Memoirs of Danny Lyons
“Will you get those feelthy boots off!” I imagine my Great Grandma Bowe shouting as a 12-year-old boy tramped into the kitchen after a day herding pigs. Yet for all that young Paul, her second son, might be reeking of manure, he was also keeping the family out of the workhouse.
The Bowe family lived in a cottage outside the city of Waterford and they had fallen on hard times because Paul’s dad had been committed to Waterford mental asylum.
In those days people with psychiatric health problems were locked away behind high walls. The treatments were crude and cruel and the asylums were run like prisons. Sadly, Ireland led the world in the number of people locked up in these mausoleums, of which there were a very great number by the early 20th century.
Some of the inmates were indeed mad and many were just classified as ‘insane poor’ but Great Grandpa Bowe was neither: he was suffering from a tumour on his brain, but at the time no-one knew that. He would be completely lucid for many months and then he would have fits or something of that nature and begin to behave very strangely.
The result was twofold – they carted Great Grandpa Bowe off to the asylum and little Paul Bowe started out on his life in pig dealing.
Waterford had a thriving meat market at this time, mostly cattle and pigs, and several of Paul’s relatives, were pig farmers and buyers. So the lad got work herding pigs to the trains. they travelled all over the country and herded pigs to trains and then took them to Waterford, from where many were exported to Britain. At first he would go to fairs and offer his services as a pig herder and he was paid so many pennies per pig and while it would not be correct to say he was doing well, as he was young and paid very little, the money helped put food on the table for the family.
Every teatime the Bowe family would sit down to a spare meal – potatoes, barley, carrots and a scrap of meat otherwise known as ‘Irish Stew’ and listen to the news which came via pigeon post. That is to say, not a real pigeon but in the form of Paul’s sister who used to go along to see her father in the asylum every day. She wasn’t allowed in of course – that would have been far too decent and humane and the inmates might even have got a bit better for it and that would never do! So she would sneak up to the wall and climb on top and he would come along and speak to her.
“Hello my little pigeon,” he would say. “How are you today then?” And they would chat and give each other’s news.
And so she became known as Pigeon in the family.
There were four boys in the family along with Pigeon, three of whom were useful lads and the oldest, Michael, had a reputation as a waster.
“He’s no good at all that one,” Grandpa Bowe always said of Michael.
As each of the other boys became teenagers, Paul would take them along to the fairs with him to herd the pigs so there were two of them, and then three of them, and together they could herd more pigs – so eventually there was more meat at teatime and butter and cheese to go on the bread as well.
Paul was a fairly tough man. Soon he and his brothers Danny and Paddy started to buy pigs themselves, and they would then include their own pigs in the herds they took to the trains. And then they saw that fattening the pigs would bring them more money still so they took some pigs home, where they had a small holding, and I imagine that Great-Grandma Bowe had something to say about that as well even though secretly she was happy to see the family fortunes being restored.
By the time the First War came, the Bowe Brothers had the whole operation from start to finish up and running and they were now shipping bacon to Smithfield Market in London. Paul had made a reputation for himself as a straight and honest businessman and later on he began to get contracts to supply the army. He and his brothers made a fortune during the war selling canned meat to the army. “War is very good for business,” he always said.
So Paul Bowe went from feeding the six of them at home at the age of 12 to feeding the British Army.
The money was coming in and now Paul was a good ‘prospect’ and so he went courting. He met and married my grandmother, Joney, a stunningly beautiful young woman who lived in a fine house outside Waterford. It was calledMount Neill and according to the estate agent, in the jargon of bygone years, it was: “Salubriously situated on an gentle elevation”. Mount Neill House had four bedrooms, servants quarters, a walled garden and came with 28 acres of land leased from Waterford city.
Joney and Paul had 13 children, nine of whom survived which was sadly the norm in those days. There were four boys: Danny, Tommy, Jack and Paul and five girls: Lily, Peggy, Aggy (Agatha) Joan and Marie, all of them convent educated.
They grew up at a time when every life was touched by politics, like it or not. Ireland was setting out on the road to independence and a slow and bloody route it was.
One of the people Paul became great friends with was John Redmond, the pre-eminent political figure in Waterford. He had served as MP for Waterford city since 1891 and been leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons since 1900. He was also passionately – and at timeseven violently – supported by the Ballybricken Pig Buyers Association who were the economic heart of the city and he looked after their interests to his dying day. Indeed at the end his pall bearers were not fellow MPs or his family but 10 members of the Ballybricken pig association.
Redmond was a devoted nationalist who was also fighting for Home Rule. He was famous for upsetting the Tories time and again by pointing out that Ireland’s sons had done much to built the British Empire and therefore should have a voice in its ‘councils.’
In return for his votes, Redmond got an agreement from the British government that Ireland would be granted Home Rule. Obviously the Tory party was implacably opposed to this but that was the deal on the table when the First War broke out and – as you can imagine -the Home Rule Bill was conveniently shelved, or “postponed”.
Along with the Tories, the British Army also strongly opposed Home Rule and threatened to rebel if it was granted. That in turn led to the Curragh Mutiny of 1914 as Curragh was the home of the army in Ireland.
Grandma Joney’s brothers all enlisted in the British Army when the war came and being better off they were all commissioned officers.
Now the Nationalist party, which they supported, was supposed to campaign for recruits in Ireland – all the while the idea being dangled over them that when the war was over they would get Home Rule. But the British Army soon realised that these Irish lads, when they did get home from the Front, which was rarely, were not very good recruiters. They told everyone who wanted to know: “Don’t go there, it’s absolutely horrendous ” – which was the truth.
When Joney’s brothers came home on leave, she wouldn’t let them into the house until they had had a bath. After months in the trenches, the lads and their clothes were infested with lice and so she would tell one of the staff to fill a bathtub outside in the yard with hot water and scrub them down and de-louse them. They would meekly accept this on one condition that Joney took out the pony and trap and drive into Waterford to get several cases of champagne which would be ready for them to drink when they were finished in the tub. So then they would spend their entire leave drinking champagne.
