Not surprisingly, his first experience at the highest levels of political power in Dublin left Gilmartin with the distinct impression that corruption was rampant at every level.
Later Gilmartin assessed the potential significance of Haughey’s remark about whether ‘Liam was looking after’ him.
Given that Lawlor had already hit him for substantial sums of money, it was not surprising perhaps that his visit to the Taoiseach would be used as another opportunity to get a slice of the multi-million investment Gilmartin was bringing to town, either for the party or for prominent individuals in it.
But there may have been another issue at play for Haughey at the meeting. This concerned his reference to the Gilmartins of Lislary.
Several years earlier Haughey had acquired a property close to the Gilmartin family land and had then sought to extend his holding onto a portion of their land through his company Larchfield Securities Ltd.
When it emerged that there was an attempt to alter the ownership with the Land Registry, Chris Gilmartin, Tom’s sister, objected. After an exchange of legal correspondence and a complaint by her to the Land Registry, Haughey’s company withdrew its claim to the 1½ acres.
Haughey had obtained the land from John Andrew Currid, a relation of the Gilmartins who left Lislary to find work in the 1930s.
Currid had inherited an amusement-arcade business in Dublin and Bray from a Jewish family that had left Ireland when the Second World War broke out in Europe and did not return. The then wealthy Currid had returned to Lislary, rebuilt and renovated his seaside family home there,
and had given small plots of land to various neighbours and relations, including James Gilmartin, Tom Gilmartin’s father.
On the latter’s death his daughter Chris was given some of the rough grazing land at what was known as the ‘Bent’, a turn in the road close to her family home and overlooking the sea.
Haughey’s accountancy firm, Haughey Boland, had acted for Currid, and on his death Charles Haughey took over the house and the land around it for use as a holiday home.
In the late 1970s Haughey sought to spread his holding onto the Gilmartin lands but perhaps did not anticipate the opposition he would meet. In June 1984 a firm of Sligo solicitors, Horan, Monahan and Company, wrote to Haughey’s solicitor, J. S. O’Connor, on behalf of Christina McGoldrick (Chris Gilmartin’s married name) asking whether Larchfield Securities intended to pursue an interest in the lands at Ballinfull, county Sligo, but she received no reply.
Two years later, in May 1986, Haughey, then leader of the opposition, was confronted by Chris Gilmartin during a visit by him to the town. She approached him as he was meeting and greeting members of the public and asked when he was going to relinquish his claim on her land.
Haughey invited her to meet him to discuss the matter later that evening in the Ballymount Entertainment Centre in the Silver Slipper Hotel in Strandhill, where he was to address a Fianna Fáil function. As she waited to meet him after the event she was informed that Haughey had already left for Dublin.
Finally, Chris Gilmartin contacted the Land Registry directly and was informed that an agent for Larchfield had sought to register ownership of the land by telephone but that no written application had been made.
The Land Registry then gave ten days to Larchfield to respond in writing with a submission. When it failed to do so, the land was registered in Chris Gilmartin’s name.
Haughey was not used to being challenged and even less so to losing such a battle. It was undoubtedly an embarrassment for him and perhaps one that he had not forgotten when he encountered Tom Gilmartin at the Leinster House meeting less than three years after his confrontation with the developer’s sister in Sligo. Given his character, it was an experience Haughey was unlikely to forget, or forgive, but whether it would have motivated the extraordinary efforts to interfere with, and jeopardise, Tom Gilmartin’s ambitious plans for Dublin is another matter.
‘I would never have considered that a piece of scrub land at the edge of the sea in Lislary would have any bearing on my discussions with Haughey or anyone else in Dublin. It never crossed my mind at the time, but when you consider his comments about Liam “taking care” of me and what followed, you could never rule it out,’ Gilmartin remarked years later.
Tom Gilmartin died on Friday 22 November, at the age of 78, several weeks after his admission to Cork University Hospital with a recurring chest infection compounded by a deteriorating heart condition. Doctors discovered the source of the virus causing the recurring lung infection, which at first responded positively to treatment.
A plan to fly him to London for complex heart surgery was put on hold, however, as his condition weakened. Once again his kidneys failed, and as he was being prepared for surgery to open a blocked valve in his heart, he passed away.
In final conversations he once again expressed his concern at leaving behind his beloved Vera, his children and his sisters. He also complained that the stress and suffering he had endured over the years since he returned to do business in Ireland had irreparably damaged his previously sound health and constitution. However, he dealt with his serious medical condition with his usual good humour and expressed the hope and intention of being around for the launch of this book in the spring of 2014. Sadly, that was not to be.