APR√àS MOI, LE DÉLUGE...
France may have its doubts, but in Ireland today there is agreement with that famous pronouncement by General Charles de Gaulle—borrowed from Madame Pompadour. He came for a sudden six-week holiday soon after his resignation as the president of France and left behind him one of the great watersheds in Irish travel history. In the pubs of County Kerry they are saying the Blarney Stone may soon be called the Gallstone, but in Dublin the Irish Tourist Board is not jesting when it estimates that de Gaulle's visit and the attendant publicity is worth several million dollars to the country.
Lured by the mystique of statesmanship, thousands of vacationers have already set out in de Gaulle's footsteps, with the most persistent of them winding up in the general's bathtub and his bed as well. They have swarmed, for example, to The Heron Cove, a dismal, third-rate hotel 75 miles from Cork where de Gaulle spent the first weeks of his holiday, and they do not seem to mind its shoddy atmosphere. Empty beer kegs and pop bottles are stacked by the entrance. The rusting gates hang morosely and a rutted lane leads past a skeleton gatehouse. Never mind. The visitors had read of it in the world's press, had they not, and it sounded aristocratic and, well, mysterious.
The press, the Irish took no particular pains to explain, labored under certain difficulties and illusions. Journalists besieged the perimeters of the general's vacation headquarters but never really got near enough to The Heron Cove to tell it like it was: to see the paint flaking from the walls of the hotel or the jungle growth of blackberry brambles and docks that choke its garden paths. How were they to know that the fierce Alsatians rumored to be patrolling the 136-acre estate during the de Gaulles' visit were actually sedentary Labradors barking at tadpoles in the still backwaters? Nor was it ever suspected that the skin-diving instructor reported to be ready and waiting at The Heron Cove to advise the general in the underwater arts was a man past 70 who could not swim. Above all, there was never a whisper in or around the nearby village of Sneem of the eviction notice served upon Richard Stanford, the proprietor of The Heron Cove, before the general's arrival. Stanford had not paid his rent in more than a year. The bailiff was due to come knocking any day, and what if the general, 11 years president of France, humiliator of nations and cowerer of kings, should be flung out upon the streets of Sneem bag and baggage? What indeed? It would have been just another footnote in one of the most bizarre vacations ever taken by a world figure, a vacation worthy, in good tourist fashion, of retracing.
De Gaulle's rented Humber ($79 a week) first crossed the cow grill at The Heron Cove gate and lurched down the dusty half-mile drive on May 10. It had been but 12 days since he had proclaimed his resignation and now he was headed for The Heron Cove on the recommendation, it is said, of Roger Robert du Gardier, the French ambassador to Ireland, who had informed Paris that the food there was commendable. Impenetrable rhododendrons hem the road that the Humber moved along, while behind them thrives a once-exotic garden of camellias, azaleas, Jerusalem palms, laburnum, fuchsias, gentians and gorse. A solitary gardener (eight men once cared for and cultivated these acres) wanders the pathways with a hoe, but age has slowed him and the undergrowth is obviously encroaching. When it rains he uses a large leaf of the wild rhubarb plant as an umbrella and works on, moving pridefully about his derelict domain.
The earliest anyone remembers, Heron Cove was the hideaway of a cashiered British naval officer who took up smuggling. A later British officer planted the gardens. In 1962 the estate was bought by a German and it was he who allowed it—literally—to go to seed. But if he did not clear the paths, he cleared a profit of $96,000 when he resold it shortly before de Gaulle's arrival. And thus, like any tourist, de Gaulle ran into the change-of-ownership problem.
But he also had the difficulty of the uninvited guests. Hardly had the general drunk his prelunch glass of sherry before the press began massing at The Heron Cove, there to find police blocking the entrance, standing sternly cross-armed and silent. A squad of 150 men, the reporters were told, was protecting the estate and would repulse any attack on the general's solitude. (Actually there were only 50 guards, working in three shifts.) A French cameraman tried the first assault. He eased over a wall and inched through the underbrush. Minutes later, muddy, bloody, wet and stripped of his film, he was dumped outside the gates. Impressed, a Paris Match photographer took to the air, hiring a plane from Shannon to record the general's vacation site for posterity.
