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ON HOME GROUND Newly elected MEP Maria Walsh at her homecoming in Shrule last Thursday. Pic: Ray Ryan

Shrule

Willie McHugh

Shrule Bridge has been the gateway to numerous political homecomings. For decades it was the first unofficial stop for newly-appointed ministers returning to Mayo with their seal of office. The local party handlers stood patiently awaiting the arrival of the Mercedes. Then the age-old ritual observed of walking them down the village corridor into Mayo.
Such iconic occasions only exist in the narrative of folklore now. Some bungling bureaucrat who never went further west then the Liffey Valley Shopping Centre pitched South Mayo in with the Galway West constituency.  It was a case of to hell or Cornamona.
But last Friday evening got as good as it gets again. Local girl Maria Walsh arrived back as a newly elected MEP. The community organised a welcome home for her in Shrule Community Centre. It wasn’t the first official welcome Shrule hosted for Maria.
On a balmy 2014 August evening Maria walked into this same building as the newly crowned Rose of Tralee. Even the most optimistic clairvoyant would not have predicted that night that the girl with the captivating smile wearing the sash and tiara would return as an MEP. But sometimes truth renders fiction unimaginative.
This event was organised at short notice but a good turnout nonetheless. Father Vivian Loughery abandoned the pulpit for the podium to act as MC for the MEP. On stage alongside him were Paul Gibbons of the local community council and long-time passionate Fine Gael political activist and High King of Glencorrib, Gerry Murphy, representing that wing of the parish.
Recently elected County Councillor Michael Burke from Ballinrobe fulfilled his first official function. Along too was Minister of State Seán Kyne, the Minister for Gaeilge, the Gaeltacht and the Islands who unselfishly left a family occasion in Moycullen to be with Maria in the hour of glory.
Seated among them proving everything is relative was local girl, Nicole Loughlin, who is this year’s Mayo representative in the upcoming Rose of Tralee contest.
There was the usual bonhomie and friendly fire on the Shrule dais. Fianna Fáil supporter Paul Gibbons, in voting Fine Gael for the first time in support of Maria, requested a good capital funding from Europe for Shrule village enhancement programme.
But Gerry Murphy was never letting Paul have carte blanche on that ask. Gerry demanded a matching sum for ‘a small project that we’re only after starting in Glencorrib and we want to finish it’. He also assured her beyond all reasonable doubt that she received the full complement of Glencorrib votes.
Maria Walsh, the newly elected MEP, made the final address of the night. It was bereft of political speak, targeting her words of deep appreciation to her parents, Vincent and Noreen, her siblings, friends and the local community who helped make this possible for her.
Hers is an amazing achievement by any standards. Her first foray into the political arena and journey’s end lands her in Brussels, A feat almost matched by another proud daughter of Mayo, Saoirse McHugh from Achill. She was a relative unknown except to those who make it their business to know.
In a few short weeks Saoirse, without any palaver or waffle, brought the message of protecting the environment to a huge attentive audience. Saoirse‘s soundings need urgent heeding and immediate action by all. We haven’t heard the last of this great woman either. Bigger days await her.
Both she and Maria Walsh proved there can still be a fairytale ending to some political yarns. There are days you can aim for the stars and land on Mars.
And return home in glory over Shrule Bridge.