Keane, Terry (1939–2008), socialite and journalist, was born Ann Teresa O'Donnell in Guildford, Surrey, England, on 9 September 1939, only child of Timothy O'Donnell, medical doctor, and his wife Ann, a bank official, both Irish-born. At the age of one, Terry was sent to Ireland to safeguard her from the blitz and remained there for two and a half years before being reunited with her parents. She later attributed some of her attention-seeking personality traits to this early separation. Educated at the Ursuline convent school, Wimbledon, and at Poles convent school in Ware, Hertfordshire, run by the Faithful Companions of Jesus, she briefly considered becoming a nun but was dissuaded by her devout parents. After a year of pre-medical studies at Kingston Technical College (latterly, Kingston University) in Surrey, in 1958 she became a medical student at TCD, but rapidly decided that she had no aptitude for medicine and focused on socialising, dropping out of Trinity before her first-year exams. She initially kept this secret from her parents, who had moved to Dublin to be with her; her father (d. 1962) had retired after a series of strokes, and the three lived in somewhat straitened circumstances on his pension.
Terry found her métier when recruited as a social diarist for Social and Personal magazine; she supplemented her earnings by modelling and public relations work. By her own account, while outwardly clubbable and cutting an exotic figure at numerous parties, she remained fundamentally solitary, and developed the mannerisms which marked her later career as defence mechanisms: 'I kept my distance from others by means of a sharp tongue and quick wits. People left me alone rather than risk a cutting remark, and that suited me' (Sunday Times, 30 May 1999).
Late in 1959 she met a talented barrister seven years her senior, Ronan Keane; they became engaged, but quarrelled in 1961, and she became pregnant after a brief 'fling' with the Liverpool-born actor James Donnelly (1930–96). Terry regarded abortion as unthinkable (according to her friend Mary Kenny she voted on the 'pro-life' side in the 1983 referendum). After refusing an offer of marriage from Donnelly, she renewed contact with Ronan, and went to London to have the child – named Jane by her adoptive parents – whom she reluctantly gave up for adoption.
On 27 December 1962 she married Ronan Keane; they had two daughters and a son, to whom she was always fiercely attached. She had given her real name and profession on Jane's birth certificate, and they re-established contact in 1981. Jane later moved to Ireland and regarded Ronan as a stepfather. Although her daughter's story was known in her social circles, and Keane discussed it on RTÉ in 1994, she did not publicly reveal the identity of Jane's father until 1999.
Keane continued to work after marriage; she was fashion editor of the Irish Times (1963–70) and of the Sunday Press (1970–89) (while also moonlighting for the Belfast office of the Daily Mirror under the by-line 'Terry O'Donnell'), and became well known on the Dublin social scene. She formed a strong fantasy identification with the character Scarlett O'Hara as portrayed by Vivien Leigh in the film Gone with the wind (1939): a figure of impossible glamour, and a hard, ruthless pragmatist determined to survive and prosper.
Keane's charm, wit, party-giving and outrageous attention-seeking attracted a circle of friends among bohemian female journalists, many of whom remained friends for life. As a friend, Keane was capable of considerable devotion, but regarded herself as a superior being whose needs must come first, and her friendships were punctuated by quarrels. (Those outside the charmed circle – waiters and the like – were contemptuously ordered around.) She also fascinated a number of male admirers, whose relationships with her were ambiguous. It was widely believed that she had an affair with Donogh O'Malley (qv) shortly before his death; in 1999 she denied this, while stating that he had had other extra-marital affairs. There was very little overlap between her friends and those of the conscientious, hard-working Ronan, and their marriage came under increasing strain. Keane and her husband separated in 1971; they later reconciled but separated permanently in the early 1980s. However, they remained legally married until Keane's death despite the legalisation of divorce in 1995.