By the morning after de Gaulle's arrival there was a flotilla of press boats bobbing in the water in front of the hotel. They were kept at bay by policemen in skiffs. The long paddle of the law, however, did not prevent one cameraman with a telephoto lens from catching the general gazing out a window, probably in amusement at the ludicrous sight stretched out before him on the seascape. After this photograph was published, curtains were hung in the windows. Two staffmen from Stern magazine risked sorties into The Heron Cove grounds, where they found "the terrain unbelievable—dense brushwood, fallen trees of enormous size, marshes and swampy areas, tiny brooks which suddenly turned into unexpectedly deep rivers. We hadn't imagined that anything like that existed outside South America. It took us half an hour to advance 100 meters. Once we got within 200 feet of the house but we would have needed axes and saws to advance farther, and all we had was a pair of garden scissors, field glasses and our cameras." In spite of their efforts, neither got a picture of de Gaulle. Nor did the photographer who fastened his camera high in a tree on a neighboring estate, with the lens focused on a Heron Cove window. After three days of waiting the photographer saw the general appear, in all his majesty. He snapped the shutter from below and, sure of a scoop, climbed up to retrieve his camera. To his dismay, he found in the three-day wait a leaf had opened up in front of the lens. Such are the vagaries of an Irish springtime.
After a while any vacationer finds solitude oppressive, and de Gaulle, like more humble tourists, turned to sightseeing. The resultant cops-and-robbers pursuit of the general by the press became a scheduled event. De Gaulle would emerge every second afternoon at precisely 3 o'clock to view the scenic splendors of Ireland. His car would be wedged between two others filled with police and the trailing police car would weave back and forth across the road to keep any vehicle from the 40-car journalistic caravan from passing. In this strange fashion, de Gaulle and the world's press crisscrossed the Kerry countryside, the general serving the dual role of sightseer and sight to see.
On one occasion the de Gaulles were taken to the restored home of patriot Daniel O'Connell at Derrynane, an attraction the Irish government has put a good deal of money into. (One can almost hear the conversation: "Now, Charles, we are not going back to France without.... ") They arrived at the house where, almost needless to say, an aspiring Irish photographer had duped the caretaker and taken his place. The general's car, however, took a turn around the driveway and drove straight away again. So much for Daniel O'Connell. On another day de Gaulle was taken to Bantry, 40 miles from Sneem, to see a statue of St. Brendan which had been put up on the beach by the Gulf Oil Corporation. He never got out of his car at Bantry, saw only the rear of the statue and drove the 40 miles back to The Heron Cove. There were other afternoons when he would be led for three hours without stopping on a tour of the countryside at a lurching, gear-shifting, 35-mile-an-hour pace. On the occasions when the de Gaulles did leave their limousine they would set off down the highway, the Humber coasting slowly at their heels.
"The routine never varied," a distressed Irish writer said later. "She would walk a few yards, bend down and pick up a flower or a stone, which she would show to him. He would nod. Oh, they took him on all the obvious tours but, sure, it broke my heart. He might as well have been a blind man. They never had anyone in the car to tell them a nice story, and every rock around here has a bit of history. This country is full of good storytellers. I would have filled in myself."
De Gaulle spent most of his stay at The Heron Cove reading, writing and looking into his—and France's—heart, but Ireland was struggling to please its famous vacationer. On his first day a redheaded truck driver arrived at The Heron Cove with a large delivery. "It's a queer thing," the driver said, lifting the corner of the canvas that covered the object. It was an 8-foot-by-6½-foot bed constructed by the Irish public works department. De Gaulle sent it back to the factory after sleeping in it one night (it was far too hard). "What that bed needed was a good hefty couple on a two-week honeymoon," the proprietor of The Heron Cove declared.
