‘People still blame me for bringing down the Government!’

As Shay Healy is fondly remembered this week, we spoke to Seán Browne about that night in Hell’s Kitchen…

Castlerea videographer, Seán Browne, was reminiscing this week following the death last Friday of former RTÉ broadcaster Shay Healy, who, in January 1992, hosted the most infamous episode of his ‘Nighthawks’ chat show at the former ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ pub in the County Roscommon town.

  During the show, Healy interviewed former Fianna Fáil Justice Minister and Roscommon TD Seán Doherty, who claimed that some members of the Cabinet with whom he had served in 1982 had been aware of his order to illegally tap the phones of three Irish journalists. The revelation led to the resignation of then Taoiseach Charles Haughey just a few weeks later.

  Healy and the Nighthawks team hadn’t come to Castlerea expecting trouble, however, and were actually in town to chat about Roscommon journalist John Waters’ book ‘Jiving at the Crossroads’.

  “It was recorded on January 10th, 1992. Seán Doherty rang me on the Wednesday to confirm that it was being recorded that Friday evening,” Seán Browne said this week.

  “The camera team came down and went off out filming as part of the ‘Jiving at the Crossroads’ piece. We had to organise sound in Hell’s Kitchen and we even had Roy Eyre (RIP) dressed up as the devil! Shay Healy was filmed down in the local telephone kiosk letting on he was calling John Waters with the devil walking past him on the street”.

  Seán said news of the recording spread quickly around Castlerea and the county itself.

  “I just mentioned it to a few people but word must have got around because the place was absolutely packed that night,” he said.

  The Castlerea man said the former Justice Minister’s comments weren’t picked up on during the interview, probably due to background noise, but it wasn’t long before the full ramifications were felt. 

  “Seán Doherty was drinking Lucozade that night and after the interview I think he told Shay Healy that he was after saying something very significant that he hadn’t said before,” he said.

  It wasn’t long before the quotes were being reported in the national newspapers.

  “29 years ago this year and some people still blame me for bringing down the Government,” Seán laughs.

  Seán says that while the interview has featured on shows such as ‘Reeling in the Years’, the link to Castlerea is seldom, if ever, mentioned.

  “It has been on TV over the years but it never says where it happened. I think I have the only photographs taken that night. The producer Philip Kampf didn’t want flash photography during the interview and I remember he gave me a horrid serious look when he thought my camera was going to flash!”

As well as photographs, Seán has held on to one other keepsake from the infamous night.

  “I have the chair Seán Doherty sat in. His name is even carved into the bottom of it. I had it tied to the ceiling at one stage just in case someone made off with it. People still get their pictures taken in it and it’s nice to have as a keepsake,” he said.

  And what about Seán Doherty’s subsequent relationship with the deposed Taoiseach?

  “Seán Doherty once told me: ‘We still talk but when I put my head inside the lion’s mouth I make sure he has his teeth pulled!’” 

 Mr. Browne said that he was very sad to hear of Shay Healy’s passing, commenting that he was “a lovely man” who had been very charming and friendly when he visited Castlerea.