Snakes alive! Published on July 30th, 1994
THE TIMES WE LIVED IN:SOME PICTURES ARE worth a thousand words. Others make words outlandishly redundant. In the case of this glorious study of our famously slippery former Taoiseach wielding a snake – well, hey. What can we say?
In July 1994, of course, Bertie Ahern was merely a Minister for Finance. It was in this capacity that he turned up to open the newly- refurbished Reptile House at Dublin Zoo. The first of the zoo’s enclosures, Joe Carroll’s wry front-page article reports, to be revamped in a style more closely resembling the natural habitat of the creatures destined to slither therein.
“It will be a good place to study our animal friends and for them to study us as well,” Bertie declared, blissfully unaware of just how ironically his words, not to mention his actions, would strike newspaper readers a mere 20 years into the future.
As he approached the snake the Minister was heard to ask, “Does he bite?” (Pythons, Carroll observed tartly, don’t bite; “they only wrap themselves around you for tenderising before you are swallowed whole.”)
But hang on a second. Aren’t we being just little unfair? Isn’t there another side to this story? The photographer may have captured Bertie in full-on laughing mode, but it’s obvious from the story that he’s uneasy about getting up close and personal with large reptiles.
The expression on the face of his 12-year-old daughter Cecelia is revelatory. She, too, is smiling, but it’s the taut smile of anxiety. Careful, there, Dad. Perhaps she added, in her own head, PS: I Love You.
Anyhow, before we praise Bertie’s bravery too much, we should read the final paragraph of the story. As ever with Irish politics, all is not quite as it seems.
The snake in the photo is not a Reptile House resident. He is, in fact, Monty, “a house-trained, placid Burmese python who resides on the southside with a loving owner”.
He was borrowed “to make sure Bertie was not devoured by the two man-eating East African rock pythons who are on the way to the new Reptile House, thus causing a cabinet reshuffle.” As for the snakes in the grass at the time, well, it now seems they weren’t all living in the Reptile House either.
Photograph by Frank Miller irishtimes.com/archive