“Gorbomania” has swept the country
US ambassador to Ireland Margaret Heckler didn’t know we’re masters at oiling pragmatism with plamás
Margaret Heckler: “One hour of talks between Gorbachev and Haughey during a stopover at Shannon airport constitutes the first ever Soviet-Ireland summit”. Photograph: Tom Lawlor
It used to be that Cathleen Ní Houlihan only had eyes for Uncle Sam.
Now the two-timing trollop was lavishing her charms upon a communist world leader and brazenly flying the red flag over Irish soil.
Ireland’s willingness to rush into the arms of any world superpower that happened to be passing did not impress the US. When Charlie Haughey treated Mikhail Gorbachev to a Full Irish Welcome to mark his brief visit here in 1989, there seemed a touch of the green-eyed monster about America’s reaction.
“Gorbomania has swept the country,” reported US ambassador Margaret Heckler to her boss in Washington.
“One hour of talks between Gorbachev and Haughey during a stopover at Shannon airport constitutes the first ever Soviet-Ireland summit,” she snippily observed.
Not only that, said Heckler, but she believed we fell hook, line and sinker for the sweet nothings whispered by the Russian interloper.
“The upshot was a solid victory for the Gorbachev charm offensive as the Irish let themselves be convinced that they have a role to play in the democratic evolution of the Soviet Union.”
Her cable from Dublin tells of “mob scenes” during Raisa Gorbachev’s visit to a folk park, fawning uninterrupted media coverage of the short trip and a once hostile clergy crumbling in the presence of the president of the USSR.
“There wasn’t a comment to be heard that wasn’t positive. Even the elderly pastor of the local parish found it impossible to recall the days when the sight of the red flag flying on Irish soil would have given the hierarchy apoplexy,” marvelled the ambassador.
She didn’t know us that well. We’re past masters at oiling pragmatism with plamás.
Holy Catholic Ireland may still have been praying for the conversion of Russia, but the conversion of Russian roubles into Irish pounds was more important to us in 1989.
Taoiseach Charles Haughey knew that and was more than happy to roll out the red carpet for Gorbachev and his entourage as they stopped off to refuel en route to Cuba.
Heckler was very impressed by the Soviet Union’s skilful handling of the event and the president’s statement that his visit “was not a stopover but a milestone”.
This soothed media fears that the “summit” would be dismissed as an extended photocall. The Soviet president left the Irish “delighted” but “substantively little was accomplished”. This conclusion may have been in keeping with the slightly huffy tone of the cable, but Ireland’s push for business in the emerging Russian market was being noted internationally.
Heckler did not underestimate the over-the-top Irish reaction to Gorbachev’s presence. The fact that he was only in the country for a couple of hours made no difference. The next day’s papers carried page upon page of coverage.