The best known and best documented of Keane's extra-marital relationships, that with Charles Haughey (qv), began after an encounter on 17 January 1972 in Elizabeth's nightclub on Dublin's Leeson Street. Thereafter they met regularly, dining in expensive Dublin hotels and restaurants, and taking luxurious Continental excursions; Keane often stayed at Haughey's mansion at Abbeville and his island home on Inishvickillane when his wife and family were not in residence. The relationship was founded on shared fantasies driven by conscious brazenness, pretension and resentment, love of luxury, and an emotional neediness (allegedly more noticeable in Haughey than in Keane, though Keane's later claims of political influence over Haughey were probably exaggerated). Both regarded having or being a mistress as emblematic of Continental sophistication, quite different from the mundaneness of marriage; Keane said she would not have married Haughey had it been legally possible, and voted against legalisation of divorce in the 1986 and 1995 referenda. While denouncing the British establishment and proclaiming his republicanism, Haughey flattered the 'classy', English-accented Keane by telling her that as an O'Donnell she descended from ancient Gaelic nobility. Keane shared this assertive republicanism (while sending her son to an English public school).
The relationship was an open secret in Dublin political, media and social circles. Keane enlivened social events by proclaiming 'I'm the most powerful woman in Ireland – my husband is a high court judge and I'm the taoiseach's mistress', or by holding out one leg and recounting how much Haughey admired her legs. She harangued neighbouring drivers on the subject at traffic lights, and threatened gardaí who detained her for traffic offences (she lost her driving licence for nine months in December 1982 for drink driving). The failure of the Irish media (much of which was fiercely opposed to Haughey) to publicise the affair stemmed from a variety of factors, including hostility to the 'kiss and tell' mentality associated with British tabloid newspapers, a sense that it was a private matter, and a feeling of loyalty among Keane's journalist friends. Haughey's more determined journalist opponents (such as Dick Walsh (qv), whose wife, Ruth Kelly, was a close friend of Keane) were restrained by editorial fears that such allegations might not be provable if Keane sued for libel. Meanwhile, John Feehan (qv) informed readers of his Haughey eulogy Operation Brogue (1984) that tales of Haughey's marital infidelity were black propaganda from British and West British enemies.
In the late 1980s, Keane suffered severe financial difficulties after becoming a 'name' with the London insurance company Lloyd's; this offered high returns but required unlimited liability, and the syndicates of which Keane was a member made heavy losses in the late 1980s owing to compensation for victims of asbestos poisoning in America. Keane denied that Haughey bailed her out (or supplied the financial assets which enabled her to join Lloyd's in the first place), but this was not universally believed. She always maintained that while she accepted gifts from Haughey, she was not a 'kept woman' and that it was important to her that she earned her own salary. It was widely believed, however, that while she did not accept direct money payments from Haughey many of her bills were sent to him.
In 1989 Keane was recruited to the Sunday Independent by its deputy editor, Anne Harris. (Keane earlier contributed to a short-lived magazine, Image, with which Harris was involved.) At first Keane wrote a restaurant column, taking celebrities to dinner and interviewing them, but she was soon persuaded to undertake a gossip column, for which she received £750 a week. Keane dictated her copy, and over time it was increasingly fleshed out by contributions from other journalists, with Harris supplying a final editorial polish. 'The Keane edge', widely criticised and widely read, contained social gossip (some obtained from Haughey) and portrayed a fantasy version of Keane as irresistible femme fatale and her social circle as the cream of Dublin society. Part of the fantasy, and of its appeal to readers seeing themselves as initiates, was frequent reference to Haughey as 'Sweetie' and to sailing expeditions with 'Charlie, mon petit matelot', a figure of legendary glamour and virility.
The column also played up to Keane's own reputation for bitchiness by including sarcastic comments on individuals disliked by Keane or other members of the columnar team (President Mary Robinson was 'Her Poloness', in mockery of her supposedly quasi-papal pretensions and polo-neck jumpers), and increasingly intrusive coverage of the pregnancies and marital difficulties of prominent figures. After a heart attack in 1997 Keane ceased to write for the column, though it still appeared over her name (and she was still paid for it). In 1993 Keane defended the column as part of 'that great tapestry of bitchery in Dublin … certainly not written in a spiteful way. It is written in a satirical and, I hope, an amusing way' (Oram, 83). After its demise, however, she disclaimed responsibility for its 'poisonous and pernicious' excesses: 'When you have very little money, you sometimes have to do the unpleasant job. If I had known, I would [rather] have cleaned latrines' (Ir. Times, 20 April 2002).
