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ÔMullÕ ponders on what might have been after 24 years in local politics

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Date Published: {J}

Over 100 old friends from politics and business came together last week to pay a special tribute to the years of service in politics of John Mulholland – a former Fine Gael Mayor of Galway, who served twenty four years in Galway City Council, and someone who might easily have been a TD at one stage.

Last week’s was a surprise gathering as, I understand, John Mulholland thought he was going to the Salthill Branch FG Christmas Dinner! The event was organised by friends and family and was held in The Salthill Hotel, with MEP Jim Higgins as the main speaker in tribute to the Mulholland years in Galway City politics.

The era came to an end at the Local Elections in June last, when Mulholland failed to be elected. He lost out on the last count, while his newcomer running-mate Hildegarde Naughton, was elected. When it came to the seventh count in the Galway City West Ward (Salthill-Claddagh-Knocknacarra), Mulholland was one of the last four candidates left in the running for the final three seats. The seats went to Hildegarde Naughton (FG) 1466, Peter Keane (FF) 1358, Neil McNelis (Lab) 1346, with Mulholland going out on 1149 votes.

Attendance at last week’s tribute function was led by MEP Higgins, Senator Paddy Burke (FG Mayo), West Galway TD and long-time friend Padraic McCormack, and two of the Fine Gael City Councillors, Padraig Conneely and Brian Walsh, while a good friend from Fianna Fail, Val Hanley, who failed to be elected in June, was also among a fair scattering of people from other parties at the function.

The speculation in Fine Gael circles on the night was as to the absence of two from the function – Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames and Councillor Hildegarde Naughton. Perhaps the invitations went astray in the post. Senator Healy-Eames said she was disappointed not to have been there as she was an admirer of John Mulholland’s contribution to Galway over many years.

Among those who paid tributes was Christy O’Connor Junior ….. but on a night of reminiscence, there must have been a memory that at one stage, about twenty years ago, Johnny Mulholland was looked on by then Fine Gael Leader Garret FitzGerald and General Secretary Peter Prendergast as one of the potential new TDs, but Mull decided to forego the opportunity so as not to challenge his friend, Fintan Coogan Junior.

In those days Fine Gael were on a real bounce in the polls under the leadership of Garret FitzGerald and got their highest ever share of the votes in a General Election when, in November, they came up with 39.22 per cent of the first preferences.

In the background, about that time, the pressure was coming on Mulholland, a successful businessman in Galway, to let his name go forward for the Dail.However, John Mulholland was a very good friend of Fintan Coogan Jnr., whose father, Fintan Senior, had been a long-serving West Galway TD himself.

Mulholland shelved any Dail ambitions he might have had himself, in order to let Coogan Jnr. get the clear run, and to support Coogan. Of course, it turned out to be a life-changing decision.

For, if he ever wanted to be a TD, the chance never really came about again for Mulholland to run in such potentially favourable circumstances. What was it Shakespeare said? …. “there is a tide in the affairs of men which taken on the flood, leads on to fortune.” In other words, Mulholland was never to get another real offer of a possible Dail career.

It was a crucial decision for Mulholland, though he had a very successful twenty four years as a member of the City Council. He served on the City Corporation (City Council) with distinction and got two terms in the Mayoralty, but there was a time he could have been a TD.

Last June, he fell victim to the candidacy of FG newcomer, Hildegarde Naughton, who, even on the night of the convention, looked like she might be a potential winner. Factors in her favour included the fact that she was a new candidate; a woman; had her very politically experienced father, PJ Naughton, a former member of the Fine Gael National Executive, in her corner, and had young women supporters in numbers at the convention whom I never saw previously involved in politics.

She also conducted one hell of a campaign in which the whole idea of ‘personal networking’ by phone and personal and family contact, proved crucial …. just as it did for FF newcomer in the Salthill area, Councillor Peter Keane. Hildegarde Naughton also did an extraordinarily effective postering campaign in the days coming up to polling, that was quite unique and was issue-driven.

I think there was also another factor – five years previously Maureen Egan had gained 620 first preferences as a running-mate in Fine Gael with Mulholland, and this time, Maureen Egan was supporting Hildegarde Naughton.

Interestingly, among those at the function in honour of John Mulholland was Councillor Brian Walsh, who, at the moment, would appear to be in a situation similar to that in which John Mulholland found himself all those years ago. For, Brian Walsh has made it clear that he would like to run for the Dail …… but he is a close friend of sitting Fine Gael TD Padraic McCormack and, I understand, might be hesitant about running if it meant that he had to stand against McCormack for the nomination.

The dilemma for Brian Walsh began to really manifest itself a few months ago when the speculation about an imminent General Election seemed to reach fever pitch. Brian Walsh was selected in 2007 to stand when Padraic McCormack indicated he wanted to retire, but then Walsh made a late withdrawal from the race for personal and family reasons, and FG Leader Enda Kenny persuaded McCormack to come out of the intended retirement, and allow his name to go before the electorate once more.

McCormack has very much retained his huge interest in politics and has a degree of enthusiasm which is extraordinary. If an election were held soon, McCormack would probably stand again. Right now, with The Greens reported to be getting wobbly again on the issue of wanting more taxation in the Budget rather than spending cuts, you wouldn’t know when an election might be held – if it’s two years away, then McCormack might not stand and Brian Walsh might get his chance, but if things went wrong and the election was held soon, then McCormack might be pressed to stand again.In the background, there is a demand that Fine Gael must win two seats in Galway West and in the running for nominations have to be – Deputy McCormack, Senator Healy-Eames, Councillors Brian Walsh, Padraig Conneely and Hildegarde Naughton.

Of course, Padraic McCormack himself is no stranger to the whole business of being asked to stand aside in the interests of letting others have a ‘clear run.’

Back in the 1980s, after he had spent years slogging away in Fine Gael and been elected to the Senate, he was asked not to let his name go forward for election because Fine Gael were putting together a ticket of John Donnellan, Fintan Coogan and Pol O Foighil in an strategy aimed at winning two Dail seats out of five in Galway West.

The strategy worked brilliantly in 1982 when both John Donnellan and Fintan Coogan were elected in Galway West. That was when Garret FitzGerald became the Fine Gael Taoiseach ….. but in the election of 1987, it all fell apart again when only Donnellan was elected, as the backside fell out of the FG vote after their five years in power. Padraic McCormack got his chance when he was elected to the Dail in 1989, and he has been there since.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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