Sadly all that corner of our family history is now gone and Mount Neill is no longer standing. It was burned down in the Civil War by the IRA because the lads had fought for the British.
Being officers they could not stay in Ireland after the British army left and they had to leave the country and move to England as they knew they would not be safe there. It was different for the ordinary rank and file, they were so many the IRA could not do anything about them but the officer class were condemned men.
What Redmond said about Ireland’s sons and the Empire was just as true for the First War. Irish casualties in 1914-18 were higher per capita than those of any of the other nations of the United Kingdom – and the reason for that was because the Irish regiments were all front line regiments and therefore obviously they suffered the most casualties.
So when the British Government made the mistake after the war of not fulfilling the Home Rule part of their deal with Redmond – which the Tories refused to back – the consequences were dreadful. Among other things the Nationalist Party was decimated and the teenage Republican Sinn Féin party, born in 1905, went to a very substantial majority and began to establish an Irish Republic.
When it came along after the War, the 1918 General Election saw the overwhelming defeat of Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party. Sinn Féin won with a very substantial majority and its MPs assembled in Dublin and said they had been elected on a Republican ticket and would form their own parliament in Dublin, which they did.
So then the British Government declared all out war on this Sinn Féin government and a very dirty war of independence ensued.
The British Army was not equipped to deal with guerrilla warfare, which was what the IRA did, and in particular the type of intelligence war which was run by Michael Collins, who was the head of defence for the Sinn Fein government, which of course was completely underground.
In that war Collins knew that what he had to do was to neutralise the Royal Irish Constabulary, who were the eyes and ears of the British government in Ireland. For all that the RIC were all Catholics the IRA didn’t care. They would go to the churches on Sunday during Mass and single them out and shoot them in the pews in front of wives and children.
Collins also had to neutralise the Army’s intelligence officers who were working undercover and who were getting closed to him all the time. So he traced all these officers through spies he had working in Dublin Castle, which was the centre of the British effort against Irish independence.
Collins was able to gather all the information he needed to track down the officers, who were known as the Cairo Gang. According to some accounts they were called that because they all met secretly at the Cafe Cairo in Dublin and although that is disputed by some historians, it’s a good name!
Collins did not pick them off one by one because that would have blown their cover and they would have scattered so he waited until he had the names and addresses of all of them and then he struck, ordering the executions on Palm Sunday in 1920.
At 5am on the cold and dark November morning the IRA hit squads burst into the boarding houses and hotels and everywhere the agents lived and shot them in front of their wives in their beds.
They were spies and informers and it war wartime, Collins said. “They have been destroyed without trial.”
The response was swift and equally savage. There was a big Gaelic football game being played in Croke Park in Dublin that afternoon and British army officers came in armoured cars onto the pitch and fired into the crowd.
“We will teach you bastard Fenians a lesson,” a senior officer shouted. They killed 14 civilians including two children. Later two of the IRA hitmen who they had captured were beaten and shot dead in Dublin Castle by soldiers claiming they were trying to escape.
Of course this was courting disaster and it united the entire country against the British.
Shortly after Bloody Sunday, the British drew up a truce and agreed to a Free State being formed. Apart from an oath of allegiance to the King, Ireland (Eire) was now was completely self governing and instead of being part of the British Empire, it was part of the Commonwealth.
A large part of Sinn Fein refused to accept the deal because of the oath of allegiance. But Collins, who was negotiating, knew if they went back to war they simply did not have enough arms and ammunition to sustain any effort, and that the British Army would prevail.
All this only emerged years later when War records were released but at the time only Collins, because of his intelligence network, knew the facts. So in 1922 he went to Westminster and signed the treaty in front of Winston Churchill saying: “I have just signed my death warrant.”
And that was how Collins briefly became leader of the provisional government of the Irish Free State and Eamon De Valera became leader of the Republicans.
Collins got it right about his death warrant. Not many months later he was killed by a sniper’s bullet in the Civil War that followed the signing of the treaty. And that was when Mount Neill was burned down and all kinds of atrocities on both sides took place.
Eventually the Free State government had had enough and decided that this bloody civil war must be brought to an end by any means. So what they did was they captured a large number of Republican leaders and every few days they held a court martial and found one guilty and sentenced him to death. In the morning he would be executed by a firing squad.
They made it clear they intended to continue till a ceasefire was agreed and as the firing squads got nearer to people like De Valera, you don’t need to be a genius to see they soon agreed to a ceasefire.
During all this time Grandfather Paul Bowe had to be very careful. While he was not directly mixed up in politics he was married to the sister of British Army officers and he had also been Redmond’s right hand man in Waterford. So there was many a time when he had to leave the city and make himself scarce but somehow he continued to run his business with his brothers during all this upheaval.
Part of the part of the deal in the trade off which established the Irish Free State had been that the ascendancy of the British aristocrats in Ireland would end and their estates bought out. The deal was their tenants would be allowed to buy the land they farmed with loans granted by the Dublin government and the landlords would get the interest on the bonds which were known as Land Bonds. They could take the interest or cash them in as they liked.
This was pretty rich considering that many of these land owners visited their properties rarely if ever. They extracted every penny they could from their impoverished tenants, and from the 19th century onwards they often used middlemen, who were a breed of vultures whose actions reduced the already poor farmers to lives of abject misery. The middlemen split up the tiny farms into even smaller parcels that made it impossible to pay rent and feed a family as well and this in turn was one of the causes of the Great Famine.
Memories of the famine were never far from people’s minds even 70 years so the Land Bonds did not go down very well at all and so De Valera promised that he would stop payments to these absentee landlords which were a huge drain on the Irish exchequer.
Well of course this in turn did not go down very well with the British government which refused to agree to stopping the Land Bond payments but De Valera was true to his word and the payments ceased.
