No nuts, just drinks: partying with Ireland’s powerful

Haughey? Always interesting. Enda Kenny? A great mimic. Thirty years on, Maureen Cairnduff remembers the soirees she held at her home and the influential directory that sprang from them

Mon, Feb 24, 2014, 01:00

Thirty years ago, a large hardback book with a provocative title was published to a flurry of attention. The book was Who’s Who in Ireland: The Influential 1,000 . It had been put together by journalist Maureen Cairnduff, who was well-known at the time for the parties she and her husband, Ian, held at their home on Waterloo Road in Dublin.

Cairnduff still lives at the same elegant house. Her husband died some years ago, and she prefers not to go out at night now, let alone entertain on a large scale, but although we’re just having peppermint tea in the kitchen, she can’t help being the natural hostess that she is.

The idea for the book, she explains, came from publisher Kevin Kelly, then owner of Image magazine. “He knew that I met a lot of people, because Ian and I had a drinks party on the first Friday of every month; our First Fridays parties. We held them for 17 years, from the 1970s through the 1980s.”

It was at her urging that the parties began. “In those days, in the 1970s, we all went to dinner parties. I ended up talking to other married women about ovens and nappies and I wasn’t a bit interested. I said to my husband one night, I want to see some men again. So we started the parties.”

Their house was “on everyone’s way home” and people dropped in on their way. “It was strictly from six to eight.” They deliberately didn’t serve food, so that people wouldn’t linger beyond 8pm. “No nuts, no snacks, nothing. Just drinks. And we vanished at 8pm. Usually we went out to dinner. People knew they had to leave then. It worked because we did it every month. When people only have parties once a year, they go on all night, and you never get rid of guests.”

At that time, Ian Cairnduff was the managing director of Gilbeys, the drinks company. “He got, I think, 30 bottles a month. He’d stand at the trolley, and on one side, there’d be gin, whiskey, vodka, brandy. At the other, there’d be a couple of cases of tonic water, and soda water. People drank very little wine then.”

From parties into print
What publisher Kelly wanted Cairnduff to do was replicate in print the mix of people who came to her parties. So who came to them?

“It was a thermometer of whom I had met during the month,” she explains. “Obviously one asked one’s core friends, 20 or so. Not a very large group. I would try and diversify it; some people from the worlds of arts, sports, politics, some from business, although those ones were always a bit dull.”

Charlie Haughey came once. “He’d be turning in his grave if he thought I was saying we were close. We weren’t close at all in our thinking. He was attractive in that he was always interesting to talk to, though. The main thing was that people brought other people. I didn’t want it to be all Irish people. We had the mayor of New York. The man who married Prince Rainer’s sister. In those days, we left the key in the door and people just turned up.”

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