State Papers: Multi-millionaire Tony O’Reilly offered Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe luxury holiday in Ireland 

Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe was offered a luxurious Irish holiday to help him mourn his wife by millionaire Irish businessman and media tycoon Tony O’Reilly.

Robert Mugabe, then prime minister of Zimbabwe, and Taoiseach Garrett FitzGerald with their wives in Dublin Castle in September 1983

Robert Mugabe, then prime minister of Zimbabwe, and Taoiseach Garrett FitzGerald with their wives in Dublin Castle in September 1983


The revelation came in the release of confidential documents as part of the State Archive, with Irish officials worried that unless the country rolled out the red carpet for the powerful African leader he might be offended.

The government was briefed on Mr O’Reilly’s offer to allow Dr Mugabe – whose ruthless rule of the African country was only broken with a bloodless coup in 2017 – to use his 18th-century estate at Castlemartin in Kildare for a holiday in 1992 after the death of his wife. Mr O’Reilly even offered him the use of his private jet.

Irish diplomats were briefed on the planned trip, and President Mary Robinson offered to host a special lunch in honour of Dr Mugabe.

Taoiseach Albert Reynolds was also consulted about holding a meeting with the Zimbabwean leader.

Irish officials indicated “something more” in terms of hospitality was called for if Ireland hosted Dr Mugabe for a private visit.

One briefing note advised that he was “a political figure of international stature… and it would be important to avoid possibly giving offence”.

Dr Mugabe – who was educated by Irish Jesuits – had always had an interest in Ireland and there was “a general interest in good relations”.

The documents revealed the High Commissioner of Zimbabwe, based in London, contacted Ireland’s UK embassy on March 24, 1992, about the proposed holiday.

The High Commissioner said Dr Mugabe would “like to spend a 10-day holiday quietly in Ireland” beginning the following week.

He would prefer to remain in the Dublin area and “would like to visit bookshops and other shops” as well as do “some sightseeing and go to the theatre”.

A High Commission official asked for Mr O’Reilly’s phone number and noted that the businessman “…is known to President Mugabe from visits to Zimbabwe to promote business interests”. According to the files, Mr O’Reilly last met Dr Mugabe shortly after Ms Mugabe died and “suggested that the president should take a relaxing break in Ireland”.

A follow-up note stated Dr Mugabe was “acting on an invitation extended by Mr Tony O’Reilly to relax following the death of Mrs Mugabe” and that he had offered the use of his private plane as well as stays in the five-star Ashford Castle and Dromoland Castle, both owned for a time by the O’Reilly family.

The former Independent Newspapers owner also offered Dr Mugabe use of his Castlemartin estate, on the banks of the Liffey.

Documents showed Dr Mugabe’s visit was “confirmed” for Monday, March 30, departing on April 6. VIP treatment was ordered for both arrival and departure, with a garda security detail. Dr Mugabe’s officials were told of the need to apply for permission to carry arms during the visit.

An official also said President Robinson had offered to host lunch “in President Mugabe’s honour”.

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