Michael Moynihan: Charlie Haughey’s varied sporting journey

Michael Moynihan: Charlie Haughey’s varied sporting journey

Charlie Haughey walks towards Republic of Ireland fans at the Italia 90 World Cup. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

No argument about the book of the moment.

Haughey by Professor Gary Murphy of DCU is the definitive account of the life of Charles Haughey and will figure in more Christmas stockings than those of the political junkies.

Full disclosure: the author is known to this columnist, which means I knew he’d answer when I rang to ask about Haughey and sport.

“He had a genuine interest in sport,” Murphy told me.

“His father died young so the family didn’t have a lot of money growing up — even football boots would have been an expense, but his mother made sure the kids got them and Gaelic games were their main pastime.

“It’s interesting that growing up he was a member of St Vincent’s, which would have been the local club in Donnycarney, where he lived.

“But then he transferred to Parnell’s, though the reason why is mysterious.

“Apparently St Vincent’s weren’t too happy when he transferred - he was good enough to win a county medal with Parnell’s in 1945, and his brother Jock was a very good player, he played for Dublin in the 1955 All-Ireland final.

“Apparently Haughey himself had a ferocious temper on the field and when he was suspended for a year he never went back.”

The GAA remained part of his life — getting chased for All-Ireland final tickets became a seasonal affliction — but he never warmed to rugby.

“Lemass was very interested in rugby but Haughey himself never took to it, turning down tickets to games from the IRFU.

“He got into hunting in the fifties, but apparently his father rode horses in the army, his wife Maureen was into horses, as was her father, Sean Lemass, so they’d talk about horses.

“Hunting was a way into another part of Dublin society for Haughey as a public representative, while the interest in horse racing was something he shared with a lot of people, obviously enough.

“And a day at the races would have been a day away from politics, away from the constant pressure.”

He dabbled in buying and breeding coming into the sixties and later - interestingly, Murphy itemises horse trainer Vincent O’Brien’s bills for September in 1978 for Haughey’s horse Aristocracy.

They amount to £10 per day (£300 in total), vet charges £62, expenses to the Curragh £69 - where the colt won a race with a total prize fund of £3,670, meaning a cut of 2 per cent of the fund for O’Brien, or £73.40, and a 7 per cent cut for jockey Lester Piggott of £256.90. (Total cost for the month? £761.30.)

Of course, those of a certain age will remember Haughey appearing on the Champs-Élysées in Paris when Stephen Roche won the Tour de France in 1987, or popping up in Rome when Ireland played Italy in the World Cup in 1990.

“At the time he said something to the effect that he had to celebrate Roche’s win, being a fellow Dubliner, but in a lot of ways it’s an example of a politician on the ‘perpetual campaign’ — always with an eye to keeping up the visibility ahead of the next election, whenever that election is due.

“Of course, that was the famous occasion in Rome when he went into the Irish dressing-room and was introduced to the players.

“Andy Townsend asked Tony Cascarino who he was - Cascarino misheard the introduction and ended up telling Townsend he owned a teashop.”

Highlights of the secretary report

I see we have now entered the most wonderful time of the year.

Not Christmas — at least not exactly — but the time of year when GAA county board secretaries everywhere need to find the right register at which to make their feelings known: they have to put on record their unhappiness with certain matters arising in the last 12 months for their annual reports, but getting the proper tone is a challenge. Too much unhappiness won’t do, after all. Hence my praise for a couple of terrific examples in the genre.

In his annual report, Peter Twiss of Kerry lashed out at those spreading disinformation about the appointment of manager Jack O’Connor earlier this year: “To those who acted in this way, you should be ashamed of yourselves. You were willing to discredit the good name of decent people, damage the proud name of Kerry GAA, because they happened to hold a different view to yours.

“I am happy to have been part of that selection committee, to know that every single member acted honourably and with the sole intention of doing what, in their view, was best for Kerry.”

Mayo secretary Dermot Butler also took people to task.

“The torrent of abuse aimed at players on social media in the aftermath of the 2021 [All-Ireland] final was nothing short of scandalous,” said Butler in his report.

“If these so-called people can do a better job let them put their names on the ballot paper, but it’s easier for them to hide behind the aforementioned mask and take “pot shots” at people trying to discredit them.

“They claim to be Mayo people but to me they are cowards.”

Pointing out that those people criticising, abusing or undermining have another option is a classic strategy in the secretary’s report: inviting such people to participate rather than simply carp from the sidelines is a challenge those critics find hard to sidestep.

More highlights from such reports to be shared when they come to your columnist’s attention.

And lowlights, of course, if such exist.

Farewell to Tom

Tom McGarry.
Tom McGarry.

Very sad news in recent days with the passing of Seanie O’Leary of Cork last Wednesday, which was followed the next day by the passing of Tom McGarry of Limerick.

In his playing days Tom was the epitome of an all-rounder — he hurled for Limerick, captained Young Munster in rugby, played League of Ireland soccer with Limerick and Cork Celtic, collected three Limerick club football titles with Treaty Sarsfields — and won All-Ireland handball titles in singles and doubles.

In more recent years, your columnist got to know Tom in his role as a steward at Munster Council games, where his friendliness and efficiency were legendary.

His club Claughaun paid tribute to Tom, saying he “...did right by everyone he stewarded, but paid special attention to those in club colours. A man you looked forward to saying hello to and tried hard not to leave without saying goodbye to.”

Condolences to the McGarry family.

Time for Sondheim

News of Stephen Sondheim’s passing came a shade too late to pop up in last week’s column.

I could recommend one of Sondheim’s own books of (annotated) lyrics for you, if only for their titles (Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954–1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes, or Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981–2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Wafflings, Diversions and Anecdotes).

However, this year saw the publication of Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park With George by James Lapine.

Fascinating. And recommended.

  • michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

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