Haughey's Inishvickillane archive goes on display in Blasket Island centre

Charles Haughey on his island, Inishvickillane, one of the Blasket Islands, Co. Kerry PHOTO: COLMAN DOYLE

Charles Haughey on his island, Inishvickillane, one of the Blasket Islands, Co. Kerry. Photograph: Coleman Doyle

Mon, Apr 11, 2011, 01:00

A COLLECTION of papers and photographs documenting the relationship between the late Charles Haughey and Inishvickillane, the most southerly of the Blasket Islands, has gone on display at the Blasket Island centre in Dún Chaoin, west of Dingle.

Nine miles off the coast of Kerry, the 170-acre island, which was purchased by Mr Haughey in the 1970s and is still owned by his family, was also a world stage, a nature reserve and a centre of public fascination, according to the papers, now fully archived and also available in digital format.

The archive contains photographs of French president François Mitterrand strolling reflectively with Mr Haughey on the cliff edge.

There are several pieces of correspondence with the artist Maria Simonds-Gooding and there is much detail of yachting visits, including one from the Asgard 11 which sought shelter when its young crew became seasick.

A file labelled “media” by archivist Dáithí de Mórdha contains a number of requests for visits for interviews and articles. Most were politely and firmly turned down.

A second attempt in 1994 from a well-known journalist gets another refusal from Mr Haughey, who said he tried to keep the island “as private as possible and to divert public attention”.

However, Mr Haughey retained a number of copies of a 1984 Sunday Tribune article by Andy Barclay entitled “The King of Paradise Island” in which Mr Haughey says: “I was asked would I declare a republic here and I said, ‘No, it would be a monarchy’.”

That Mr Haughey jealously guarded his island kingdom is clear from a letter marked “personal” from then defence minister Michael Noonan in November 1985, when Mr Haughey was a TD. The letter was to assure Mr Haughey about recent flights in the vicinity of the island.

Gardaí had carried out an investigation, Mr Noonan writes. “I think you can feel confident that recent flights in the vicinity of Inishvickillane are not a cause for concern.” They were due to fishery protection by the Air Corps.

While journalists were largely turned away, requests from hostellers and foreign hikers were often welcomed – at Mr Haughey’s whim.

There is a letter in 1988 from a nun attached to the Convent of Mercy at Ballyroan in Dublin. She had a great longing to see the Blaskets “without getting seasick”.

“Could you fix it that another sister and I get there by helicopter this month or next? It’s a very cheeky request but it’s a dream I have that I’d love to come true.

“Need I add that we pray every day for you and the government and follow events,” the nun finishes.

It is not clear if Sr M Dolorita’s request was met, but she did get a phone call, according to a note on the letter.

One of the largest files documents Mr Haughey’s attempts over a decade to reintroduce the white-tailed sea eagle and his efforts to attract sponsorship for the 10-year project estimated at £50,000 in the 1980s. Eventually two eagles, Maeve and Aillil, were brought to the island from Germany via Fota Island.

The papers on the island were officially handed over last October by the Haughey family at a ceremony in Ionad an Bhlascaoid, the Blasket Islands interpretive centre.

The entire archive can be viewed on request and some items are on permanent public display.