There also was concern in Dublin about wine. No instructions had come from Paris on what it was assumed would be an important matter—and none ever did. So The Heron Cove simply served the de Gaulles from its own modest cellar, and there was no objection. (One reason was perhaps revealed a few weeks later when a London tabloid published an interview with de Gaulle's nephew Alain about Oncle Charles and Tante Yvonne. The wine served in the de Gaulle house is purchased by Madame de Gaulle at the grocer's in Colombey, claimed tattletale Alain.)
There were other hospitable notes. The Sneem village poet, Brud O'Brien, was commissioned to write a verse commemorating the general's visit. His poem reads—in part:
'Tis a sweet little town of worldwide renown
On the fringe of a neat waterfall,
Where journalists crowd and in praises are loud
Of this haven chosen by General de Gaulle.
He can rest and rove in Heron Cove,
So far removed from all his cares,
For he is ward of a well-kept guard
Who preserve him from all wily snares.
In the calm and sweet of this country seat
He can reminisce on his rise and fall,
But he'll be back to rule and reign—
For France is poor without de Gaulle.
And toward the end of the week a reporter for a local newspaper discovered a lady in her dotage in a nearby hospital who claimed she had been governess to Madame de Gaulle. On reading the report, Madame Yvonne paid a call on the invalid and brought her flowers and candy. She said indeed the old lady had cared for her when she was 14, but the reporter who contrived the story remains dubious.
Through it all, The Heron Cove's proprietor, Richard Stanford, was keeping one eye out for the de Gaulles and the other for the bailiff ("Stanford has this way of looking over your shoulder when you talk to him," one of the villagers says). It is assumed that word reached de Gaulle of the tenuous toehold Stanford had on The Heron Cove—or perhaps he just got tired of fighting his way through the journalists and undergrowth. In any event, after two weeks of a planned five-week stay, de Gaulle's Humber headed north for a different part of Ireland, leaving Sneem to reap its tourist benefits. They came quickly.
"Six hundred cars must have come down the driveway that first day," Stanford recalls. "I should have charged them a five-bob entrance fee." To Stanford's pleasure, well-bred visitors (British, of course) soon filled—and continue to fill—every room of his hotel. De Gaulle's name never is mentioned in the drawing room conversation, but in hushed voices in the hall or in the thick of the gardens, couples from Surrey assure each other that they had bookings long before de Gaulle ever heard of The Heron Cove and isn't it really quite ghastly that this gem of a place that they love so much has had this unfortunate publicity. At the sight of the sun the ladies worry about heat stroke and cover themselves with hats and veils. They note with a tut-tut that the hotel's three deck chairs are all broken and they comment archly on the rise in prices from those listed in their guide books since, well you know, since he was at The Heron Cove. In the evenings, pink and hung with strands of pearls, they gather in the pocket-sized bar where the conversation seldom varies from the weather ("gorgeous"), the dogs they left at home and the necessity of booking their crossings on the boat. For lack of topics they sometimes fall back on an old favorite—wartime rationing. Long silences punctuate these conversations and sighs—"hmmmm...lovely." It is then, inevitably, that one of the gentlemen pinches in his nostrils, picks up his glass and says, "Cheers." Behind the formica bar Richard Stanford, ex-RAF (he has been variously identified as major, colonel and brigadier, though in fact RAF records indicate that he was never anything more exalted than an aircraftsman), pours drinks illegally. He has no liquor license, but the law, like all else in Ireland, moves slowly and probably will not catch up with him.
Backstairs, meanwhile, the maids move softly, shifting British couples' bags and their hot-water bottles from room to room. This is necessary because the favored couples are being permitted to spend one night in de Gaulle's bedroom. When played by the maids, musical beds does not seem so ill-mannered. The less favored guests in the 12-bed-room, five-bath hotel may be put in the room that was de Gaulle's study. One window is nailed shut; another has a rag stuck in it to keep the panes from rattling. In the mornings the guests who have been disenfranchised will come padding back down the hallways, towels in hand, to use de Gaulle's bathroom. It is available to everyone since it opens off a hallway. There, in the big yellow tub, a man can steep himself in a little history.
