A riot, champagne and Charlie Haughey: Garret FitzGerald’s eve of VE Day diary

“At 9.19 on way back to College, at bottom Grafton St, we met Charlie Haughey”

Former taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald at home in Ranelagh. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Former taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald at home in Ranelagh. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

Garret FitzGerald was forced to flee when gardaí carrying batons charged a crowd trying to break into Trinity College Dublin on the eve of Victory in Europe (VE) Day, according to a previously unpublished diary.

The former Taoiseach’s exhaustive diary entry for May 7th into May 8th, 1945 has been made available by his son Mark to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe.

In it, his father, who was then a 19-year-old second-year arts student in UCD, details his day from when he hears about the German surrender at the end of the Second World War (2.05pm) to eventually going to bed at 4am the following morning (VE Day).

The diary entry includes a reference to his future political rival and fellow Taoiseach Charles J Haughey who is listed as a PS at the bottom of the typed diary: “At 9.19 (pm) on way back to College, at bottom Grafton St, we met Charlie Haughey, Mary Pat, Nancy Nolan and Brendan Nolan. ”

Mr Haughey and Mr FitzGerald were contemporaries in UCD at the time. The Trinity incident is famous as the first time that Haughey came to public attention as he was allegedly the leader of a crowd of incensed UCD students who tried to storm Trinity after students there hoisted the Union flag on the roof and burned the Irish tricolour.

The incident would be used to burnish Mr Haughey’s nationalist credentials in the Fianna Fáil party, but as he later admitted in a letter to the theatre impressario Micheál MacLiammóir and his partner Hilton Edwards: “I have been dining out on the Trinity incident myself – suitably embellished of course”.

Former taoiseach Charles Haughey. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
Former taoiseach Charles Haughey. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Mr FitzGerald, who later became famous for memorising European train timetables, lists all of the 24 people he met that evening and everything he ate and drank including champagne at the Buttery restaurant at 10.30pm and gooseberries and milk at a friend’s house at 2.35am.

Having heard the surrender announcement, Mr FitzGerald went to a friend’s house to listen to the radio. That evening he returned to UCD for the English Literature Society inaugural committee in the main hall of the university which was then located at Earlsfort Terrace.

The inaugural was interrupted by students in procession. At their head was a student named Bertie Burke carrying an Irish tricolour who was being chaired down the street.

The tricolour was most likely in response to the actions of the Trinity students earlier that afternoon.

The edition of The Irish Times published on May 8th, 1945, with the story of the Trinity riots headlined ‘Baton Charges in Dublin’ next to the ‘V for victory’ picture arrangement.
The edition of The Irish Times published on May 8th, 1945, with the story of the Trinity riots headlined ‘Baton Charges in Dublin’ next to the ‘V for victory’ picture arrangement.

The UCD students passed by College Green where Trinity is located and Mr FitzGerald followed them. He went to the GPO to make a phonecall to his future wife Joan O’Farrell who was also a student in UCD.

Mr FitzGerald then attended a meeting of students in Middle Abbey Street where feelings were high over the tricolour-burning incident. There had already been clashes between pro-British Trinity students and pro-Irish UCD students.

The meeting ended and the UCD students headed back to Trinity with a view to storming the gates. They were baton charged by the Civic Guards (the gardaí). “The three of us (the other two are not listed) had to flee for our lives up the street and into College Street,” Mr FitzGerald writes.

Mark FitzGerald has also released a note from his father’s papers which are in UCD listing all the people who would be available for a VE Day celebration.
Mark FitzGerald has also released a note from his father’s papers which are in UCD listing all the people who would be available for a VE Day celebration.

He waited at the junction of Suffolk Street and Grafton Street for Joan and saw a fellow student, Ellie Beatty, wearing a red, white and blue ribbon in her hair. “We beseeched her to remove it and she did”.

He eventually met Joan and they headed back to UCD where the inaugural was still going on and a few rowdy students with tricolours were told to leave.

At 10.30pm, a group of them, he lists 17 in all, went to the Buttery pub where most ordered gins and limes and sherrys, “but I saw champagne going and managed to collect enough to give us all who wanted it at 5/- a time … we sat and toasted everything and everybody until 10.50pm”.

Mr FitzGerald’s night did not finish there. After having a bottle thrown at them in Grafton Street, Mr FitzGerald went to the Green Rooster restaurant in O’Connell Street near the Parnell monument where he had soup with mashed potatoes in it. On Westmoreland Street he borrowed 2/6 off a friend and went back towards the college where some students were asleep on the steps.

He and Joan cycled home, he with a mutual friend, Mary Joyce, on the crossbar. After leaving Joan home, he went to Mary’s house, had gooseberries and cream and milk “and looked at the china”.

Gallantly he cycled back to the college to pick up Mary’s handbag that she left on the railings. His last port of call was Independent House where he bought a newspaper, returned home to his parents house in Airfield “and after finishing the paper, to bed”.

Mark FitzGerald has also released a note from his father’s papers which are in UCD listing all the people who would be available for a VE Day celebration.

Garret FitzGerald’s diary account of meeting Charles Haughey on the eve of VE Day is different to the version he recalled years later in a documentary about Haughey’s life. He recalled Haughey escaping from gardaí by “jumping over bicycles and going up Trinity Street. My views and his views would have been different. I was strongly pro-Allied”.