In a tit for tat the British then imposed tariffs on all goods exported from Ireland to the UK which caused incredible hardship in the farms and now Paul Bowe was caught up in this trade was and had to deal with something he had no control over. He could not even feed his workforce so they broke a hole in the gavel end of the factory and sold the meat out to anyone who wanted to buy it buy it.
It nearly pauperised him and for the first time in his life had to put the deeds of his house into thebank to keep everything going. He never forgave the banks for that.
Paul by now had bought a beautiful house called Oak Villa on the outskirts of Dublin. In later years, when he was going blind, his children would all have to take turns reading the news to him.
It would be a tap on the shoulder and then: “Jack ( or whoever was up next) you’ll be wanting to sit closer to me so I can hear you.” And the child would move to sit nearer his big wing armchair and Paul would fold the newspaper to the relevant section and hand it over saying: “Now speak up so I can hear.” And he would want two parts, the stock market and the sport, particularly the racing.
There was a long, illustrious history of horse racing in Waterford where several of the Marquises of Waterford were intimately involved in the turf. One mid-19th century Marquis was a renowned practical joker who once filled the first class carriage of a train bound for a race meeting with chimney sweeps just to see how the passengers reacted!
Paul always wanted the bank shares read out in full. He would tell people: “Have nothing to do with banks – they are all rotten – but buy their shares.”
He took his own advice and invested in the banks and when he died he left all the bank shares to his daughters who had taken it in turns to read all those figures year after year. And he left the meat business to his sons.
By the time Paul died, his business had recovered in part thanks to the Second War when once again he was feeding the army, shipping canned beef to England as of course no one had fridges in those days and certainly not the army. So happy days were back as far as that was concerned. “War is very good for business,” he would often say.
The sitting room at Oak Villa was a fine long room with a large fireplace. Paul was not a drinker but he always had the one sherry, every evening. Out itcame from a precious antique decanter made in Waterford before the factory closed. In 1936, as Paul was getting on in years, he was sitting in front of the fire with his sherry when King Edward VIII came on the radio and announced his abdication.
Edward VIII was not a year into his reign when he did this and made that speech where he said that he could no longer carry the heavy burden of being King without the support of the woman he loved.
Regardless of the fact that Wallis Simpson was seeking her second divorce, you can imagine how a fellow like Paul – who had started work at the age of 12 – took this news as he was sitting there surrounded by his sons and daughters. In his view, the King was behaving like an almighty fool. Here was the head of the mightiest empire in the world giving it up for a liaison with an American vamp. Paul’s hand flew to the radio and he switched it off and turning to Joney he said: “That bloody fool! I’ll hear no more….”
One by one Paul and Joney’s children were sent off to school. The boys were all educated by the Christian Brothers. Unusually this Catholic order was founded by a layman, Edward Rice, who was a successful Waterford merchant. He opened a school in the city in 1802 dedicated to educating disadvantaged boys but by the Paul’s children came along, more than 100 year later, the Christian Brothers had become an international body with dozens of schools and thousands of pupils.
Basically if you were a Catholic boy in Waterford at that time, you would probably have been educated by the Christian brothers. Paul’s daughters however were all sent to England to be educated. This at the time was certainly no small matter.
This tradition originated in a letter to my Grandfather from a relative who was a nun at the Notre Dame convent school in Northampton. This lady wrote to Paul reminding him that he had promised to send his daughters to be educated at the school. He was aman of his word and so he did.
My mother Lily, being the eldest daughter, was the first to go. Joney would get out the pony and trap and they would set off to catch the mail boat to Holyhead where she was met by the station master. He would have her escorted to the train to Crewe and he would see that her trunk was taken care of. In return she would give him an envelope the contents of which were unknown to her. And so it went on. When she arrived in Crewe, she would again be met at the train by the stationmaster there, and another envelope would change hands and he would put her on the train to Northampton. She would arrive in Northampton where there would be a taxi waiting to take her to the convent school. So all in all you can see it was a very elaborate and expensive exercise. It was worth it however because at the time Notre Dame was one of the best Catholic schools in England and my mother was very happy there.
It was how things operated in those days. People arrived from all over the place it was down to the station masters to arrange everything, so at that time it was a very good job to have. Paul knew the station masters would look after his daughters and so as soon as one of them turned 14, she would be packed off to Northampton with her trunk and the envelope with its mysterious contents.
After school my mother Lily trained as a nurse at St. Vincent’s, in Dublin that is still one of the world’s leading teaching hospitals. She met my father Jack Lyons when she was on holiday in Waterford in 1936.
Jack came from a fairly simple background. His father was an engine driver and he had five children, three girls and two sons, Paddy and my father Jack. Paddy became a bank manager and he had four children so in that respect he was fine but he suffered the sometime curse of the Irish which was alcoholism. Binge drinking was pretty much the norm at the time and if a man drank himself under the table, friends would simply call a cab and put him in and have him sent home. Many a time Paddy came home in a cab. For all that, he managed to hold down his job at the bank which makes one wonder!
Two of the girls became nuns in the Dominican Order but my father was destined for higher things of a different sort. He was more of a practical than a spiritual nature and his calling was to be in engineering rather than at the service of the Almighty.
Jack was hard worker and an proved to be an excellent student, so he won a scholarship to university and graduated with a first class degree in engineering. He later joined the Civil Service and very quickly rose to be chief engineer in the Government’s Department of Posts and Telegraphs.
Lily and Jack met when she was on holiday in Waterford that summer of the abdication. By now Jack was qualified and working for the Government and the next year, 1937, they were married in Waterford. This brought a promotion for in those days it was the rule thatchildren would soon follow a marriage, so Jack would need the extra income.
He had a glorious career. The Irish Government wanted to establish its own broadcasting services that would be free from British bias. At that time, the only information that the Irish were able to obtain was either through the newspapers or via the BBC, which took its own slant on things. So Jack was sent to Sweden to learn all about how to set up an independent broadcaster and he came back with all the data and placed orders for the equipment and set about building the new radio station.
