7. Charles Haughey

A look at Charles Haughey, a former UCD student and his role at both starting and attracting trouble.

Many people may be aware that Charles Haughey, former Fianna Fail leader and three times Taoiseach attended UCD. However what is more intriguing and less well known is that as a UCD student he instigated a riot during Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) celebrations in 1945 in Dublin’s City Centre [1] [2]and as Taoiseach his visit to Belfield in 1989 was marred by disturbances by protesting U.C.D. students. [3] [4] In this issue of Hidden History, we look at this controversial UCD alumnus and his role at both starting and attracting trouble.

On May 7th 1945, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) students staged “an impromptu celebration” after the BBC announced the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. The Irish Times reported that fifty students appeared on the roof over the main entrance, waving Union Jacks and singing “God Save the Queen”, “Rule Britannia” and the French national anthem. These proceeding attracted hundreds of onlookers and members of the public. This crowd increased when the Trinity students hosted a Union Jack, a Red Flag, the French tricolour and, at the very bottom of the mast, an Irish tricolour.

TCD students on roof. Placement of Irish tricolour on bottom of mast trigerred the trouble.

TCD students on roof. Placement of Irish tricolour on bottom of mast trigerred the trouble.

A section of the crowd in and around College Green took exception to the position of the Irish flag and made three attempts to break into the University. They rushed the front gates and made it through the main entrance but were stopped by a large number of Gardai from entering the College courtyard. In reaction, Trinity students took down the Irish flag, set it on fire and threw it from the roof.

News of this commotion and the actions of the Trinity students reached students in UCD who were then based less than ten minutes away in Earlsfort Terrace (where the National Concert Hall is now). UCD Commerce student Charles Haughey organised a counter demonstration and led a march of UCD students, some bearing Nazi swastika flags, to Trinity. It is then widely believed that Haughey with a friend, Seamus Sorohan, who was then a law student and later became a barrister, ripped down a Union Jack flag that was hanging on a lamppost at the bottom of Grafton Street and proceeded to burn it. [5]

Then, according to reports this large crowd of up to a thousand young men marched up to the corner of Middle Abbey Street where they held a public meeting. A man, who described himself as a student of the National University, said they did not object much to the Union Jack being hoist by Trinity College, “because they all knew the outlook of these people” but they objected strongly to a number of flags being hoist over Trinity with the Irish Tricolour “insultingly on the bottom”. The group then marched to Trinity College headed by a “young man waving a large tricolour hoisted on the shoulders of comrades”. Though almost impossible to prove now both these references of a “student” and “young man waving a tricolour” may be of Haughey. At reaching Trinity, several young men “scrambled up on the railings” carrying Irish flags and were partly across when a force of Garda drew their batons and attacked the students. There were three or four baton charges before “the vicinity of the College was cleared”. Twelve people had to be treated at Mercer’s Hospital for slight injuries. A section of the crowd broke away and later stoned the residence of the British representative and the offices of the United States Consul-General. [6]

Fast forward to May 1989. Charles Haughey as Taoiseach is visiting the UCD Belfield Campus to lay the foundation stone for a new £8 million student residence. His presence on campus prompts a protest of up to a hundred students.

Scuffles between students and police

Scuffles between students and police

In conversation this week Andrew Fleming [7] who was present that day, stated that the protest was against “education cuts and an increase in tuition fees” which were taking place against a backdrop of a severe economic recession. (Sound familiar!) Fleming goes on to remark that at the time “Haughey was telling us we all had to tighten our belts” while, as it turned out he was “buying himself 700 pound shirts in Paris”.

The Irish Times reports that the “Gardai moved in to push students out of (Haughey’s) path” and were forced to form a protective barrier around him.

Police protecting Haughey

Police protecting Haughey

Students chanting “Education, not emigration” sat on the road leading from the site, blocking the Taoiseach’s car from leaving. The police dragged away those students involved in the sit-down protest and the Taoiseach’s driver took an alternative route, driving at high speed and pursued by students.

Sit-down protest by students broken up

Sit-down protest by students broken up

When questioned by journalists over the students’ actions, Haughey quipped that “We did it better in my day”

Loathed by many, adored by few, Charles Haughey remains a contentious figure in UCD’s history. His name remains engraved on the Commerce & Economics Society (C&E) board as auditor of their 1945-6 session despite the best efforts of students to scrape it off.

[1] Anon, “Surrender”, The Irish Independent, May 8, 1945.
[2] Anon, “Batton Charges in Dublin”, The Irish Times, May 8, 1945.
[3] John Walshe, “’We did it better in my day’ quips Taoiseach”, The Irish Independent, May 30, 1989.
[4] Maol Muire Tynan, “Huaghey braves protests at UCD campus”, The Irish Times, May 30, 1989.
[5] Bruce Arnold, Haughey: His Life and Unlucky Deeds, 1993, London: Harper Collins: 14
[6] T.Ryle Dwyer, Charlie, 1987, Dublin: Gill and Macmillan: 7
[7] Fleming, Andrew, 2009, email to author, 8 April 2009

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5 responses to “7. Charles Haughey

  1. British Reader

    This is fascinating stuff and I’m looking forward to more.
    One minor detail:in 1945 (seven years before Lizzie came to the throne) they would have sung “God Save the King”, woukln’t they?

  2. According to The Irish Times article, they sang “God Save The Queen”.

  3. I was Ents officer at the time-i’m in the final photo dressed in the leather jacket on the ground! There was also a 4 day occupation of the admin building during rag week that year-entry was made by breaking down the doors at the rear, food was brought in using ropes and buckets, and everyone slept in the main boardroom

  4. Ciarán Ó Maoláín, Ireland

    God Save the Queen is how it was reported in http://issuu.com/tribune/docs/college_tribune_issue_11 – so the history books must be wrong about the date of Vicky’s death or Liz’s accession.

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