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'I was in disguise as an American tourist': The woman who egged Richard Nixon in 1970

Nixon’s motorcade was making its way through Dublin when it was egged three times.
Jun 9th 2019, 12:01 PM 17,516 17

U.S. President Richard Nixon File photo of Richard Nixon. Source: AP/Press Association Images

IT WAS A bright Monday afternoon in Dublin on 5 October, 1970, as US president Richard Nixon’s motorcade made its way through the streets of the city towards Dublin Castle. 

Nixon was on the final leg of a three-day visit to Ireland with his wife and officials.

He had spent two nights at the luxury Kilfrush House in Limerick, before being flown to Timahoe in Kildare to visit the apparent burial place of his Quaker ancestors.

This was followed by a trip to the Phoenix Park, where he met with the American Ambassador and made a courtesy call to Áras an Úachtaráin to see President Éamon de Valera.

The visit was rounded off with a lunch with Taoiseach Jack Lynch at Dublin Castle, before the president travelled onto Dublin Airport and flew back to the US. 

As the motorcade made its way from the Phoenix Park to Dublin Castle through the streets of the south inner city, Nixon stood up through the sunroof of his car and waved at the crowds lining the footpaths.

But not everyone was happy to see the president: Protesters – many carrying signs and placards criticising Nixon and the Vietnam War – also jostled for position, shouting at the president as he passed.

Three people took things further, and at separate places along the route towards the castle, stood out from the crowd to throw eggs at the car, cracking them against the door and the windscreen. 

An Irish Times report from the following day describes how Nixon had “his hands presidentially raised, his head and shoulders thrusting through the open sun-canopy of his bullet-proof car” when the first egg came at him, thrown by “a young woman wearing a white raincoat”. 

Nixon ducked back down inside the safety of the car and the egg missed him, smashing instead against the windshield of the vehicle. 

Undeterred, Nixon stood up again to wave and salute the crowd as the motorcade turned onto Lord Edward Street, not far from the entrance to Dublin Castle. 

This is when the second man broke through the crowd and came within feet of the president, launching two eggs right at him. But “Tricky Dicky” was again too fast, ducking right back down as the eggs cracked against his car. 

RTÉ caught the egging on camera this time, with the footage still available from their Archives.

The third incident, with eggs thrown by another young man as the motorcade drew closer to the Castle, didn’t threaten Nixon, as the president had decided at that point to remain inside the car with his wife. 

“President Nixon handled himself very cooly and very wisely by ducking back into the automobile,” one of his aides told reporters at the time. Nixon wasn’t too put out by what happened, and neither was his wife. 

“When she got out of the car she was smiling,” the aide added.

Protesting against the presidents

The Nixons ate lunch at Dublin Castle and made their way via O’Connell Street towards Dublin Airport, with Nixon again waving to the assembled crowd. Reports state that more eggs were thrown along this route, but none got as close to the presidential motorcade.

But what happened to the three protesters? 

“We were all arrested, of course,” Máirín de Burca – the woman in the raincoat who egged Nixon’s car – said earlier this week. 

De Burca is a writer, lifelong campaigner and civil rights activist, who has been at the forefront of many social causes over the decades. She is perhaps best known as one of the two women who took a case against the state which led to new laws in 1976 allowing women to sit on juries.

Now an octogenerian, she spoke to TheJournal.ie earlier this week ahead of sitting US president Donald Trump’s visit to Doonbeg in Clare.

trump-conference-2 Donald Trump and Leo Varadkar at a press conference on Wednesday. Source: Christina Finn

Protests greet Trump wherever he goes, and Ireland was no different. A peace camp was set up close to Shannon Airport for the duration of his visit, and on Thursday a crowd of about 3,000 people demonstrated against the president in Dublin.

Back in October 1970, there were protests against Nixon, too, but this was before social media could mobilise thousands of people within hours. Demonstrations took lots of organising and commitment to carry off and get noticed in the press.

Márín was about 32 years old at this time, working as a Sinn Féin secretary, and already well-accustomed to direct action protest and agitation against powerful interests.

She and and many others of her generation had watched in horror at the increasing US involvement in the Vietnam War. They had seen images the effects of Agent Orange and the images of the brutalisation of the North Vietnamese people.

vietnam-war-agent-orange The Agent Orange herbicide being sprayed during the Vietnam War. The herbicide caused serious health problems in millions of Vietnamese. Source: AP/Press Association Images

They had been inspired by images and videos of the mass demonstrations taking place in the US and in cities around the world. Nixon’s trip to Ireland was the perfect opportunity to add their voices to the rising chorus of protest and condemnation.

The egg-throwers

“We had kind of individually decided that what we would do was throw eggs, because we didn’t want to hurt anybody,” said De Burca. 

I think the original idea was rocks but nobody was in favour of that so we settled on eggs.

De Burca and the others decided to split up to carry out the egging, because “if we were all together they could have arrested us all before we had a chance to do anything”.

“So I went in with the young lad from the North and we bought a half dozen of eggs. I gave him three and he went up to the castle,” she said.

The “young lad from the North” was Martin O’Hagan, a 20-year-old from Lurgan, in Co Armagh.

O’Hagan would go on to join the Official IRA and he was jailed for three years in 1974 for for possession of two rifles that had been used in an attack on soldiers in Lurgan. 

Upon his release, O’Hagan would turn away from paramilitary activities. He became a journalist for the Sunday World tabloid newspaper and became well-known for controversial articles exposing the criminal activities of the North’s paramilitaries.