It was called Radio Eire and it was a fully fledged operation with its headquarters in Athlone and it eventually became RTE. My father was then promoted again, to chief engineer in the Department of Posts and Telecoms, becoming the youngest chief engineer in the country.
All this time war was on the horizon. Under Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain,the British government was pursuing its policy of appeasement of Hitler, partly as a reaction to the traumas of the First War and also because fascism was – mostly by the upper classes – seen as a useful way of holding back the tide of communism.
Well we all know where that ended up. So then the big question when war was declared was whether Ireland would join the Allies.
By and large, people were very supportive of the British side and after the Battle of France in 1940 there was a series of meetings at which the British envoy Malcolm MacDonald solemnly pledged to accept the principle of a United Ireland if De Valera would immediately abandon neutrality and join the war against Germany.
De Valera doubted that the governments of Eire and Northern Ireland, who distrusted each other intensely, would be able to agree any pact. There was, “no guarantee that in the end we would have a united Ireland” he said.
The offer of a united Ireland and De Valera’s rejection of it was top secret at the time. It was not until 1970, when Public Record Office documents were released, that the details of how MacDonald tried to coerce the Irish to abandon neutrality came out in to the open
“If the leaders of Eire now stayed out of the war, and perhaps contributed to German strength by doing so, whilst the people of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom were joined in the supreme struggle against the Nazis, then none of us in Britain would be very concerned to create a united Ireland afterwards,” he said, adding that a German invasion of Ireland would “extinguish Irish freedom”.
For his part De Valera thought it more likely that allowing British troops to be stationed in Eire would be inviting a German attack. “They would bomb Dublin,” he said. So he asked Churchill if the British would supply them with the Spitfires and Hurricanes to defend his cities and Churchill said they could not do that because they needed all the planes they had in the Battle of Britain which was being fought at this very moment.
MacDonald’s plan was drawn up in June 1940 in the very moment that the British Expeditionary Force was facing annihilation in France. Having in mind what was happening on the beaches of Normandy when the British troops desperately needed the RAF and the Government refused to commit the air force, it’s not surprising that De Valera thought that if Ireland had no support from the RAF or its own planes, its cities would be burnt to the ground.
Though Ireland never entered the War, its government did everything it could to co-operate with the Allies while still remaining neutral. But throughout the war there was a very real danger that the British would come down from the North and take over the country so that they could use its ports.
One of the curious results of neutrality was that any servicemen – British or German – whoended up on Irish soil through shipwreck or other accident had to be taken prisoner of war.
During the dogfights over Liverpool a number of planes were shot down and landed on Irish soil and the pilots and crewmen all ended up in huts in the Curragh.
Both British and Germans were treated well and they were allowed to go fishing, fox hunting and even to the pub! In scenes reminiscent of the First War there were football matches between the Germans and British – which the Germans usually won – but despite such occasions there were obviously tensions. In one famous story told by the historian Dan Snow an airman escaped back to the UK and reported for duty, expecting to be warmly welcomed. Instead he was arrested and returned to the Curragh.
At my school, Newbridge, which was run by the Dominican order, the German PoWs built a weir on the river and years later I remember swimming in the deep water which was as good as a swimming pool.
Despite the country’s neutrality, thousands of Irish enlisted to fight with the British forces. They included two of Grandad’s brothers who joined the RAF. One was Ray Bowe who was a fighter pilot and the other was Paul Bowe who flew a transport aircraft over the hump – as the Himalayas were called – in India and landed on airstrips in Burma to bring supplies to the British army in the jungle. They were extremely hazardous missions.
Those pilots who survived did well after the War as civil aviation came along and everyone wanted to employ them to fly passenger planes.
One of Pigeon’s sons joined the British army and he became one of the most highly decorated Irish officers of WW2. Captain Redmond Cunningham, from Waterford, is remembered in a feature in the Irish Independent as a war hero who led the deadly assault on Hitler’s D-Day defences. He was among the first to step off the rafts on Sword Beach coming under heavy German fire. He was awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry and then again a year later he won another MC in Operation Plunder, the crossing of the Rhine under Field Marshall Montgomery.
He ended up as a war colonel at the age of just 28 and when the war was over he took a permanent position in the rank of major with the army but he did not stay for long in that role. Missing the danger and action, he soon got bored and came back to Waterford where he became an architect and later prospered, founding a chain of hotels and opening a chipboard factory which did very well.
Soon after being promoted, my father Jack was asked to put in place an underground communications system where the Free State Government could go and work outside the main telecoms system. It was of course all top secret. He immediately set about organising this covert system and one day he was told to go and meet De Valera at his Dublin home.
Things were very informal in Ireland in those days – and they still are.
A tall thin man with owlish rounded spectacles opened the door – it was De Valera in person.
After introducing himself my father explained that he needed to run some tests on the new equipment he was installing.
“I need you to speak into this phone for five minutes to make sure it is working properly,” Jack said.
“Mr Lyons, do you realise how difficult it is to speak for five minutes without a prepared script?” De Valera responded.
This posed a small problem but my father used to read the Irish Times, which was a Unionist newspaper, and he had a copy in his pocket. So he took out the paper, which was folded over at the editorial section, and handed it to De Valera.
De Valera shook it open, peered down over his beak nose and began to read.
Unfortunately Dev was not universally loved by his own people and the column on that particular day carried a scurrilous attack on him which Jack had not himself read.
De Valera rose to the occasion and loudly read the editorial leaving nothing out. When he got to the end, it had only taken two minutes. So he began again at the beginning and read it all twice.
Both men had a good laugh at this but in truth my father was mortified.
Not long after this embarrassing scene, Jack was asked if he would help the British Government with their radar development programme and if necessary go to France with British commando units to have German radar installations dismantled and brought back to the UK. This would have been around 1942.
So he said he would and from then on for the next two years a British embassy car used to arrive at the house and a very smartly dressed man would collect my father and drive him away.
