From Irish Political Review: August 2008

Haughey And The Nazi Flags
—from historical fiction to fictitious "history"

In the March issue of Irish Political Review I referred to the false depiction of Charles Haughey in that failed play, Hinterland, written by the otherwise highly successful and accomplished playwright Sebastian Barry. Kevin Myers is a failed novelist whose more prolific 'factual' journalism has been no less false in respect of Haughey, as exposed in my Myers, Damned Lies article for the July issue. But what are we to make of Dermot Bolger, another successful literary confrère of Barry's, whose 2005 novel is reasonably accurate in its semi-fictitious depiction of Haughey, but whose recent "factual" journalism is something else entirely?

Let us begin with the latter. In Bolger's article for the Sunday Business Post this past 4th May, entitled Ireland's One Shining Light In The Nazi Gloom. his opening paragraph engages in the following nasty piece of guilt-by-association character assassination:

"Ireland's ambiguous relationship with World War Two is best encapsulated by events in Dublin on the day when the Allies declared victory. When other cities were rejoicing at the collapse of the horrors of Nazism, here future Taoiseach Charlie Haughey was leading a riot of Catholic students (some waving Nazi flags in bravado) against the locked gates of Trinity College, a riot initially caused because Trinity had the gall to fly the flags of the triumphant nations."

In stark contrast, Bolger had adhered to elementary standards of artistic integrity in his brief depiction of Haughey and these same Trinity events for his 2005 novel, The Family On Paradise Pier. On 10th April 2005 the Sunday Independent carried the following introductory remarks to its publication of an extract:

"Dermot Bolger's new novel … is a saga that grows into an extraordinary kaleidoscopic portrait of Irish life in the first half of the 20th Century, taking in the War of Independence, the dangerous streets of Thirties Moscow, the Spanish Civil War, the Blitz, gulags and the Curragh Internment camp. Based on a real-life Donegal family, the Goold Verschoyles, this exclusive extract for the Sunday Independent focuses on Art, the eldest son [based on Neil Goold—MO'R], who rejects his inheritance to become a hard-line communist agitator, working and living in the worst slums in Dublin. 'The Family on Paradise Pier' is a work of deliberate faction, in which many famous figures of the time play real or imagined parts. This extract places Art Goold [fictitiously—MO'R] outside Trinity College during the real-life events in which a young student, Charles Haughey, controversially first comes to national attention during a riot."

The following excerpts from that extract put its portrayal of Haughey in the appropriate context:

"All evening the mood among much of the crowd had grown more outraged as people stopped in College Green to stare up at the flagpoles above the locked gates of Trinity College ... But an hour ago, when Trinity College students climbed onto the roof to raise the Union Jack on the main flagstaff, higher than the nearby Irish tricolour, this had proved too much for ardent nationalists who tried to storm the main gate and remove the flag. The Trinity students had either been drunk or dangerously high-spirited because, in response to abuse shouted up from the street, one student had lowered the tricolour and tried to set it alight. His companions remonstrated and quickly stamped out the flames, but by now reports had reached every public house nearby, from which angry drinkers were emerging … During the past hour the crowds in College Green had remained angry and deflated, as if their noses were being rubbed in the dirt by the Trinity students who remained on the roof beside the Union Jack …"

"There was a stir now among the College Green crowd as a party of students from the nearby National University marched down Grafton Street. Art had noticed them an hour ago for being the most vociferous hecklers of the Trinity students. He climbed onto the college railings to wave the Red Flag, but few people noticed because their attention was focused on this group of students. Two students at the very rear had acquired Nazi swastikas, which they waved defiantly at the Trinity students on the roof. Some people among the crowd roared their approval at this bravado, while others shouted for the swastikas to be torn up … Art lifted the Red Flag higher and shouted: 'Long live Comrade Stalin. Salute the victorious Red Army.' But nobody turned because a young nationalist student at the front of the group had stopped outside the closed gates to make a speech. He seemed a natural public speaker, conveying his indignation at this affront to Irish sensibilities by Trinity College with an aura of self-possessed mocking braggadocio. 'Good man, Charlie!' a fellow student shouted. 'If there's one man to show the Brits, it's Charlie Haughey.' 'Do it, Haughey, do it!' others urged, and Art watched the young Haughey fellow produce a Union Jack, which he hung from the college gates and proceeded to set alight. A cheer arose …"

There was nothing unfair in this portrayal of Haughey. He himself never made any secret of the fact that he had burned a Union Jack outside Trinity College on that day, in response to the deliberate provocation from those who had first raised the Union Jack over the Tricolour and then tried to set the latter alight. The Trinity College authorities formally apologised for the provocation that this had caused, while many other Trinity students, predominantly Southern Protestant in background and affirming their patriotic allegiance to this State, also came out publicly to denounce these actions. It was maintained by some of them that, far from being "anti-fascists", the offending culprits were actually a group of Ulster Orangemen who had safely sat out the War in Dublin as Trinity students.