If de Gaulle's visit inspires the tourists who have followed him to Sneem, it has left the 382 villagers largely unmoved. "I explained to the newsmen, who thought we should be excited, that we are used to such grand visitors," Brud O'Brien says. "When he is in Ireland Charlie Chaplin always comes to the green house on the other side of the square for apple cake, and Princess Grace was here. I listed the celebrities that have come to Sneem. I made it better than it was, though. I threw in the king of the Belgians and I don't think he ever came." Besides being the town poet, Brud is its wit ("a suicide blonde is a woman who dyes with her own hand"), its philosopher (newspapers have paid him as much as $7.60 for comments on matters as diverse as sex and British rail strikes), its sign painter (up to $2.40 for a new shingle), its artisan (he mends religious statues) and its barber (just 30¢ a cut). A font for holy water is nailed to the wall at the entrance to his barbershop, which may say something about his handling of a razor. On the first Saturday of each month Brud cuts the hair of most of the men in the village, and for the rest of the month he occupies himself with his other jobs.
A few doors down on the village square is the shop belonging to Cyril Burke, the chemist. He is as likely to tell a customer to use water from boiled potatoes on her warts as to buy a remedy from him. Burke treats the local cows and pigs as well, and when the Irish Tourist Board needed a picture of The Heron Cove after de Gaulle showed up there, it called the chemist to see if he had ever taken one with his Brownie. He had. "We were half-insulted by de Gaulle having his bodyguards," Burke says. "You'd think we were going to poison him. If de Gaulle walked in here and asked my wife to rent him one of the rooms she has to let, we'd never let on we recognized him. We wouldn't say a thing to Himself. Of course, after he'd had his tea, my wife might run across to her neighbor and say, 'Do you know who's into me? Why, de Gaulle Himself.' William Faulkner came in here two or three times and I never let on I knew who he was. We have TV stars that come to Sneem and they're not a half hour in the village and everyone knows they're here. But we don't acknowledge it. It really bothers some of those people. After a few days they'll say to me, 'You know, one thing I like in this village is that nobody recognizes me.' "
Burke says de Gaulle's visit did not help his business. "He could be here for 200 years and maybe one day he'd send his aide to buy a two-shilling bottle of eucalyptus oil. Well, now, did you see that lady who was just in here? She came for two shillings' worth of oil and while she was in the shop spent three pounds eight. So de Gaulle would mean a loss to me of three pounds six because he wouldn't come shop himself."
Cross the square now to the post office, where Bridie Mangan and her parents handle the letters, run the Sneem telephone switchboard and sell fruit, groceries, linens, postcards and newspapers. Usually a cluster of people is waiting to be served. Ask one of the black-clad widows about de Gaulle. "Nobody here tormented him," she says. "Nobody would dream of interfering with the poor man, except perhaps to offer him a jar."
For Mrs. Helena Fitzgerald, who runs the tearoom, there are many more buses full of tourists stopping outside her house these days, and she and her sons serve scones to as many as 400 visitors in the late afternoon. Business is better, too, for Rosemary Bradshaw, a Dublin woman who came to town last spring to sell pottery and sweaters. For 30 shillings she offers chamber pots (on the bottom is printed "We aim to please"). Her bestseller these days, however, is a platter in debatable taste showing General de Gaulle walking a crooked mile with a crooked donkey.
The star of the cast of Sneem personalities, however, is Father Robert Flavin, who said Mass for the general at The Heron Cove and was journalism's only link with de Gaulle's cloistered world. Interviewed and courted continually, Father Flavin appeared on television as far away as Peru and New Zealand and began receiving letters c/o General de Gaulle A lady from California wrote to him asking for shamrocks. A French woman inquired if he would make reservations for her in Sneem, where she wished to come to gain tranquillity and equilibrium. A New York politician named Flavin asked if he were a lost relative. In his presbytery Father Flavin meditates for a moment on the coming of de Gaulle. A jackdaw mutters in the living-room chimney and in the silence there is a murmur from an electric clock. "The newsmen had a terrible time thinking of appropriate questions," he recalls. " 'Did you confess the general this morning? Do you think you will confess the general? Is it your wish to confess the general?' They asked me if they could chauffeur me to the hotel. No, I told them, I didn't think that was necessary. My housekeeper found a cassock missing from the presbytery and I wondered if one of the newsmen had borrowed it. I was relieved when it turned up later."
