Wigmore, January 1985: Conor Cruise O Brien, Sean Doherty and phone tappings
MAGILL's first friend was Noel Pearson. He was one of the founders of the magazine and its first financier. He also was largely responsible for giving the magazine its title - an itinerant family outside Dundalk was also called Magill.
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EDWARD Pinelas became the unwittting saviour of Magill when he happened in off the - streets one day in the summmer of 1978 offering to financially back the publication. Edward is an estranged Englishman, now living in the South of France. His work with prisoners in England and a harrowing personal experience at the hands of corrupt British police led him to favour a publication which he perrceived as being radical. He gave £20,000 to Magill at that time and remained a friend of the magazine for long afterrwards.
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THE mainstay of Magill for nearly six years was Cecily O'Toole, its general manager. Not alone that but in dessperate times her father and mother, both since deceased, lent the magazine what amounted to their life savings to keep it going. Another to help at a critical time was David Browne, broother of the then editor.
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OUR printers, Lithographic Universal in Bray, also helped out during the difficult times and throughout the seven and a half years have been accommodating always, as well as being first class printers.
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ALTHOUGH they may be embarrassed to have it acknowledged publicly, the advertising agency, 0 'Connor 0 'Sulliivan, were of inestimable assistance to the magazine in the early stages. They were the magazine's agency and they helped promote the magazine, more out of goodwill than in any expectaation 'of getting their money back.
AT THE party to launch Magill on September 27, 1977 at the Phoenix Park Racecourse Conor Cruise O'Brien who was then theatre critic for the magazine and who had just some days previously been relieved of his position as Labour Party spokesperson on
Northern Ireland by Frank Cluskey was chatting about the leader of his party to a few of the other guests. "Oh don't read too much into our differences" (those between him and Cluskey), he said, "if Frank were here now, I'd pull his leg and he'd pull mine - ofL"
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JOHN Reason was a contributor to the first issue of Magill and to several others subsequently. As The Sunday Telegraph rugby correspondent, he has incurred an enmity on this side of the . Irish sea more virulant than that atttracted by any other Englishman since Cromwell. He had written a book about the highly successful lions rugby tour to South Africa in 1974, in which he castigated the Irish coach and captain, Sid Miller and Bill McBride respectively, for championing negative rugby, in contrast to the exuberance of an earlier lions team, led by Carwyn Jones and John Dawes. When a Welsh led and coached side to New Zealand - Phil Bennett and John Dawes - were routed in the summer of '77 we asked Reason to explain how his favoured Welsh heroes had failed so miserably, in contrast to the success of the Irish duo of a few years previously. Reason wrote, what we believed, as an honest and very literate piece and we continued to ask him to write for the magazine ever since. There is a strong anti-Irish streak to his writings and he is unashamedly Tory but among rugby writers he is articulate, intelligent and cleverly proovocative - and anyway our backs should be broad enough at this stage to suffer a tinge of anti-Irishness.
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DONAL Corvan, since deceased, was an early contributor to the magazine. He then went to New York from where he sent frequent pleas for money to be telegraphed to him on various preetexts. On one occasion he sent the following telegram: "The Blessed Virrgin appearing in the Bronx on Saturday afternoon next stop have arranged an exclusive interview stop please send two hundred pounds stop Corv."
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THE most dramatic crisis encountered by Magill occurred with the publicaation of its series on the arms crisis.
Because of the ineptitude of a senior member of the Bar, our printers were advised not to print the magazine of May 1980. Other printers around the country also refused. Our then distriibutors, Easons, refused to distribute it and even lorry-drivers refused to ferry copies of the issue. With the help of the then editor of The Sunday Times, Harry Evans, and of perhaps the best journalist to work for that paper, John Barry, we managed to get printers in England to print the issue and collators to collate it. We did the distribution largely ourselves, which proved entirely chaotic, but great fun.
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WIGMORE's most persistent target for years was John Feeney, whom we desscribed as the worst journalist in the world. Feeney had been involved iniitially in the production of the magaazine, through a typesetting company which he then owned. He also wrote for the early editions - one article brought five libel writs. Our most celeebrated piece about Feeney was in catching him on a piece of sheer and typically outrageous invention conncerning the funeral service of Princess Grace. Feeney wrote that he persoonally witnessed Frank Sinatra arguing about seating arrangements with offiicials of Monte Carlo. We were able to establish that Sinatra was nowhere near Monte Carlo at the time. Feeney's response was that he must have teleephoned his complaint from America or somewhere for he had definitely witnessed the row. No ordinary mortal could be described as the worst journaalist in the world and certainly Feeney' was no ordinary mortal. He was very much part of the fun and excitement of the launch period, for he had been a central figure in the precursor of Magill, Nusight,in 1969 and 1970.
