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Was Charlie Haughey really beaten with an iron bar on the morning of the Budget?

There is confusion after the new claim emerged last weekend.

Charlie Haughey
Charlie Haughey
Image: Photocall Ireland

CHARLIE HAUGHEY IS as controversial in death as he was in life.

His name has made the front pages over the past three days after a new claim emerged that he was beaten with an iron bar in a pub row on the morning of the Budget announcement in April 1970.

The story, published in a new book about the legendary civil servant TK Whitaker, has been denied by Haughey’s family, and there is now confusion as to who exactly made the claim – and whether there is any truth at all to it.

Here’s what we know (and what we don’t know)…

What’s this about Charlie Haughey missing his own Budget speech? 

The Budget announcement of 22 April 1970 was the ‘Budget Without A Minister’ as Charlie Haughey, finance minister of the day, was unable to make the Dáil speech, forcing taoiseach Jack Lynch to deliver the annual announcement instead.

What happened to Haughey?

According to widespread media reports at the time, Haughey had fallen off his horse while riding at his home in Kinsealy that morning. The story has gone down in Irish political folklore.

RTÉ’s archive even has video of Haughey’s election Patrick O’Connor making a statement to the media outlining the extent of the minister’s injuries which included concussion, a fractured skull, a torn right eardrum, a broken collarbone and a fracture in one of the bones in his back.

Here is Haughey (right) with his arm in a sling a few weeks after the incident when he was sacked as Finance Minister over the Arms Crisis.

haughey arm Source: RTÉ Reeling in the Years

But what’s this about Haughey being beaten in a pub? 

At the weekend, the Irish Independent reported a new claim being made in the book about TK Whitaker, a former secretary general at the Department of Finance and a man credited with being the ‘architect of modern Ireland’, that Haughey was in fact beaten with an iron bar in a pub row that morning. 

The book - TK Whitaker: Portrait of a Patriot by Anne Chambers – quotes Whitaker as saying that Haughey was injured after a severe beating inflicted by unknown persons in a pub on the morning of Budget day.

File photo: TK Whitaker sparks controversy Source: Joe Dunne/Photocall Ireland

Dr Whitaker is quoted in the book as saying: “His injuries were so severe – an iron bar having been used by his attacker or attackers – that he had been admitted as an emergency case to the Mater Hospital.”

Are the claims true? 

Well, the Haughey family have “categorically” stated that version of events is “completely and utterly untrue”. In a statement issued on Sunday, his relatives said:

On the morning in question Mr Haughey was returning to the stables in Abbeville on his horse. He grabbed an overhead drainpipe to dismount from the horse and it reared up and jumped forward when the pipe broke. Mr Haughey fell from the horse and became unconscious.

The family said that the new claims had caused great distress to Haughey’s wife, Maureen, and family.

John Mulhearn Funeral Scenes Maureen Haughey and her son Seán in 2010 Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

What has the book’s publisher said? 

Rather embarrassingly, the book’s publisher, Doubleday Ireland (part of Transworld Ireland), has been forced to clarify that the iron bar beating claim was incorrectly attributed to TK Whitaker in Portrait of a Patriot.

In fact the claim should have been attributed – as a direct quotation – from the book Jack Lynch: A Biography by Professor Dermot Keogh.

“The author and publishers wish to clarify that due to a reference error in the endnotes, the words were incorrectly attributed to Dr. Whitaker. The reference will be amended accordingly in future editions of the book,” the statement added.

The source of the claim in the Jack Lynch biography is not known. We’ve attempted to contact the book’s author, Professor Keogh, this morning but to no avail.

jack lynch 1970 Taoiseach Jack Lynch in 1970 Source: RTÉ

What about Anne Chambers, the author of Portrait of a Patriot

We’ve asked for an interview with Chambers but have received a response to indicate it’s unlikely she’ll be speaking about the matter.

So, was Charlie Haughey beaten-up in a pub on the morning of Budget day in 1970? 

As intriguing as the claim is, it does not yet appear to be backed up by any solid evidence. It is worth noting that throughout this period, Haughey and others in the Fianna Fáil government were embroiled in what became known as the Arms Crisis – the alleged attempt to illegally import arms for the IRA into Northern Ireland.

Haughey and his fellow Cabinet minister Neil Blaney were sacked by Jack Lynch on 6 May after they refused to resign. Another minister, Kevin Boland, resigned in protest, claiming that Lynch and most of the Cabinet knew about the arms import plan all along. Haughey and Blaney later went on trial and were acquitted.

But as for whether he was beaten in a pub with an iron bar on the morning of Budget day, all of the evidence so far indicates it’s more likely that Haughey did fall of a horse on the morning of 22 April 1970 as his family maintain, and as was widely reported at the time.

Read: Charles Haughey family “deeply disappointed” over claims he was beaten with iron bar

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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