JOE ‘Lazarus’ Mellett became the story of the night in Swinford after almost miraculously rising from the political dead in the late hours. For the duration of the incoming Council, Mellett should be known as Lazarus after his most remarkable revival when all appeared lost.
The strains of the country song ‘Four In the Morning’ came across Mid West Radio as Joe was being interviewed around 4.30am. He couldn’t resist joining in and singing the opening lines! For a man whose political obituary had been written all day, he had every reason to feel like singing a few bars of the song.
On Saturday afternoon at the TF in Castlebar, I spoke to Joe who told me the seat was gone. He was philosophical about it. “That’s life. You do your best. In this game, you have to accept the verdict. Fianna Fail ran a strong campaign. Michael Smyth was a good candidate. Gerry Murray got the big vote. Eugene (Lavin) is ahead of me. Fine Gael has done well everywhere else,” he said.
As the only outgoing Fine Gael councillor who looked a ‘cert’ to lose out, Joe was accepting the commiserations of friends and political rivals. He was gracious in “defeat”.
Five years ago, he was involved in a tight finish with his party colleague John Flannery from Charlestown. This time, the dramatics were almost unbelievable. “I just could not see how it was possible that Fine Gael could take two seats with the first count numbers. I’m over the moon,” said Joe, his supporters rallying like the Offaly folk in 1982 after that famous Seamus Darby late goal against Kerry.
And yet, while ‘Lazarus’ is the talk of the place, the performance of Gerry Murray was the outstanding achievement in the Swinford electoral area. The Charlestown man came in on 2,212 and had in excess of 400 votes over the quota, fending off all opposition to become Sinn’s Fein’s only poll topping councillor in the province.
“We had a good campaign. The work was done over the past five years and the people stayed with me. I was very pleased to see my vote increase. It came from all parts of the electoral area,” said Gerry.
Foxford Fianna Fail councillor Jimmy Maloney put in a strong show, upping his vote nicely from 2004. Many thought he would be under pressure but the veteran politician showed that he is still a doughty campaigner. He was never in bother and always on course to win a seat from once the first count was in.
Eugene Lavin from Kiltimagh, the former Mayo goalie, had to contend with a spirited revival of the Fianna Fail vote in the general Kiltimagh area. While his vote was down on 2004, he still took over 600 votes from the three Kiltimagh boxes which amounted to almost 50% of his first preference vote. It was enough to give him an early edge over his running mate Joe Mellett and he looked the safer bet to take the seat from the outset.
Fianna Fail’s newcomer, Michael Smyth, lost out by just 55 votes. He put in a fine campaign and looked on course to take seat all day before tripping up short of the line when an unexpectedly large amount of John Caulfield’s transfers crossed over to Lavin and Mellett. On this performance, Smyth looks set to carve out a political career and may well be the party’s candidate in the south east Mayo region in the next General Election.
Kilkelly based John Caulfield also turned in a big performance, polling almost 1,000 votes, well ahead of what many had expected in advance. He put in a strong ground campaign and can be very pleased with his contribution to this exciting contest.
While Cathal Henry of Fine Gael came in short of 500, it was mainly his distribution that provided the oxygen that resuscitated Joe Mellett and also pushed Eugene Lavin into the comfort zone.
This was the one area that almost totally defied all political logic based on the first count figures. No one gave Fine Gael a chance of taking two seats on these figures. It needed a miracle … and the vagaries of the PR system provided it in a most unexpected manner. Joe Mellett lived to tell the tale.