My mother never got to know this guy’s name and my father never told her. The chap used to drive my father to the Army Air Corps baseoutside Dublin where an RAF plane would be waiting to take him off to the UK.
From there he would go ashore off the coast of France with the commandos and they would go over and capture and dismantle a radar station and then get all the gear back onto the boats and slide back to the UK under cover of darkness.
It would have terrified many a man but my father was never frightened – he later said that he was so well protected by the commandos that it never occurred he might be shot, blown out of the water by a U-boat or captured.
Of course at the time my mother knew absolutely nothing about any of this. Her husband belonged to a generation where they took the official secrets act very seriously and he never breathed a word to her.
There was one man in the squad, a sergeant, who used to take him across and who was always his side but he never once said a word to him before, during or after these missions. Years later we discovered thathis orders were to shoot my father if things went wrong and in case he was captured and tortured.
Eight years after the war ended, Jack died of lung cancer. He was only 49 years old. Despite his service and bravery he was not entitled to receive his pension and so my mother was left with nothing to live on.
So there she was in 1953 with four sons aged 14, 12, 9 and me aged 6 and no income.
Luckily, Lily was a nurse and during her training she had become friendly with young student doctors who later went on the become consultants and through them she was able to build up a small business.
She converted our beautiful house at Sandy Cove, which had six bedrooms and a huge attic, into a convalescent home and began taking private patients.
The attic became a sleeping place for us boys and the bedrooms were all fitted out to take post-operative patients who were referred to her by the consultants.
Although she had a small staff, she also worked incredibly hard from morning to late at night. With us boys on her hands there was barely time to sit down and she worked herself into the ground. One evening after a particularly long and hard day she collapsed.
Her brother Paul, who was a Dominican monk, and a doctor were both called by one of the staff and Lily was put in a bed.
The doctor took Paul aside and told him in no uncertain terms that if his sister went on like this she would be in the grave within a year. He advised that she send Gerald and myself, the two younger boys, to boarding school. So my uncle Paul arranged that and off Gerald and I went with our trunks to Newbridge. Thanks to the Christian Brothers the school fees were discounted for Lily and we remained at Newbridge as boarders for seven years.
When I left in 1961, the bursar came out to see me.
“Danny,” he said. I want to tell you something. There are lots of wealthy people with sons at this school and I often have a hard time getting paid by them. But your mother has always paid up in advance no matter what and I wanted you to know that.”
My older brothers were educated by the Christian Brothers. True to the founding principles of the sect, a few days after my father died the Brother Superior arrived at our house and said he would not be staying long but he wanted Lily to know that her boys would be able to stay as long as she wished in the school and have anything they required and she would not be charged. That was the other side of the Christian Brothers.
Once Gerald and I were at boarding school, Mum’s health recovered. She was still young enough to find another companion and she did find someone. She met Joe Morgan, a miller from Wicklow, and wealthy man of her own age. He had been one of her patients and he was a nice guy,very attractive and well off.
They never got married sadly even though they were very close. They were about to tie the knot when my mother decided that it would not be the right thing to do. She felt she could not have another man replacing my father at the ages we were – and that was it. They parted and remained friends.
My earliest memory is of the evening before my father died. I was kneeling on my bed and looking out of the window at my three brothers playing cricket with him in the garden. My mother and father had reared us all in a very orderly manner. You always went to bed at a particular time, depending on how old you were, and that was that. There was no argument about it – even on long summer nights. So there was I looking enviously down at my brothers laughing and playing cricket with Dad as the late sunshine turned the grass golden green.
The next day, he died. He had been a heavy smoker, as manymen were in those days, and the cancer had spread from his lungs and he had secondary tumours in the brain. There was nothing that could be done for him apart from making him as comfortable as possible.
My mother knew that the end was close. The family doctor, who was a cousin, had given her morphine and told her, as was the custom in those days: “Lily I’ve given you the morphine and you know what to do with it when the time comes.”
The time had come. Dad was in a great amount of pain by now and my mother gave him a last injection.
She had told him: “Now, if you really want it like you have said, I will give you a that heavy dose of morphine. You won’t feel anything after that. All your pain will be over. “
He turned to her, took her hand and said: “I will be very happy with that, Lily.”
So she gave him the morphine.
The following morning the nurse who came everyday to help my mother care for Dad came into the nursery with fresh clothes for me.
“How is Dad?” I asked.
“Oh he’s fine but you are going off for the day to stay with your Uncle Paddy and Aunt Aggie.”
So then I was collected by some great friends of my mother, the O’Briens, and driven across Dublin to my aunt and uncle’s house where I stayed for a fortnight.
My brothers Ray and John were collected by other friends, one of whom was chairman of one of Ireland’s biggest companies. They stayed with him and he took them to school every morning as he thought it was the best place for them to be, which it was.
My mother went down to Tramore to be with her parents and get over the whole thing.
Later my mother came to collect us. My granddad had a big car and a company driver and when he turned up at Paddy and Aggie’s house I was thrilled to see my mother and bursting with questions. Uncle Paul was in the car with us and when I asked how Dad was he said: “Your father has gone to heaven now Danny.”
That did not really fit with me at all and as soon as we arrived at our house I ran upstairs to my father’s bedroom and lung open the door. For six months or more Jack had always been in that room, in that bed, but now the covers were pulled over and there was no Dad. Paul had followed me up and now he sat down on the covers and said again: “He’s gone to heaven.”
“I don’t believe you!” I shouted. “He’s in hospital for another operation. “
“No Danny. He’s not in hospital now. He’s with the angels,” repeated Paul but it took quite a bit of time for this to sink in. I was only six and we had always been very close. He used to call me his “Little Man.” The memory of that time is still as clear to me as ever.
As I have said, I was sent to boarding school at the age of 10 and from then on life changed.
The school was run by Dominicans and it was beautifully equipped. The priests were very kind and very good men.