O’Hagan was murdered in 2001 by the sectarian unionist paramilitary group the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) – the only journalist to be killed in Northern Ireland as a result of civil unrest, until 29-year-old Lyra McKee was shot dead in Derry earlier this year.

Martin O'Hagan's Funeral The funeral procession of Sunday World journalist Martin O'Hagan in October 2001. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

‘He was only a kid at the time’

Before all this, it was reported that O’Hagan was the third person to egg Nixon’s car as it turned into Dublin Castle in 1970. 

“He was only a kid [at the time],” said de Búrca. 

“Everyone else accused me of leading him astray because I think he was only about 18 when Nixon came over. He was a good lad,” she said. 

As O’Hagan headed towards the Castle, de Búrca worked her way up the River Liffey towards Merchant’s Quay. There she came upon the motorcade making its way towards St Michael’s Hill and Lord Edward Street and saw her chance. 

De Búrca – who was already known around Dublin for her protests and activism – was afraid she would be recognised and stopped by gardaí. But she had a plan. 

“There was a quite a crowd around, but I was in disguise. I decided to wear a head scarf and a pair of sunglasses to look like an American tourist,” she said.

“Because I was kind of well-known at the time by the guards, I was terrified I was going to be pulled in before I got the chance to throw the egg.

But I didn’t. I got it. We all got it actually – we were all pretty accurate.

De Búrca and the two men all managed to hit Nixon’s car with their eggs, but it was the second thrower whose actions would be caught live on film.

De Búrca didn’t know the other man too well, remembering that he was in his 40s, English, and that his first name was Richard. Reports from the time give the man’s name as Richard Bannister (41), with an address at Ranelagh Road.

Newspaper reports from November, 1970, state that all three were charged with various offences and appeared before Dublin District Court.  

“Throw her in the river”

After the incidents, all three egg-throwers were apprehended by gardaí or the Secret Service and taken to garda stations. De Búrca remembers being hauled away over Winetavern Bridge to Bridewell Garda Station to be charged. 

wine Winetavern Street heading up towards ChristChurch.

An Irish Independent newspaper report from the time states that as she was being taken away by gardaí, a group of angry women approached them shouting “lynch her” and “throw her in the river”, while one woman tried to strike de Burca.

The two other men met with an angry crowd also, with one man saying to the witness who caught Bannister as he was running away, “give him to me, I’ll deal with him”.

They were each charged, and appeared before Justice Ó hUadhaigh on 17 November, 1970 in the Dublin District Court. Ó hUadhaigh was well-known as a judge who could hand down harsh sentences.

“It was quite funny,” said de Búrca

“[Ó hUadhaigh] was notorious in the District Court, but he was clearly not a fan of Richard Nixon’s because he kept making sarcastic remarks when the the case came up. 

He had to find me guilty of course because I was caught in flagrante, as they say, but he gave me the lowest £2 fine. The lowest possible sanction he could possibly give.

As well as being charged with the throwing the egg, de Búrca had been charged with a resisting or obstructing a garda, and using threatening words or behaviour.

Ó hUadhaigh dismissed all charges except throwing the egg, and gave de Búrca the lowest fine. Bannister and O’Hagan were each fined just £1 for their actions.  

“That was it. That was it. He wasn’t at all sympathetic to Richard Nixon,” said de Búrca.

He could throw the book at you [for something else], he could have sent you away for 6 months. The Americans were furious of course, absolutely furious.

De Búrca would go on to be involved in many more civil rights struggles and campaigns over the years; O’Hagan would deepen his involvement in the IRA, before turning to journalism.

download Máire de Burca standing outside Apollo House in January 2017. Apollo House was taken over by housing activists for use as homeless accommodation. Source: RollingNews.ie

De Burca lost contact with Bannister soon after that, and doesn’t know what became of him. 

“I’ve no idea what happened to him. He was English so it’s possible he went back to England,” she said.

“He was here for awhile. He took part in demonstrations and things. But he more or less disappeared and I lost contact.

“I don’t know where he came from and I don’t know where he disappeared to.

With movements like what we were in that happened a lot. Somebody would appear on the scene for six months or six years and then vanish. You can rally the troops so much handier now.

Rallying the troops

Nixon or Trump weren’t the only visiting American presidents to be greeted with protests when they came to Ireland.

Over 30 women were arrested in 1984 when they set up a peace camp in the Phoenix Park outside the residence of the American ambassador for Ronald Reagan’s visit.

George W Bush was greeted by anti-war protesters for his visit in 2004, while small protests were also held when Barack Obama came here in 2011.

The egging of Richard Nixon is notable, however, with the sense of anger at the Vietnam War acting as a catalyst for fierce anti-war demonstrations around the world. 

The protests against President Trump are also notable. Few US leaders have been as divisive as Trump, with large demonstrations being held against him wherever he goes (as well as smaller pro-Trump demonstrations, as was the case in Doonbeg and Dublin this week).

download (1) Protesters (and the Trump balloon) in Dublin on Thursday.

De Búrca has been protesting her whole life, but these days she leaves most demonstrations to younger generations. Still, she had planned to head into Dublin city on Thursday to join others.

“I’m a bit frail at the moment, but I couldn’t not go but I may not stay for a long time. I just feel I have to be there – your voice has to be heard,” she said. 

“Particularly with this guy. If someone asked me why I was going I’d say: ‘where would you start?’

“At least with Nixon, you were able to say that there’s this unjust war, genocide issues, Agent Orange all that stuff.

But if you went on the demo against Trump – where would you start? 
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Cormac Fitzgerald

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