In 1997 Keane was diagnosed with a heart condition. Shortly afterwards, Haughey (who himself had developed cancer) asked her to return letters and mementoes he had given her. (He may have been motivated by concern about who might acquire this material if she died suddenly.) Keane regarded this as a betrayal of their relationship; others speculated that her subsequent coolness reflected Haughey's reduced spending power after his questionable financial dealings were made public by tribunals of inquiry.
On 14 May 1999 Keane appeared on RTÉ's Late late show where she disclosed her relationship with Haughey and irritated the studio audience by delivering a vigorous defence of his political and financial record. She claimed that this disclosure was motivated by the news that the Sunday Independent journalist Kevin O'Connor intended to publish a book on Haughey which would discuss the affair, and that she wished to put the record straight. Earlier that day Keane sent in her resignation to the Sunday Independent after concluding an agreement with the Irish edition of The Sunday Times to publish her reminiscences. These appeared over the following four Sundays. Keane presented herself as a victim of circumstances, and her affair with Haughey as a grand mutual passion. The public response combined prurience and outrage, mainly directed at Keane, who was seen as publicly humiliating Haughey's wife and family, and as having been motivated by money. (Keane was paid £65,000 upfront and an additional £50,000 to write a social column, derisively entitled 'Postcards from the Edge', for two years.) Haughey never spoke to her again, and the affair (combined with tribunal disclosures later that year about his extravagant spending on restaurant meals and handmade shirts) accelerated his subsidence into a figure of ridicule; several local papers that summer noted comic impersonations of 'Terry and Sweetie' in local fancy-dress parades, and Irish pantomimes for Christmas 1999 were overloaded with Terry Keane jokes.
Commentators who had long been aware of the affair were surprised to discover that a significant section of the Irish public were genuinely ignorant of it. The Late late show's presenter, Gay Byrne, received a number of messages suggesting Keane was delusional (a position harder to maintain after the second instalment of Keane's revelations included a photograph of Haughey kissing Keane). Some older rural Fianna Fáil activists were deeply surprised and hurt (Ir. Times, 7 June 1999). In September 1999 Keane defiantly auctioned off a number of artworks (including a bust of her by Gary Trimble and a portrait of Haughey by Roderic O'Connor (1980–2001); both apparently were gifts from Haughey). She was subsequently interviewed at length in an hour-long documentary on her life broadcast on RTÉ in April 2000.
Keane's Sunday Times column was widely regarded as anodyne and was curtailed when she was diagnosed with colon cancer in December 2000. An attempt to resume it after successful surgery was short-lived. The column also provoked an expensive libel suit brought against the Sunday Times by the commentator John Waters after Keane suggested (Sunday Times, 18 June 2000) that his assertion that an Abbey Theatre production of Euripides's Medea went too far in justifying Medea's responding to her husband's betrayal by killing their children amounted to a misogynistic 'assault on women' and showed that he would be an unsympathetic father to his own daughter. Waters received €84,000 damages and €250,000 costs.
In 2001 Keane moved to Montpellier (France), but returned to live in Ireland after her son died in an accidental fall in Dublin in 2004. In 2006 she required surgery after a fall while holidaying in Croatia and was later diagnosed with a recurrence of colon cancer. She continued to work as a journalist, writing travel articles for Social and Personal until her death. In March 2006 Keane stated during a radio interview that she regretted having gone public about her relationship with Haughey (though after Haughey's death in June 2006 she authorised the release of an interview which she had given in 2003 to the Irish edition of the Daily Mail for publication on Haughey's death, and for which she had already been paid). She died in St Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin, on 31 May 2008 after further cancer surgery.