Now I say this because there have been many stories over the years about priests molesting boys at school but that was unheard of at Newbridge and I never had any experience of anything like that.
There was a high turnover of priests because they were often coming back from the missions abroad or going out. They had missions all over the world but largely in South America and the Caribbean.
At that time, the Irish government paid teachers’ salaries in full but because the Dominicans took a vow of poverty all of the money went to the bursar instead of the priests, which was how the school was so well furnished. Of course it was expedient to have a large number of priests teaching for this reason.
My brother Gerald was sent to the school at the same time as me but being older I rarely saw him. He was in the senior school and there was very little mixing between the senior and junior schools. The only time I was sure to see him was when he would give me letters from our mother.
I was the youngest boy in the school at the beginning and the question everyone asked was whether I would stay or try to run away to be with my mother. But I was very well treated and so I stayed.
It was a rugby mad school and we had very good teams and I was always on a rugby team and that made it much more bearable. But it was a very Spartan existence and seven years is a long time.
When I look back on those days now I can see that it was a very tough life altogether and I suppose that it would be wrong to say I was happy but I was not unhappy either. I got on with it as they say. People did in those days. There were no snowflakes in my time!
I made many friends at school but I was very unlucky whenit came to my health. I never got ill at all! I you got sick you were put in the infirmary and the food was much better but I was unfortunately healthy.
The food is not my finest memory of boarding school. It was terrible, particularly the first couple of years. Then a little miracle took place. A couple of young girls from a Catholic college replaced the chefs they had been employing and there was a dramatic change. They were wonderful and they transformed the morale of the school.
Among the teachers one in particular stands out, Father Candham, who was a junior Dean and had been a prior. He subsequently went to India and I don’t know what happened to him but even as a kid I could see that he was a very able and competent man.
My favourite subject was history. We were taught by Father Kelly who had a serious heart condition which must have been so bad that even as kids we knew about it. I think we were the only class he used to take because of that and he loved to teach Irish history.
I really was not academic at all and to be honest I was glad when the seven years were up.
At this point in my life I decided I wanted to be a priest and I joined the Columban fathers, who were a missionary order with missions all over the third world.
Their seminary was a castle-like building that on a dark night looked like something from a Gothic horror film. It was situated 30 miles north of Dublin near Navan. I only stayed there for 10 weeks. I remember lying in bed one night and thinking “what the hell am I doing here -this is not a life for anyone, it’s cold and miserable.” So I got the bus back to Dublin. It was a sort of reverse of the Road to Damascus moment.
I went home to my mother the following day and I registered to study commerce at University College Dublin.
I won’t say that I covered myself in glory at university but I passed my exams and got my Leaving Certificate in 1964.
It was the usual story – I spent more time chasing girls and drinking Guinness than I did working but I was quite smart and found it easy to get a pass.
When I was finished I thought to study law and my mother was very glad to hear this and said she would pay for me. So I was apprenticed to a chap called Harry Roberts who was with his father’s practice called T.P. Robinson & Co.
I took to the work like a duck to water. It was mostly commercial law they did and I really liked that and they had some very good clients.
I became good friends with the senior Harry Robinson who had a huge voice and a very big room with his desk by the window and lined from floor to ceiling with reference books. There was another desk for apprentices and so by a process of osmosis you would learn an awful lot. He would take me along to carry the bags of papers to meetings with clients, which were very interesting and gave me fantastic experience at that age.
The downside to all this were the exams. Boy were they tough! Having been used to university where I had coasted though work, I got the shock of my life when I actually had to sit a law exam. All the apprentices, many of whom had been my drinking partners at University College, found the same thing and we all failed first time. You had to answer every single question on the paper and you had to get 50 per cent to pass and no one ever got more than 70 per cent. There was no room for bullshit! You either knew the answers or you failed.
I had been there a few years when Harry Robinson senior had a heart attack. I was the only one in the firm who knew how to do the commercial work, so after that I would be getting to the office at 7am in the morning and working through until 7pm at night. This became the norm for me and I got used to working all hours.
Aftergetting home I would have some dinner and more often than not I would walk to the house of a barrister I knew who lived nearby. His name was Ronan Kean and he later became a high court judge.
He would pour me a glass of whiskey and ask: “So Danny, what have we got today?”
I would talk about various problems that I had and he would go through them as I took notes so in the morning I would write to the clients with the answers. We became quite good friends.
The thing about Harry Robinson was that he was very tight with money. He always told me there was a real future for me in the firm. I did a very dishonest thing when he was recovering in Spain from his heart attack. I went through the books in the firm to see what a ‘very good future’ meant and after a very few minutes I saw that a very good future meant it was good future for Harry because the other partners were paid very little and Harry and the Inland Revenue were the principal beneficiaries of this thriving practice.
To put this in real terms, I was looking for £2,000 a year and he offered me £1,400. I knew having looked at the books that one of the partners was on £2,000 and the next on £3,000. Why they did not leave I will never know. But if anyone did leave, he just hired another gullible young person.
Not long after discovering the meaning of a ‘very good future’, I put on my best suit and went to my bank.
I asked for the manager who came out eventually and looked at the callow youth standing before him with a somewhat supercilious expression and invited me into his lair. So I sat down at his desk and began to explain my business and said I wanted to open my own legal practice and needed a £5,000 overdraft.
Somewhat to my surprise, after a few more details were extracted from me, he said yes to the request but on one condition, that my brother John, who was at thisstage a partner in Coopers (which later became Price Waterhouse Coopers) guaranteed the loan.
Well that would never do. I told him I was not prepared to ask my brother for a favour and so I told him no.
That evening I went to the rugby club and was having a shower after practice when I noticed a team mate who worked for another branch of the bank.
“I’ve just been to your effing bank and they won’t lend me 5k unless my brother guarantees it, ” I told him. “I told them to sod off!”
“That’s no problem,” he said. “Come down and see me tomorrow and I will introduce you to my manager and I guarantee you will walk away with that loan.”
