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Caught up in a moment of history

Election 2011
Caught up in a moment of history

Commins calls it
Michael Commins

HISTORY, history, history. It was written on the western skyline last weekend. And for a time at least it swept away the cynicism and suspicion that so often surrounds parts of the political structures in this country. The goodwill towards Enda Kenny was tangible across the political divide at the TF in Castlebar on Saturday. The President of Islandeady GAA Club was about to assume the mantle of Taoiseach. And, hump it, if we can’t feel a bit of pride in one of our own ascending to the top spot, there’s something wrong with us.
You could see that gentle pride etched in the faces of the Kenny contingent, people like Tommy Joyce from Islandeady and so many more who had soldiered with him through thick and thin. Castlebar has long been his adopted home but Islandeady is the spiritual fountain from where he continues to draw inspiration.
And at times the emotion of the occasion almost got to you because, at the end of the day, we are all ‘Mayo’. And you missed Liam Coady, that genial son of Castlebar and Enda’s right-hand man who died suddenly on holidays abroad last year. He would have been one of the proudest men in Castlebar on Saturday night.
On days and nights like these, old sparring duels are put aside. In former times there would have been a healthy rivalry between Enda and the bould Michael Ring. That was when they were both fighting hard to retain their own seats.
But since Enda’s elevation to party leader, Ringo has been a true blue and there was hardly a happier man in the country when as he soared above the quota. There’s hardly a politician in the country who can attract more cross-party votes than Ring. The 13,180 votes achieved by Ring was phenomenal on a day when Enda polled 17,472.
I had expected John O’Mahony to retain his seat. And he duly did that with a vote of 8,667 which left him safe from the first count. The former Mayo football manager had a major advantage as he had not to face a local challenge from John Carty (FF) or Gerry Murray (SF) as he had in 2007. He was always in poll position to win a seat.
The town of a Ballina was also a major winner in this election. I had thought that it was beyond reach for two Ballina candidates to be returned since Dara Calleary and Michelle Mulherin, between them, had garnered just over one quota of votes the last time. But I was wrong. The fact that Fianna Fail fielded just two instead of the more traditional four candidates meant that a lot of party votes were swimming down the Moy towards Ballina on this occasion.
Perhaps, more significantly, Fine Gael showed an extraordinary capacity to manage their strategy. And full marks to the team responsible for what was a masterpiece of electoral strategy, the liked of which I have not seen outside the famous Sinn Fein machine of West Belfast. Areas were swapped and changed to bring balance to the candidates and places like Balla were hived off and given to Mulherin. The party was strong enough to divert well in excess of 100 votes from Balla to Ballina. This was replicated in other places. Henry Kenny, brother of Enda and as decent and down to earth gentleman as you are ever likely to meet , canvassed areas down the road from himself in Ballyvary asking for votes for Michelle. We will never see a better run campaign ever again in Mayo.
From once the early tallies came through, it became clear that the expected challenge from Michael Kilcoyne, Jerry Cowley and Rose Conway-Walsh of Sinn Fein was faltering badly. Dara Calleary, who maintained a quiet and impressive dignity throughout the entire campaign, was holding a 30% vote in the Ballina electoral area and also picking up a decent scatter in boxes around the county. Lisa Chambers from Ballyheane, a first time candidate for the party, polled 3,343, surprising many in the process. And with this back-up available, Calleary could take it cushy in Ballina long before he came to the TF.
While most of the focus outside Fine Gael and Fianna Fail in the closing days of the campaign was on Michael Kilcoyne (3,996), the Independent councillor from Castlebar, his campaign never greatly sparked outside the Castlebar electoral area where he polled well.
Many observers felt that Dr Jerry Cowley’s campaign had also faltered in a big way but he still secured a decent vote (3,644) and was just 238 votes behind Kilcoyne when he was eliminated. The Sinn Fein was up slightly but the absence of Gerry Murray from the ticket meant a breakthrough was most unlikely on this occasion.
Martin Daly (Ind) and his team put in a good campaign and would have to be disappointed with his tally of 893. Trailing far behind in the race were John Carey (Green) (266) and Independents Dermot McDonnell (218), Loretta Clarke (216) and Sean Forkin (29), the latter who received one of the lowest votes in the entire country.
The folks on the computers feeding in all the tally figures and keeping us posted with the updates on such a regular basis deserve special mention. Enda Redmond could not have been more helpful while manning the Fianna Fail operation while Michael Diskin was providing a similar service over at the Fine Gael end of things.
Perhaps one of the best quotes from election night came from Independent candidate Martin Daly, a member of the teaching staff at St Nathy’s in Ballaghaderreen. He reflected humorously after securing 893 first preference votes …“I know now what people mean when they tell you ‘I’ll give you a stroke‘!”
Another hearty remark came from the ebullient Michael Ring who, tongue in cheek, suggested …“Ara sure we should have run Patsy O’Brien and we might have taken the five seats”! Of such light-hearted moments are memories made and filed away for a smile down the line.
But this was Fine Gael’s night in Mayo …and especially Enda Kenny’s. The man who came into the TF in 2002 with his concession speech in his pocket was living proof of the old saying about the darkest hour is just before the town.
And far away from the land of the shamrock and heather, many will rejoice with the elevation of one of our own to the office of taoiseach. And as Miriam Lord said in her excellent colour piece in The Irish Times yesterday (Monday) - “A publican from Kiltimagh (could it be Aiden or Marty?!) tells us it’s a great moment. ’I’m Fianna Fail, but it doesn’t matter a s****. He may be a taoiseach for Ireland, but he’s taoiseach for Mayo.” That’s the style!
And maybe we are entitled to be a bit parochial on this occasion. And would it not be the crowning glory if Mayo were to win an All Ireland Final during Enda’s term of office ….a direct link between now and the time his late father Henry was at midfield for Mayo when they won their first Sam Maguire Cup back in 1936. All sides in Mayo would surely raise a glass to that! We wish you well, Enda, on the hard road that lies ahead.