London Labour MP Jon Cruddas and his wife, Anna Mary Healy, are setting up home on Achill Island
AS the raw power of the Atlantic swell crashes and hurls against the shore and the wind and rain batters the barren landscape, it is not exactly the picture postcard scene which would inspire you to leave London to live in Achill. But for some people there is no better sight.
“We love it actually!” was the frank response from Labour MP Jon Cruddas when asked what he thinks of the wild Achill winter. “There is nothing as exhilarating as walking along the beach especially on Christmas day.”
The ‘we’ in question are Jon and his wife Anna Mary Healy who have just spent their first Christmas in their newly built home in the village of Dookinella in the shadow of the Minuan Cliffs.
An MP for Dagenham and Rainham, Jon is a member of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet while Anna Marie is also a leading member of the Labour Party having served as special advisor to John Prescott and is now a member of the House of Lords and known as Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill.
Anna’s late father was Martin Healy who emigrated from Barnatra in north Mayo to London in the 1950’s and her mother Betty Lally is originally from Galway. Jon also has Irish blood through his mother Patricia who is originally from Buncrana in Donegal and they are not strangers to the west of Ireland.
They always had plans to build a house in Mayo but Achill’s magic cast a spell over them both and they became enchanted by its beauty.
“Why Achill? We are often asked that. Well it’s really self-evident to us, it is one of the most beautiful places you can come across. It is a strange type of beauty because it is a wild and ferocious type, it’s not benign. Achill is so beautiful and magical. I have never come across a place anywhere like it in the world. It is extraordinary,” Jon explained to The Mayo News.
“The weather, the mountains, the light ….. it seems to me it is no coincidence that the cultural and artistic community come here because of the extraordinary powers of the landscape. The contrasts between the cliffs, the mountains, the Atlantic, and the light all combining in a unique way. Along with the extraordinary history and warmth of the people I find it a unique setting. Having travelled around a lot of the world I can’t think of an equivalent landscape to tell you the truth. Its beauty and its rawness are unmatched.”
As dyed in the wool Labourites, it is quite ironic that because of the party’s lowest hour when they lost power after 13 years in 2010, it allowed Jon and Anna the time they needed to build their dream home on Achill.
They bought a site three years ago in Dookinella and after getting planning permission, they set about getting it built. Jon admitted that the prospect of building a home they plan to live in while based in London was a daunting task. However he says his fears were laid to rest by the professionalism of the contractor Tommy McNamara and his team.
“From our end everyone is really appreciative because it is one of those turning points in your life that you worry that you might have just dropped the ball.
“I have to put on record my appreciation for the team because they have been absolutely fantastic. I didn’t think it was possible for a project to go so well in terms of the quality, the management of it, in terms of the warmth and friendliness and communication. Despite the fact it was a much bigger project than we initially envisaged because of the excavation levels nothing appeared impossible to overcome and that was really important for us.
“Everyone bent over backwards to be as helpful as possible and it was completed very quickly. Tom McNamara was fantastic in helping us work through all that we wanted and delivering. It was fantastic to have such confidence and when you know it will be in safe hands you don’t have to fret about it.”
Long term plan
Despite there busy schedules in Westminster Jon and Anna say they will be back as much as possible during the year and the house will be used regularly by their family. They were adamant that it won’t become another holiday home on the island and plan to live on the island and make a contribution to the community.
“It’s going to be used throughout the year as far as I’m concerned …. and gradually we end up living here as our home.”
They have incorporated an office in the house so they can work while they are in Achill and for Jon the next year will be very busy. He has been given the task of coming up with the manifesto to inspire Labour to victory in the next General Election.
“We got two and a half years left [before the election] but this is the crunch time. We were in power for 13 years and we had a bad result so we need to reinvigorate ourselves and call Cameron and Osbourne to account more. But it is changing at home more the sense that the coalition is running out of steam is a strong one and growing especially since the last budget. A year ago we have been written out of the game but now we’re seen to be on average to be ten or 12 points ahead. It’s game on.
“I’m going to bring some of my colleagues over here to do a bit of work and get away from it and sort out a few things. We have quite a big agenda ahead of us over the next couple of years but this will be the perfect place to get things done.”
If after the next UK General Election, Ed Miliband regains the control of Number 10, history may make reference to the ‘Achill Manifesto’ which inspired their success.
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