"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-6�-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.