Apart from the final results, the most remarked on feature of the Mayo election count at the Travellers’ Friend was the lack of excitement, the absence of passion, which in the past was a hallmark of count day. Old campaigners recalled the heyday of election counts, when the centre would be packed to capacity, the atmosphere electric, the banter barbed, crowds outside pleading for admittance and entreating all and sundry for the prized pass which would allow one to join the throng inside.
All of that was absent this time. The doors now were wide open for anyone interested enough to walk in. The barriers erected to separate the anticipated crowds of onlookers from the tallymen doing their business at the front line had, by mid-morning, been removed . It was quite clear that, as far as the general public was concerned, there was a marked detachment from the whole electoral process.
Quite why things have changed so much in the course of a decade is hard to explain. Maybe it was that the outcome was thought to be so predictable that people couldn’t be bothered. Maybe the novelty of having a Mayo Taoiseach, such a major factor five years ago, had worn off. Even the boisterous, cheering, jubilant entourage which always exulted, election after election, in Michael Ring’s victories, seemed far more muted than before. Or maybe it’s because that generation to which politics was a matter of life and death has moved on.
One plausible explanation I heard is that, because of the phenomenon of instant messaging and real time news reporting, it’s no longer necessary to be present in the counting centre to be fully up to date on what is happening. There was a time when, hungry for news about the progress of the tally, supporters jostled and pushed and swapped figures and compared notes. Last Saturday week, that didn’t happen. Last Saturday week, tally results were flashed from mobile device to mobile device, the latest figures were e-mailed seconds after they were completed. My journalistic colleague sitting at home in front of his laptop was as up to date with the figures as if he was standing in the middle of the count centre.
For the political anoraks, there is still nothing to match the excitement of count day - the analysis of the trends as they reveal themselves ballot box by ballot box; the informed guesswork of whose transfers will benefit who; of how that last seat will fall when other contenders have fallen away and there are three left to fight for the remaining two seats. Nobody would wish for a renewed attempt to introduce electronic voting, but there is a growing acceptance that election results are not quite as gripping as the pundits like to think.
And it is for that reason alone that the current affairs team of CRCfm can take a bow for its marathon coverage of the Mayo count over two long days. News anchor, Aidan Crowley, ably assisted by Noel Campbell, marshalled a panel of Donal O’Shea, Johnny Mee, Tommie Joe Prendergast and Francis Brennan, which provided lively and informative contributions on everything that was unfolding in Mayo and across the country.
It was only at the end, late on Sunday, when the drama reached its climax, that we saw flashes of the old counting day excitement. Lisa Chambers’ success evoked a huge and jubilant response, with spirited renditions of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ and Frank Chambers’ trademark ‘The West’s Awake’, all in sombre comparison with the quiet and dignified exit from public life of Michelle Mulherin.
And may that be but temporary.