Two weeks after the general stepped down as president, he made a surprise visit to Co Kerry. Such was the secrecy surrounding preparations for their guest’s arrival that some staff at the Heron Cove Hotel in Sneem presumed the mysterious visitor would turn out to be none other than the pope.
The news took them by surprise in Government Buildings in Dublin as well, where the sudden arrival of the near-mythical Gen Charles de Gaulle in Co Kerry created what The Irish Times called “one of the greatest ‘flaps’ ever known there”. On the morning of Saturday, May 10th, 1969 – two weeks after he stepped down as president of France – de Gaulle and his wife Yvonne touched down in a French military jet for a private six-week stay in Ireland. The world’s attention came with them.
In the Irish newspapers, the topics of the day – among them the pope’s widely discussed decision to demote a number of saints – were pushed aside to accommodate reports from the scene in Sneem. One of de Gaulle’s first acts was to block incoming communications, and for weeks – apart from the occasional excursion and trips to Dublin and Galway – he remained holed up in the hotel grounds, spending his time reading and listening to the radio.
It was to be last visit. On November 9th, 1970, almost 18 months after arriving in Ireland, he died at his home.