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THE FIRST issue which caused major controversy was an interview done with the then captain of the Dublin football team, Tony Hanahoe, in which he castigated the referee in the All-Ireland final of the previous month, at which Kerry defeated Dubblin by a record margin. Hanahoe was disciplined by the GAA authorities for his temerity. He might have pleaded in his defence, but charitably did not do so, that as Magill had throughout the interview referred to the referee as Sean Aldridge, it was not the referee of the final, whose name was Seamus Aldridge.
ONE OF Wigmore's most cherished stories concerned two reporters from The Sunday World who were conduccting an investigation into organised prostitution in Dublin. They checked into the Shelbourne Hotel and conntacted the prostitution ring and reequested that two ladies of exotic demeanour be sent around to enterrtain them. They were shortly joined by two-such ladies, who arrived clutchhing large suitcases, from which they took whips, saddles and other assorted accoutrements. According to the two reporters they watched with interest while the two ladies displayed their wares but insisted on not partaking in any of the delights offered. One of the reporters told the ladies that he was a senior executive in Toyota and that his friend was the Roscommon Toyota dealer. He said that the only thing which really turned on his friend was having Roscommon registration numbers of Toyotas called out to him and would they mind leaning out the window and calling out the registraation number of any Toyota car that passed by. The two ladies were quite bemused by the request but ever willling to please they leaned out of the window and did as requested. From the cover of a bush across the road in Stephen's Green, a Sunday World photographer snapped the two ladies leaning out the window in most bizarre attire. Regrettably, the publication of this item in Wigmore, resulted in the enquiry being aborted and the spiking of the story.
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SEAN Doherty revealed in January 1982 that Magill's telephone lines had been bugged for some considerable time previously by the Gardai. Jim Mitchell subsequently confirmed to us that he had signed a phone tapping warrant on Magill's phones and that the previo us Minister for Justice, Gerry Collins, had done likewise. The reveelations that our phones were tapped places some conversations with Justice Ministers in a very different light èthey were aware that the phone was tapped, while of course we weren't. One particular conversation comes to mind. It occurred around July 1982, shortly after a member of the Official IRA, Jim Flynn, had been murdered øthis journalist received threatening phone calls from current members of the Ard Chomhairle of The Workers' Party who were then (are?) members of the Official IRA also. The Gardai were disposed to take these threats
seriously, given the track record of the individuals involved. In the midst of this the direct line phone of this jourrnalist rang and a voice at the other end enquired - a la Frank Kelly - "guess who". The voice was familiar but couldn't be identified immediately. Then it was obvious, it was the voice of the then Minister for Justice, Sean Doherty. Mr Doherty avoided at all stages throughout the conversation identifying himself. Subsequent phone conversations between this journalist and Mr Doherty didn't permit such discretion however. This was shortly after Mr Doherty's state car had crashed outside Tralee during the week of the Festival of Kerry - or was it the Lisstowel races? We wanted to know from Mr Doherty what the state car was doing out on the lonely roads of Kerry at around 5.00am. Mr Doherty was at first not very forthcoming but he then told us that water had got into the engine earlier that night and the driver had gone for a spin out the road to get the water out of the system before going back to Dublin. We invited Mr Doherty to reconsider this answer and to call us back. He agreed. Some time later he telephoned to say he stood by the story. We said that if we could find that either he had been in the car or that there had been anyone other than the driver in the car at the time of the accident, then we would go to town on the story.
The last conversation took place at around 2.00am on the night prior to going to press. We told Mr Doherty . r we had failed to link him with the accident in any way and were therefore not going to publish other material we had about him concerning the attempted quashing of prosecutions in the Roscommon area for alone they didn't amount to much in our opinion.
Mr Doherty was delighted and said he would remember the favour. We tried to insist that there was no favour involved, we just failed to catch him. He brushed that aside and renewed his expressions of gratitude. In the light of our current knowledge that Doherty knew at the time that the phone was tapped and in view of the very specific allegations and questions we were putting to him that night, he must have been demented.
For the record however, let us say, that while Doherty was entirely unnsuitable for the position of Minister for Justice - his wrongdoings in that position, and the tapping of the phones of Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold was wrong, though hardly as wrong as the tapping of Magill's telephones for several years - he has been unfairly reviled. There have been worse Ministers for Justice.