes were Napoleon and De Gaulle and he loved French culture and architecture, as well as French food. Haughey also loved French luxury goods. Shopping trips to Paris involved stops at Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Lobb (for shoes) and, of course, the notorious Charvet on the Place Vendôme (1st arrondissement) for CJ’s suits and shirts. On one occasion, Haughey is said to have brought back to Keane six silk dressing gowns from Charvet.
Had Haughey been knocking around the Place Vendôme fifty years earlier, he might have bumped into Erskine Childers. The future president of Ireland worked at Drake's Travel Bureau for three years starting in 1928. Drake's Travel was based at 11, rue de Castiglione (1st arrondissement) until the onset of the Depression forced it to move to smaller premises 400 metres to the north in rue de la Paix (2nd arrondissement), just across the street from Charvet.
As we now know, Fianna Fáil’s taste for high living continued during the reign of Haughey’s acolyte, Bertie Ahern. In August 2003, Bertie’s daughter, Georgina, married the illustrious musician Nicky Byrne of Westlife fame. They decided to tie the knot in the 13th century Church of St Peter and St Paul in the village of Gallardon, south west of Paris. It was a star-studded event, befitting the UK£850,000 that Hello! magazine paid for exclusive photo rights. But the concentration of Irish and foreign celebrities also generated a hugh security operation, which some of the locals apparently didn’t appreciate. After all, the centre of their small town was completely cordoned off on a normally busy Saturday afternoon—and all for a bunch of foreigners that nobody had ever seen or would ever see again. Anxious to protect its exclusivity, Hello! took elaborate measures to conceal the wedding participants from the gaze of common mortals and the photo flashes of journalists working for rival rags. In true French fashion, a number of the locals complained vehemently. The Irish Times’  Paris correspondent reported their feelings in these terms:  “There were cries of ‘C’est dégueulasse’.  Each time the veiling operation occurred—on arrival and post-departure for the silver van  carrying the bridesmaids and the black Mercedes which brought the Taoiseach and his daughter—the catcalls grew louder.”
         The Church at Gallardon
The reception, held at the nearby Château d'Esclimont, was no better for Bertie's image.  The fact that the Irish media were barred from the Ahern marriage no doubt coloured how the event was covered, but still the Sunday Independent's report is damning of a Taoiseach that had "personally intervened in order to get two Irish journalists, who had booked into the hotel, removed, threatening to move the wedding location". And throughout his time at Château d'Esclimont, the Sindo tells us, "Mr Ahern hid behind blacked-out windows to safeguard his daughter's £850,000 dowry from Hello! magazine."

While he had his own idiosyncrasies, Garret Fitzgerald (Dublin, 1926 - 1911) was a better-bred, more staid figure than Haughey, and he also spoke much better French, thanks in no small part to two summer stays in France just before the Second World War. His first lengthy visit to France was in 1938, when his mother arranged for him to stay with the family of Mme. Camus at a house called ‘Le Bercail’ near Melun, a town just over 40km from the centre of Paris. Mme. Camus, who referred to Fitzgerald as “mon petit lapin”  had 12 children, “half of whom were married with 16 children of their own”. The well-connected Fitzgerald also seems to have visited Con Cremin of the Irish Legation in the company of his father.

Fitzgerald integrated well with the Camus horde, to the extent that he was back the following summer. But on the day he was travelling back to Ireland in late August 1939, he heard news of the signing of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact and he knew that “there would be no further summers at ‘Le Bercail’.


Select Bibliography
Charles Haughey Short Fellow—A Biography of Charles J. Haughey (2001)
T. Ryle Dwyer

All in a life (1991)
Garret Fitzgerald

Sweetie – How Haughey Spent the Money (1999)
Kevin O’Connor

“The secret affair that hooked the lovers like a drug”, The Irish Independent, June 18, 2006

"My life with Charles Haughey: by the woman who ‘knew him best’”, Ireland on Sunday, June 20, 2006
Sunday Independent, August 10, 2003
Irish Times, August 11, 2003