Che in Kilkee

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 4 (Jul/Aug 2008), Volume 16

Alfredo Korda’s original 1960 photograph. Korda never accepted royalties for the image. (Alfredo Corda)

Alfredo Korda’s original 1960 photograph. Korda never accepted royalties for the image. (Alfredo Corda)

‘As a 16-year-old in the summer of 1962 I was working in the bar of the Marine Hotel, Kilkee, Co. Clare, when who walked through the door but Che Guevara and two minders! They looked like desperados entering a saloon. I recognised him immediately but I wasn’t totally overawed. People like Richard Harris had been in before. He asked what I would recommend to drink. I suggested a pint of Guinness but he shook his head and opted instead for my alternative: an Irish whiskey with a drop of water to take the heat out of it. It wasn’t an official visit. He was on an overnight flight from Moscow to Cuba. Aeroflot had a refuelling base at Shannon and his plane became fog-bound. Nor was it his only unofficial visit. According to folklore, on another excursion he got locked in to Hanratty’s pub in Limerick. Yet Korda claimed he never drank. Mind you, in the hour he spent in the Marine he only had the one.
Despite his fearsome reputation at the time I found him to be a gregarious, roguish sort of character. He regarded himself as an Irish-Argentinian. (After his death Che’s father remarked that “in my son’s veins flowed the blood of Irish rebels”.) To be honest, I didn’t know anything about the Irish in Argentina, apart from the fact that the country’s navy had been founded by Admiral Brown from Foxford, Co. Mayo. I asked him vaguely about his roots and he told me that his granny was a Lynch from Galway. He had great admiration for the fact that we were one of the first countries to shake off the shackles of empire.’

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