Of all the towns de Gaulle visited in Ireland, Sneem is the most certain to benefit from the publicity. It is, after all, in what has always been a part of Ireland's tourist belt. But where de Gaulle went next, the tourist is not so likely to follow. And it was here, surely, that he vacationed.
If ever a land suited a traveler, Connemara, six hours and some 120 miles north of Sneem, would seem to suit Charles de Gaulle. The road winds tortuously and narrowly over Macgillycuddy's Reeks, as the mountains are called. Cars crawl behind herds of cattle and slow for sheep grazing along the hedges. At Limerick the road turns north to Galway and passes through land once characterized by a Cromwellian officer as "not containing sufficient wood to hang a man, water to drown him or earth to bury him." Beyond Galway is Connemara, wild and stern, strong and self-possessed, where the Irish were banished by Cromwell. The exiles built mile after country mile of stone walls while clearing the fields of boulders. So harsh was the British overlordship that there was even a tax on the amount of daylight that filtered into a home. Windowless stone houses still stand in Connemara, testimony to dark times.
But hardship often gives character to the face of a land, as it does to a people, and such is the case here. The mountains, weathered and rock-creased, have the majesty of old men. Slate-gray ponies and black cattle graze down the hillsides and across the peat bogs to the freshwater lakes. The stone-walled pastures run out to the Atlantic Ocean. Strong winds batter down the gulls into fields of daisies and buttercups and make children playing on the sand beaches wild and skittish.
In Connemara, de Gaulle stayed at Cashel House, an 11-bedroom hotel that a local lady describes as "set in the heart of an estate that looks like the lawn before the Gates of Heaven." Actually it is a down-to-earth, quiet place, owned by a young couple, Kay and Dermot MacEvilly. The hotel has 35 acres of gardens overlooking an inlet. Behind it a mountain rises sharply. MacEvilly does the cooking, producing excellent five-course lunches and dinners, and his wife oversees other details. There is a casual grace to the hotel and a warmth conveyed immediately by the roses or wild-flowers presented to each guest.
The de Gaulles arrived at Cashel House expecting to stay four days, but after the second day they were inquiring how long the MacEvillys could keep them—which is how there arose the problem of Michael O'Toole. A local carpenter, he was being married the following week in Cashel and had reserved the hotel for his wedding breakfast. "Bridget and I don't mind postponing the marriage for awhile," he told Mrs. MacEvilly when she explained about the de Gaulles. But the general declined O'Toole's offer and said he would move out on the eve of the wedding.
By shifting furniture and borrowing crystal and embroidered linens from their relatives, the MacEvillys had tried to turn Cashel House from a hotel into a home for the de Gaulles, and their efforts must have succeeded. Almost immediately the general wanted to know where the children were—the MacEvillys have two boys—and when he learned the oldest, 2½-year-old Frankie, had been sent to his grandmother's, de Gaulle insisted the boy be brought back. The youngster soon got his hands into things. Among the specialties MacEvilly likes to prepare is an intricately carved melon with a pyramid of wedges. Completing two of these artistic arrangements, he put them in the icebox to chill. When he took the melon out to serve to the de Gaulles at lunch, MacEvilly discovered his son had eaten the cherries that decorated the top and extracted one melon wedge from each plate. The dish was quickly shuffled—and served.
In the mornings de Gaulle would sit on a high bluff in the garden looking out to the sea. Heather and gorse were at his back, and it was a fine place for contemplation. Farther down in the garden, thrushes and cuckoos call, and beyond is the Secret Garden, which is walled and said to have fairies in it.
