Sunday, 21 December 2008

Charlie Haughey: My Part in his Downfall

There were a number of substantial articles and blog posts marking the death last week of Conor Cruise O’Brien, including ones from Oliver Kamm, from Normblog, and from Harry’s Place, twice.

My own contribution here is narrow and narcissistic, concerning the above cartoon drawn a month shy of my twentieth birthday to illustrate an opinion piece by Conor Cruise O’Brien.

My first drawings for the Irish Independent had appeared just a few days earlier. I had got my foot in the door just as an election was called, and was to work solely on political caricatures for the editor who was dealing with election analysis and opinion. It looked like I was going to be busy for the duration.

The paper was in a grand building not unlike an old school, and the room I was working in had sub-editors at two rows of desks with the election editor at a big desk at the top of the room, like a teacher with his pupils.

For the Conor Cruise O’Brien piece I was briefed by one of the sub-editors, asking for the notorious billboard in the background, and Haughey “with his hand just coming up like this.” Lest it be too subtle, I added the two crows.

When my work was done and it was passed up to ‘Teacher’, “#@X%! You’ve made him into Hitler!” But it was close to deadline so off downstairs to the platemakers it went. These were the old hot metal days, with writers, editors, compositors, platemakers and presses all under the same roof.

Strangely enough, after it was published, though I kept coming in and producing drawings, only a couple more appeared in the paper. Several were left unpublished. ‘Teacher’ was no longer so enthusiastic about his new discovery. And payment was slow in coming.

The election came, Fianna Fail won, but were denied a majority and had to make deals with independent TDs. And still I kept returning to the paper trying to get payment. On one occasion when I was talking to ‘Teacher’, one of his sub-editors suggested I should feel grateful just for the experience of having worked for the paper. On another occasion ‘Teacher’ escorted me as far as the door of the accounts department, pushed me in the door and fled. The man in accounts declared himself ignorant of my case. Eventually I extracted about half the money I was due, shortly before leaving for an extended stay in Denmark.

Some time later I heard from a friend of mine, a more established cartoonist, of a conversation he’d had with ‘Teacher’ in the Olympia Theatre, a popular spot for late night drinking on the weekend. The man from The Independent asked to hear if there were any talented new cartoonists in town, and my friend mentioned me. “Oh #@X%! I’ve just shafted him!” was the response. It seems that the morning the Conor Cruise O’Brien piece ran, phones were ringing. The Fianna Fail camp were most upset, not so much by the article, but by the drawing. The way I heard it, when the Editor in Chief questioned ‘Teacher’ he blamed me to protect his sub-editor, and to protect himself I suppose.

But of course they were too late - the drawing had done its work, and a mere five years later Haughey fell from power. Some may prefer to complicate the history with other details, but really that’s all you need to know.

Below is another swipe at Haughey, from the cover of The Crack a couple of years later. This was the sole issue of that title. It was numbered issue two so that nobody could say that we never got past issue one.

Update 24 December: I’ve written a sort of follow up post to this, and also here’s another post on Conor Cruise O’Brien that I found interesting, from Johnny Guitar.

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