I would not say I knew Desmond Boal. I covered courts infrequently and came away frustrated a lot of the time suspecting Mr Boal made life as difficult as possible for journalists to hear what he was saying while making no attempt to court Media attention.
I was always interested in Desmond Boal because he was a Trinity College graduate. Trinity gets my pulse racing.
After Christmas my family and I used to be the guests of the late Jim Aiken at Leopardstown Races even though I am not a punter.
I invariably met Mr Boal and he regularly engaged me in conversation but in a limited way.
I always knew how close Boal’s friendship was with Ian Paisley and I’d be surprised if he did not know of my relationship with Paisley.
In the course of my researching for the BBCNI documentaries on Ian Paisley I learned of the extraordinary fallout between the man affectionately known in the Paisley household as ‘Pig’ Boal and Mr Paisley.
Mrs Eileen Paisley was most expansive on the rift that developed between Paisleys and the eminent QC because her husband chose to go into government with Sinn Fein.
Eileen Paisley spoke of their deep sense of loss when that breach took place which proved irreconcilable despite Ian Paisley’s having gone to see him.
I tried many times during the making of the documentaries on Ian Paisley to contact Desmond Boal to hear his version of the gulf which developed between his former leader and himself but I failed to reach him.
It was another story on camera told to me by Mr Paisley but not broadcast, which decided for me to pursue Boal to try to persuade him to tell me his life story and to verify the story Ian Paisley had conveyed to me. I was repeatedly urged by my colleague Deric Henderson to go to Boal’s home and take my chances.
Ian Paisley told me of a confidential meeting involving himself Desmond Boal and Willie Beattie with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson during the the 1974 UWC Strike. That meeting according to Paisley took place in Parliament Buildings.
I could not pin this story down. I spoke with some of the retired civil servants of that period and they had no recollection of such a meeting having taken place. Mrs Paisley was surprised too when I discussed this issue with her.
Paisley however was very clear in his narrative about the facts of the Wilson meeting and how the PM became very agitated over the way he was treated by the DUP delegation. He explained how Wilson attempted to light his pipe several times but abandoned this, eventually dropping the pipe into his side pocket.
Minutes later according to Ian Paisley a cloud of white smoke started issuing from Mr Wilson’s pocket to the obvious glee of his DUP guests.
In the past year I tracked Demond Boal down in a Holywood cafe having gone to his home to be confronted with a locked gate. I had a spot of luck when I noticed a kind gardener who suggested where I might find the coffee shops loving Boal.
Desmond Boal was the first person I spotted deep in conversation in a corner of the Holywood cafe when I entered it.
I stalked him for nearly an hour at a distance awaiting for his meeting to break up. I felt a bit like Commissaire Maigret watching firstly from afar and gradually strategically moving into seats closer to my prey getting ready to pounce and pounce I did once Mr Boal got to his feet.
He immediately stated, looking straight at me, “I don’t talk to the Media.” “You’re talking to one of them now” I said.
“I used to talk to you at the races” he added.
“I was a journalist then too” I remarked.
“There are journalists and there are journalists but I always saw you as a different class” he continued.
“I just want to ask you about one story – did you meet with Harold Wilson and Ian Paisley during the UWC strike in 1974?” I queried:
A smile enveloped Mr Boal’s face at that stage and he declared “I had great some great fun in politics and at the Bar in my time.” By now his eye was seeking out a seat.
We sat down and he proceeded to unpack with relish how he, Paisley and Beattie riled Harold Wilson choosing a high leather chair for him in one of the conference rooms in Stormont resulting in Wilson’s short little legs dangling aimlessly as he reportedly kept sliding down the leather chair, while strong rays of the afternoon sunshine blasted him in the eyes through the windows of the building.
Boal confirmed Paisley’s story in greater detail concerning his pipe with white smoke unexpectedly billowing from the Prime Minister’s pocket.
I then took a chance and asked Mr Boal about his break with the former DUP leader.
At this point a very agitated Boal jumped to his feet in the middle of the floor in the coffee shop and barked out “I could never accept what he did going into government with so many of those guys I defended in court. No I cannot accept that, I will not accept that.”
I proceeded to advise him Mr Paisley was not “too well” to which he replied “I am sure he’s not.”
I then asked him if he’d ever write or tell his own life story. Without a blink he said “If I did a lot of people might end up in gaol.”
We parted company and that was the last time I saw Desmond Boal. Another big apple has fallen and it appears he has brought many of his secrets to the grave with him.
A distinguished judge who knew Boal extremely well once told me “if I were in trouble for a criminal offence I’d want Boal defending me but he had a flaw – even when he had the witness beaten he still wanted to go on kicking him. That was the sort of him but he was brilliant.”