While the general read and wrote, his wife looked for tweeds in the nearby town of Clifden. She is a fussy shopper, usually returning three or four times before making her purchases, but the townspeople seldom recognized her. Soon after 9 o'clock one morning she turned up at the Connemara Marble Shop in the village of Recess. Paddy Joyce never opens his shop at the appointed hour, and with considerable grumbling he was awakened to unlock the store for his first customer, a matronly French lady of no particular distinction. Madame de Gaulle made her purchases and departed. While she was putting them away in her room at the hotel, Mrs. MacEvilly received a telephone call downstairs. It was Paddy, now awake to the business possibilities of the day. "Congratulations for having General and Madame de Gaulle," he said. "This is the Connemara Marble Shop. We'd like the de Gaulles to know that we'd be happy to be of service at any hour of the day or night."
"But she has just been to see you," Mrs. MacEvilly said. Paddy Joyce groaned.
It was the custom of the de Gaulles to walk for three or four miles each afternoon, striding the beaches with blackthorn sticks in hand. By then the reporters had departed, a statesman three weeks out of office being one-ninth as interesting as a statesman just resigned. De Gaulle's aide-de-camp was able to go trout fishing. At dinner de Gaulle would admire the new centerpiece of flowers (it was changed after every meal) or Madame de Gaulle would marvel at the tablecloth's hemstitching. And afterward, before a turf fire, the couple would drink infusion—a French brew that is a kind of tea—and listen, at times, to French news broadcasts on the wireless: "Ce soir, Monsieur Pompidou a dit...."
The summer evenings are long in Connemara, and it was in these twilight hours that the MacEvillys went out in their secondhand car to look for freshly caught fish for the de Gaulles. The two pointer dogs would jump into the back seat. ("We keep them because a lot of our English guests are frigid," Mrs. MacEvilly explains. "But they will always pet a dog, and then someone else will, and the two people will begin to talk. It breaks the ice.")
The MacEvillys would try several piers and most would be deserted, the black boats of the native fishermen upturned on the rocks and the lobster pots lying unused among the kelp. There is a bounty of seafood in Connemara waters—mussels, scallops, mackerel, shrimp, sole, trout, salmon, lobster—but fish is regarded as a penitential meal by Irish Catholics, who still must eat it on Friday. So MacEvilly would stop to ask people on the road, "Seen any fishermen?" It is an unusual phenomenon of this area that miles from any visible home or other structure one will suddenly come upon such groups of people. The explanation is simple enough: there are few telephones and this is their mode of social conversation. Some of the people speak only Gaelic. Old storytellers can still be found. But many of the young people have left, emigrating to England. The parish priest wishes tourists would come, bringing business, "so that our young might stay at home."
"I wonder if de Gaulle's visit will do much good," Dermot MacEvilly said not long ago. "The Heron Cove got all the publicity; it has become the most famous hotel in Ireland. If the tourists go there thinking it's our best hotel, they'll never try the rest of us."
It would indeed be a sad irony if Connemara did not get some portion of the tourist bonanza, for de Gaulle liked it best. When he left on the eve of Michael O'Toole's wedding, he told the MacEvillys, "I will be lonely for this place."
On the move again, the general headed south, returning to Kerry. There are some people in Ireland who say de Gaulle was lured back to that more populated region because businessmen in the county were afraid they would lose face and tourist dollars if it appeared the general had not been pleased with his stay there. Others say it is a debasing argument not worthy of dispute. What is indisputable, as every Irish tourist is now informed, is that through the final fortnight of his vacation de Gaulle stayed in Dairy Cottage, a house on the 6,500-acre Kenmare Estate overlooking the lakes of Killarney. And this time he had picked himself a spot with some grandeur of its own.
Dairy Cottage actually is an annex to the Castlerosse Hotel, which is owned and operated by the mistress of the Kenmare Estate, Mrs. Beatrice Grosvenor, who was, during World War II, staff officer to Lady Mountbatten. In the prime summer season the rate for a double room (with bath and breakfast) at Dairy Cottage is $12. The general, of course, had all six beds and five baths for himself, and though Mrs. Grosvenor continued collecting a shilling from each tourist desiring to see her estate, the general was not part of the exhibit.
Some visitors to the estate did report seeing him walking the mud lanes to the fabled lakes and cutting across the Kenmare pastures filled with herds of prize Herefords and black-faced sheep. The setting is a worthy one. In the early mornings—often in a soft rain—red and sika deer move through the barley fields. The loughs are filled with salmon and above the lakes in the uplands woodcock and snipe flush from the bracken.