He was as good as his word. The next day I was introduced to the manager and walked out of the bank with a £5,000 loan and a cheque book .
Not only that but over the next few months the manager sent me plenty of clientsto help me get started. To repay the favours, whenever I had a client and they needed a loan I sent them down to the manager and they were very well looked after. So the bank manager built up his branch and whenever he went to a bigger branch, I took my account with him.
I was 24 years old and I was my own boss now. I was also still heavily involved in politics. I was the election agent for Peter Shanley, who was chairman of the Dun Laoghaire Corporation. We knew that if we could get him to run in the General Election he would get elected. All the Free State Governments were coalitions as we have proportional representation. Fine Gael always held two of the seats, and their two members of parliament at this time were Leon Cosgrave, who became Taoisearch when Collins was assassinated, and Percy Dockerell. The Government was full of other stars – including Conor Cruise O’Brien – it was packed with talent.
I was director of elections for half the constituency and that didnot do me any harm in work because I could get favours done.
Shanley was a rising star and he became a High Court judge at a very early age but unfortunately he died rather young. He collapsed with a heart attack when he was attending a legal conference in Oporto. He was just 53 years old. I was in New York at the time and could not get back for the funeral, as in Ireland, funerals are held very soon after a person dies.
I was also close to another brilliant lawyer at this time, a man called Peter Sutherland who became Attorney General of Ireland in 1981 and then European Competition Commissioner in 1984. He was another distinguished barrister and politician. When his term as Commissioner was up, he was appointed president of the World Trade Organisation, then when that term was up he became chairman of Goldman Sachs. Sutherland was later knighted but soon after he suffered a heart attack on his way to Mass in a London church and resigned from his post at the United Nations because of poor health. He died in Dublin aged 71.
We were very good friends in the early days because when we were all law students together they used to come over to my mother’s house and we would study in the back room.
My practise soon became well established and although the vast majority of the work was doing the paperwork for mergers and acquisitions, probably the most important case I took was acting for the provisional IRA in the early 1970s.
How this came about was that a senior counsel recommended us to the IRA who did not want the known Republican law firms to act for them because they didn’t want this guy convicted.
Our client was the treasurer for the IRA and he had been arrested and was prosecuted in a court in Dublin reserved for IRA cases. The charge against him was simply being a member of the IRA. The court was made up of three judges – a High Court judge, a district judge and a Circuit judge. There was no jury for that special court because the IRA made a habit of intimidating the jurors.
Now while it would be true to say I never had any misgivings about taking this client on, the thought did cross my mind that I might be killed. But I very soon realised that as legal representatives we were the very last people they would try to attack.
Notwithstanding that fact, we made sure we were paid upfront for the work we did before we went into court.
It was like something out of a John Huston film. We would working late in the office and we would hear a ring on the door. Standing in the street and almost filling the doorframe was a guy wearing a belted beige mackintosh with bulge at the shoulder which would have been a gun. He would be carrying a brown paper bag, inside of which was the cash for whatever the fees were at that point. He would give us the packet and insist we counted the money and give him a receipt.
Our client was obviously avery important member of the IRA but the court had to give him bail – there was no option about it. On the last day of the hearing, the court adjourned for lunch and this guy came to us and said: “What do you think the verdict will be?”
I said to him: “You have not won any good points with the court. As usual you have refused to recognise the court’s jurisdiction and you have sat with your feet up on the bench and the judges don’t like that kind of thing. So I think you have an 8 per cent cancel of conviction despite our best endeavours.”
So he said: “Thanks for levelling with me,” and he left the court, as everyone thought to go for lunch, and he was never seen again.
When we got back after the break the Chairman of the court went berserk and he started to blame me which was grossly unfair. He then threatened to report the matter to the Law Society and have myself and my partner both struck off. We kept our mouths shut because saying anything at this point to a raging bull would only have made matters worse. He did not report us in the end and when he had calmed down he saw he had been very unfair.
Rather ironically, we did quite well out of the case financially speaking.
As I say the vast majority of our work was negotiating contracts for mergers and acquisitions and because I was in that kind of work, I eventually became involved in business and left the practice to my partner. I went into business full time, running a factory in Dublin and another in Waterford which made cleaning systems for the dairy industry which was buoyant in those days. I eventually sold that company to the Swiss multinational Ciba-Geigy.
The factory in Waterford played a far more important role in my life however. It was while I was running the business that I advertised for a secretary and a young lady called Noreen answered the ad and came along for an interview.
She was stunningly attractive and as soon as she walked into the office I said to myself: “I am going to marry this young lady.” It was what the French call a coup de foudre – or a lightening bolt but it sounds better in the Gallic. Anyway I went through the motions of interviewing her and obviously she got the job without any problem!
What I used to do was keep to keep her back after the factory had closed to work and then I would offer to drive her home. Then I began to take her to dinner, and there was no problem, and then we decided to go to Dingle, which is a charming little port in county Kerry, for the weekend.
After that we drove straight to her parent’s house in county Waterford.
Her parents were quite modest farmers, and they were extremely happy when we announced that we were going out.
So Noreenpacked her bags and I put them in the boot and we drove to my apartment in Dublin.
I was 29 and she was 19 and we lived happily together in sin, as they say, for the next 12 months and then we got married.
Our wedding took place on DATE HERE in a village in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains called Kilternan.
The Victorian church can best be described as Gothic Revival, with a remarkably narrow pointed spire and numerous pinnacles. It was the perfect fairytale setting for our nuptials. Noreen was wearing a lovely white dress and had a very handsome engagement ring on her finger!
We had decided to live together before the marriage because we needed to make sure that we would get on. We were totally different people. I was relatively well off and 10 years older. My interests were playing poker with friends who were solicitors, going to the races, playing rugby and that kind of thing.
Noreen had no interest in any of these things – she was very Bohemian and her hobbies were painting and art in general and smoking pot!
