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Just who was Terry Keane, Charlie Haughey's mistress?

Keane and the former Taoiseach had a 27-year affair.

Keane and Haughey pictured together in 1998.
Keane and Haughey pictured together in 1998.
Image: Photocall Ireland

IT WAS A watershed moment on Irish television: the long-time mistress of a former Taoiseach divulging details of their 27-year affair.

On 14 May 1999, Terry Keane told the nation what many politicians and journalists already knew or at least suspected.

She and Charlie Haughey, the one-time leader of Fianna Fáil, had engaged in a near three-decade affair. She also sold her story to the Sunday Times.

Haughey never spoke to her again.

Interest in their relationship was resurrected in recent weeks following the broadcast of the three-part RTÉ drama based on his life, ‘Charlie‘.

Many have questioned why Haughey’s wife Maureen and their children didn’t feature in the programme, while many scenes revolved around Keane (played by Lucy Cohu). This was a huge oversight, surely? Or perhaps a deliberate move by the director as Haughey’s family had expressed dissatisfaction that the show was being made.

Source: RTÉ TV Promotions/YouTube

Earlier this week, Haughey’s son Seán (a former junior minister and current Dublin City Councillor) said the family was initially “horrified” by the drama. He said his mother had watched all three episodes as “she’s a divil for punishment”.

Seán said the family was primarily shocked by “the prominence given to Terry Keane, and the pillow talk scenes and so forth”.

charlie bed Source: Screengrab/RTE.ie

Across the three episodes, Keane was portrayed as a hostess who threw lavish dinner parties for Haughey and his political friends at his palatial home in Abbeville in Kinsealy, even accompanying him on a trip to visit then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It’s safe to say dramatic license was exercised.

Speaking in December, Aidan Gillen (who played Haughey in the drama) said he wasn’t interested in overly-exploring the relationship between the former Taoiseach and Keane as it would have been largely based on speculation.

So, just who was Terry Keane?

Ann Teresa O’Donnell was born to Irish parents in Guildford, Surrey in 1939.

She moved to Ireland to study medicine in Trinity College, but dropped out. She married a barrister, Ronan Keane, who went on to become chief justice. They separated in the ’90s, but never divorced.

The couple had three children; their son Tim died suddenly in 2004. Keane also had a daughter before her marriage whom she put up for adoption but later reconciled with.

She became a journalist and is best known for being the main contributor to the Sunday Independent’s long-running gossip column, The Keane Edge. In the column she hinted at a relationship with a prominent political figure, whom she referred to as “Sweetie”.

In an RTÉ documentary, Keane said her affair with Haughey was “partially to blame” for the demise of her marriage.

“We might have got back together if not for Charlie.”

Source: killianm2/YouTube

In the programme, Keane recalled her marriage breakdown as “devastating”. She said Charlie supported her through this period “not as lover, as an incredibly close, caring friend”.

Keane claimed she “got on quite well with Maureen”, adding: ”I thought she was, you know, she was perfectly reasonable.”
I’m absolutely certain that Maureen and the children knew about my affair, just as my family knew about it – yes, of course they did.

Keane said she felt guilty about the relationship but that Haughey’s marriage was his own responsibility, not hers.

Terry Keane Court Cases Keane leaving the Four Courts in Dublin in 2002, after Irish Times reporter John Waters successfully sued her for libel when she worked for the Sunday Times. Source: Photocall Ireland

Keane told RTÉ she was “fairly certain” Haughey didn’t want to marry her, but that the issue never really came up.

She said the only time she saw Haughey cry was when he thought she was pregnant.

He just cried and cried … he felt he’d let everyone down.

It turned out to be a false alarm.

Speaking of how she was depicted in the media, Keane had this to say:

I’m certainly not the unconscionable bitch that was portrayed.

Some have suggested their affair ended when Haughey’s financial woes deepened due to McCracken and Moriarty Tribunals. However, Keane said that “several things conspired” to end the relationship, with Haughey finally calling things off shortly before she went public.

Keane reappeared on the Late Late Show in 2006 to say she regretted exposing their affair in such a public fashion.

Haughey died from prostate cancer in 2006, he was 80 years old. Keane died at the age of 68 in 2008, following her own battle with cancer.

So was the final episode of Charlie actually any good?

Aidan Gillen on becoming Charlie: ‘It’s not a sensationalist hatchet-job’

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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