In 1588 Queen Elizabeth gave Sir Valentine Browne, from whom Mrs. Grosvenor is descended, "the Lakes of Killarney, the water and fish therein contained and the bottom thereof." She also threw in 6,560 acres plus a few mountains so that he would have some place to dock his canoe. The land has been passed down through the Castlerosse and Kenmare families, which have included a number of eccentrics. A Lady Kenmare who flourished around the turn of the century had strong ideas about scenery. She ordered her tenants (her rent roll was $400,000 a year) to paint their cottages with tar so that the countryside would not be disfigured with walls of whitewashed stone. She permitted only one exception. The local Loretto convent was allowed to paint its gates khaki.
The most famous member of the family, however, was Mrs. Grosvenor's uncle, the Sixth Earl of Castlerosse, who distinguished himself by writing a gossip column for Lord Beaverbrook's papers in the 1930s. A rotund man of some 280 pounds, he once was assigned to do an inside story on a nudist club. He arrived, introduced himself, was led into an anteroom and, left alone, disrobed. He then stepped through another door into what he assumed was the nudist club itself, only to find himself in the middle of a large (and fully clothed) bridge tournament. He was at the wrong address. When he died in 1943, his title passed to his younger brother. (The colorful lord handed down other things elsewhere. For example, to the Convent of the Presentation in Killarney went his monogrammed silk shirts and pajamas. Some years later the mother superior there was asked if the apparel was ever received. "Of course," she replied. "The good Lord Castlerosse always remembered us. We were most grateful for the gifts of his shirts and silks, and we are still wearing them. And his slippers, too. His feet were very small." From beneath her robe the nun thrust out a dainty foot. On it was a black silk slipper embossed with a scarlet "C.")
When the Seventh Earl died not long after his brother, the title became extinct and the estate, which their niece, Mrs. Grosvenor, inherited, was threatened with death duties. Americans bought 3,500 acres of Killarney from her, though the song had long been sung,
How can you buy all the stars in the skies?
How can you buy two blue Irish eyes?
How can you purchase a fond mother's sighs?
How can you buy Killarney?
But still the pinch is there, which is why de Gaulle's visit to Kenmare had an importance he could not suspect. With the shilling-a-day tours of what is left of the Kenmare holdings and her Castlerosse Hotel, Mrs. Grosvenor has a sizable stake in the tourist development of Killarney. Being hostess to the general hardly hurt her business. She notes that this summer she has added a French-speaking member to the staff at the Castlerosse.
And without doubt the French are on their way. "At last they are able to identify us," an Irish Tourist Board official says. "They are such a provincial race. Before, they would confuse Ireland with Iceland and Holland." Aer Lingus ads in Paris now exhort Frenchmen to "Follow the Guide" (the Guide was one of de Gaulle's nicknames). The Irish information center declares that holiday bookings by French tourists have more than doubled. "I only hope we get better-type Frenchmen than we have in the past," a tourist board man said. "They've been tightfisted and complaining. Our slogan used to be 'Ireland is a place for special people,' which really meant the Frenchman with not too much money. This is the group we sought to attract."
Well, they got de Gaulle. And who is paying his bill no one is saying. French newspapers reported that the government sent an emissary to The Heron Cove to make sure it was not being charged. The Irish Tourist Board says it was not paying the bills. There was reason to think de Gaulle was not stuck with the tabs himself. Who'll pay?
On June 15 Georges Jean Raymond Pompidou was elected president of France, and three days later Charles de Gaulle gathered his small retinue behind him and ended his vacation. There was a brief visit of state in Dublin, and then the year's most famous tourist returned to France. Behind him, notes the Irish Tourist Board, are the people who will eagerly pay any bills at all that might have been left behind—the British and the Americans, coming by the thousands to see for themselves how things are in Killybegs, Kilkerry and Kildare. Some of them may even, just by chance of course, stop at The Heron Cove. The general's bathroom is top of the stairs, second door on the right.