She was the kind of young women who could get away with anything with a smile and if that did not work, she might start to cry and that never failed.
Our first child Joney arrived six months after we got married and after that the two boys came at two year intervals, Paul was born on DATE HERE and Tommy on DATE HERE.
Very soon after Tommy was born, we left Ireland and went to live in the Algarve. Things were very tough in Ireland at this point, which was before we joined the EU. Thatcher was in England and there was a huge recession which affected Ireland very badly. We used to say that if England caught a cold, Ireland got pneumonia. There was no point in investing in another business as things were on the floor so we decided to take two years off.
Having caught pneumonia the best place to be seemed to be inthe sun. We chose the Algarve because it has a beautiful climate all year round, a bit like California, and it was cheap to live there in those days.
When we decamped to the Algarve, Noreen did what she had always wanted to so which was to run her own beach bar and bistro.
Instead of staying for two years, we stayed for six years and for most of the time Noreen ran her own bistro, which she opened in the tourist season from Easter to the end of October. She had three very attractive Angolan girls working for her. Noreen and the girls ran it and it was always full so I was totally redundant. If I turned up, Noreen would soon throw me out because I would start drinking and then I would offer to buy everyone drinks and all the profits would have gone down the drain.
The bistro was in a village called Porches, a short drive from Armação da Pera where we rented a house. It was a colonial type of life in those days back in the 1970s and everything was very cheap in the Algarve. There were expat parties every lunchtime and every evening. There were may Irish people there and our friends were a mix of German, Dutch, Irish, English and Portuguese
Armação had one of the best beaches in the Algarve but there was no development yet and only one hotel there. The fishing boats still came onto the beach at the end of each day and you could buy your fish straight from them. Val de Lobo was built by now and there was a Four Seasons hotel but none of the massive development that there is today.
The children went to school locally and they all learned Portuguese but I did not, partly as most of the expats spoke English.
This as it turned out led to one of the more curious episodes in our time there. Our son Paul, who was about seven years old, became very fluent in Portuguese. The local police, or Guarda National Republicana (GNR) – who themselves usually spoke very little English or none at all – used to employ Paul as an interpreter when there were problems with one or another of the expats. They would turn up at our house in a jeep and collect Paul and take him off. He was thrilled of course because they were always bristling with guns as if they were about to beat off an insurrection and off he would go to translate for them and they would bring him back hours later!
The GNR by and large looked very intimidating but they were mostly very nice. However they tended to turn up unexpectedly at times and demand licences and papers and no one every had the right documents because the bureaucracy was so complicated. So if they wanted to be difficult, they could be.
The president of the local authority, or camera, and the head of the GNR used to eat in Noreen’s bistro quite often because if they had gone to a local restaurant place they would be spotted by local people and the Portuguese, being very extrovert, would have constantly been coming over to put in requests and so on. At Noreen’s place they did not have to worry as most of the customers were tourists, and they were not even expats as she deliberately pitched her prices to the tourist market and charged more than the locals and expats were prepared to pay.
So one night, the GNR jeep pulled up and two policeman came in and they were not far inside the door when they spotted the president and the chief of the GNR sitting at a corner table.
Noreen welcomed them as usual and was about to give them both a whiskey when one of them said: “No alcohol. Just two glasses of water – and show me some papers!”
So they drank the water and turned and saluted their boss, who did not return the salute but said: “My office in the morning.”
He knew they were there for a free drink of course because apart from any other motive they were very badly paid.
Alcohol, as I say, was very cheap and it flowed in the veins of every expat which really was that did it for us. After six year, Noreen said we would stay for the winter and leave in spring as we were drinking too much and running out of money.
We had a great time and I’ve no regrets but when you are not working hard, you are spending a lot of money and we had to come to terms with reality.
The children of course loved life in Portugal. The Portuguese are very nice people and they adore children but their education was becoming a priority. All three were dyslexic in various degrees, and there was no special school in the Algarve for them. The international school was owned by Dutch people and while there was a social cachet attached to going there, it was not much good when it came to standards. Being Dutch, a notoriously mean race of people, they did not pay their teachers well at all and there was a high turnover in staff with most of the teachers guys who came for a year to enjoy the sun.
At that time there were no dyslexic schools in Ireland either but there was one in Somerset and so we decided to go and live there.
We took a house from a friend who said we could stay as long as we liked and there was no contract, and the boys went to the village school at Kenton Mandeville to start with.
We liked the place, the children soon got over being taken away from the beach and the sunshine and we decided to settle down. We bought a nice house and the kids went to the local school and later the boys went to Downside, and Joney went to Wells Cathedral School.
The boys had a great time at Downside because it is a very sporty school and they were on the team and they really enjoyed that. I know that there were scandals later but at that time it was a very good school.
Luckily I had got a job very quickly after we left Portugal so I was able to afford to send them to these schools. At first I was working as a consultant for a local law firm called Gould & Swayne who needed a commercial lawyer for a very big client, Magnus, a major construction company which was owed by venture capitalists.
I arrived just as Magnus was refinancing which was a make or break deal for the firm. I was like a pig in shit doing that! I earned the biggest fee for Gould & Swayne they had ever had.
Now during this time I became friends with the chairman of Magnus, Jo Richards and the guys in London who were managing the investments. So when it was all done Richards asked to see me and said the investors in London wanted the firm to take all their legal service in house with me heading that up. There was a London package to go with it so that was excellent because now we could pay the kids’ school fees and enjoy life as well.
The arrangement nearly bankrupted Gould & Swayne as they were losing their biggest client who represented 50 per cent of their income. A firm like like Magnus would pay up to £4 million in legal fees every year.
By taking the work in house they had everything on tap and paid a lot less. Gould & Swayne had become become a bit arrogant and thought that Magnus could never manage without them which was stupid.
Magnus had another couple of guys lined up for the work if I did not take it – these guys would have loved to go to Somerset on a London package – but they were impressed with me and Richards was told that they would prefer me to do the work.