Treasury Papers: Charles Haughey became red-faced at the gift of horses that were ‘quite inferior’

Taoiseach Charles Haughey was disappointed after it was revealed that a donation of supposedly valuable horse blood to Ireland was mostly inferior animals.

he offer of the seven thoroughbred Arabian horses was made by an American millionaire who met Mr. Haughey during his trip to Washington DC for St. Patrick’s Day in March 1989.

The revelation came in confidential papers released as part of the state archives.

Without hesitation, Mr. Haughey, known for his equestrian interests, accepted the offer of West Virginia businessman Vincent Melzac’s horses.

Mr Melzac, who was seriously ill at the time, had told Mr Haughey that he wished to take the gift to Ireland to honor his wife’s Irish ancestry.

The Taoiseach owned a stud farm in Co Meath for a number of years. He also rode regularly, took part in racing events and maintained a stable on his estate at Abbeville in Kinsealy.

The US horses were imported at the end of September 1989 at a cost of over £25,000.

All were exported to Ireland following a visit by the Irish Ambassador to Mr. Melzac’s estate in West Virginia.

Three senior officials from the Department of Agriculture in Dublin also flew to the US to see the animals.

A handwritten note from a senior official in the Taoiseach’s office notes that Mr Haughey said “he would like to meet these horses when they arrive in Ireland – possibly on arrival in this country”.

On November 21st the Taoiseach also announced that he would be attending an induction ceremony at the National Stud in Co Kildare on December 12th.

This is where the horses had been brought for their first resettlement. However, concerns about their standard soon surfaced.

A senior veterinarian and the stud manager were unimpressed by the level of the thoroughbreds.

A memo dated just a week after the Taoiseach accepted the invitation indicated that he would eventually not attend the ceremony.

A senior official wrote: “The Taoiseach spoke to me on November 28 and said he had received information that the horses were of a very poor standard and under the circumstances it might be embarrassing if he visited the stud farm to to inspect them. ”

Mr Haughey went on to say that he wanted an expert from the British Arab Horse Society to independently assess the standard of the horses.

The national stud manager also told the An Taoiseach department that the horses were “quite inferior”.

In response, the Department of Agriculture — which controlled the horses in the US and oversaw importation — said the animals were of “clean pedigree.”

Mr Melzac had handpicked the seven horses, with officials at the Department of Agriculture having no say in the matter.

The horses consisted of two stallions, four mares and a two-year-old foal.

It was generally agreed that the filly was the best prospect, but the two stallions did not live up to the expected standard. There were mixed views of the mares.

In early 1990, the independent assessment ordered by Mr Haughey was carried out by Guinness heirs, brothers Finn and Kieran Guinness.

Finn Guinness was then President of the British Arab Horse Society and an experienced judge of the Arabian breed.

Writing from his Irish residence at Knockmaroon, Castleknock, Co Dublin, Mr Guinness gave the horses a slightly more favorable evaluation.

He said three of the mares are “quite nice mares and could be tried for breeding.” He added that he was less keen on the fourth mare, who had “a bad head and a lot of white on her which is particularly unsuitable for the Irish climate”.

He liked the colt, which he said had “quality,” adding that his weaknesses may have stemmed from immaturity.

“If space can be found for him as he matures, he may take a useful stallion,” he wrote.

Mr Guinness said he was “disappointed” with the standard of the two older stallions.

“They don’t seem to be good enough to make any meaningful contribution to our breeding here in Ireland. They are both quite nice ordinary animals but not to the standard required of a breeding stallion.”

The four mares were sent to Teagasc Agricultural College in Piltown, County Kilkenny, where they were kept for pure breeding.

The colt was kept at the national stud for another year while the stallions were leased to non-thoroughbred breeders.

Mr. Melzac and his wife, Sheila Downey Melzac, were scheduled to attend the induction ceremony in 1989.

However, Mr Melzac died in October of the same year at the age of 75, leaving his wife unable to travel. Treasury Papers: Charles Haughey became red-faced at the gift of horses that were ‘quite inferior’

Fry Electronics Team

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