Bolger the novelist had made no attempt to link Haughey, at the front of the crowd, with the two students at the very back who had waved the Swastika flag and who had been reprimanded by others in the crowd for so doing. But Bolger the 'historical' commentator now increases their number and suggests cause and effect. That is why we are forced to contrast his reasonably factual historical fiction regarding the character of the confrontation with his totally fictitious 'history'. Indeed, so relatively inconspicuous had been the two Swastika-waving students, that the Irish Times reports of that day's incidents failed even to notice their presence. Mention of the Swastika only surfaced in subsequent correspondence. And the Southern Protestant TD, Erskine Childers, a Fianna Fáil Junior Minister and future President of Ireland, was in no doubt as to the real cause and effect of the rioting. The Irish Times of 18th May 1945 reported Childers as arguing, in a subsequent debate in Trinity College, "Fianna Fáil had an abhorrence of dictatorship, and the young men who brandished the Swastika in Dublin streets the other day were no more representative of the people as a whole than the young men who caused the provocation".

In the Irish Times on 12th May an anonymous correspondent styling himself "Cato" had, however, tried to minimise the outrage caused by that provocation, with a diversionary reference to de Valera's visit to German Minister Hempel: "Let us not lose all sense of proportion. Weigh an unpremeditated act of bravado by an excited schoolboy who ought to have known better, over that moral horror—a visit of condolence on the death of Nero." Notwithstanding his own airs of Anglo-Irish superiority, this letter proved to be the final provocative straw to break the camel's back in the case of a patriotic Protestant Nationalist like Hubert Butler. The Irish Times of 21st May saw Butler reply as follows and, in the process, forcefully challenge the Churchillian myth-making 'history' that was already well under way:

"Your correspondent 'Cato' chose his name oddly … Both Cato the Censor and his great-grandson would have found much to admire in Mr. de Valera's rather academic and unfashionable consistency. Hitler, Mussolini and, quite recently, Franco, received many compliments in the time of their prosperity from British Ministers, including Mr. Churchill. Shortly before the war, in a broadcast speech, Mr. Churchill referred to 'that great man Adolph Hitler". Dachau Camp was at that time in existence. Mr de Valera's official condolences, at a time of utter ruin, compared with these tributes, seem in no way remarkable. If the mean and hypocritical Franco should join his two friends, is it likely the British Government will withhold the customary condolences? I hardly think so. The code of diplomatic politeness is a very queer one. His Holiness the Pope sent his congratulations to Hitler on his escape from assassination. Mr. Churchill has not ventured to insult him, as he has insulted Mr. de Valera for his neutrality. I wonder why. It is possible that Mr. de Valera was genuinely sorry for Herr Hempel, about whose undiplomatic activities so many lies have been told. The American Government is now in occupation of the German Legation. It will be able to tell us if scope or accommodation has been found there for those eighty intriguing secretaries, so much advertised in the British press."

"'Cato' wishes us to get the T.C.D. episode into proportion. Let us, therefore, look for its equivalent in some other small nation with an unassimilated minority. Let us suppose that 'an excited schoolboy, who should have known better', from the Sudetenland, were to hang a swastika in pre-war days from the famous University of the German ascendancy in Prague. It would be a most natural thing to do. Would the Czechs dismiss it with 'Boys will be boys!'? An officer in the National Army, with no liking for the Nazis, made to me this comment on one of the letters you have printed from Trinity students: 'Was it the insult to the flag or the insult to the bystanders he minded? Why does he keep saying 'the Irish flag' instead of 'our flag' or 'the national flag'? Analogous questions are today being asked in every country in Europe…"

Had anybody else other than Hubert Butler dared to equate Swastika-waving and Union Jackery in such a manner, such an 'offender' would have had his or her name dragged in the mud, and be denounced as a crypto-Nazi by all the literati from Roy Foster to Dermot Bolger. Bolger's recent attempt to portray Charlie Haughey as such a crypto-Nazi had constituted the opening paragraph of his review of a biography of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, entitled The Vatican Pimpernel. This will be the subject of a future article. Readers might be interested in noting that Bolger is currently ensconced (as he enjoys the prestige and privileges of being officially designated as "writer-in-residence"] at the Irish Government's mansion of Farmleigh).

Paul Bew On Haughey's 'Nazism'

In his Ireland: The Politics Of Enmity 1789-2006, Paul Bew writes:

"The son of a Free State army officer from the North, Haughey first achieved some public notice on VE Day in 1945: in celebration of the end of the war in Europe, some Trinity College students flew the Union Jack from the flagpole facing College Green: Haughey, in retaliation, burned another Union Jack, and there was a minor riot… In office, Haughey stopped the Irish army attending the British Legion Remembrance Sunday services in St. Patrick's Cathedral, thus creating a context whereby the Irish army was present at the Glen of Imaal to honour the Nazi dead of the Second World War, but was not present to honour the Irish dead of that conflict" (p527, OUP 2007).

Readers wishing to find further information about the facts on Haughey and the use of the Irish Army in war commemorations are referred to Manus O'Riordan's Haughey In The Service Of The Nazis? Myers, Damned Lies And Statistics in last month's magazine.

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