Bertie Ahern has said each of his Fianna Fáil cabinet colleagues broke down in tears when he told them he was stepping down as party leader.
He told them last Wednesday of his decision to quit on as Taoiseach on 6 May, hours before making it public.
"It was the first time in my life I wanted to get out of a Fianna Fáil meeting quickly, when all the men and all the women were collectively crying.
"I said: 'I don't need any more of this, get me out of here'."
It was confirmed on Saturday that Mr Ahern's successor as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader would be Brian Cowen, the only candidate to put himself forward for the post.
Mr Ahern made his announcement a day after he began a court challenge to limit the work of a public inquiry probing planning corruption in the 1990s.
He told RTÉ on Sunday that if he had stayed on as Taoiseach, he would have been in and out of Mahon Tribunal hearings going over "old nonsense" about his financial transactions.
"I said I will save myself and everyone else all of that, rather than letting that sort of stuff feed into what has been a great 31 years - I'd give myself a nice break," he said.
He said he made the decision while considering his political legacy as he reflected on the Good Friday Agreement negotiations and its implementation.
His role in the 1998 Agreement is seen as one of his key achievements, and Mr Ahern said he retained his hope of a united Ireland, "but based on the principles of consent".
"It can only happen in the long term... where our shared history becomes our shared future and where people would see that it is better on the island of Ireland that one administration is better than being answerable to a British establishment," he said.