18 councillors, one Honorary Consul, and lots of drama

What is it with Roscommon and elections? Some people were predicting that the local elections of 2024 would be very humdrum, with not too much excitement to report. Those people were wrong (again) as some incredible stories emerged over the course of what was a marathon weekend at the Hyde Centre.

You knew that something big was in the offing when the new Honorary Consul for the Republic of Azerbaijan (Terry Leyden) was in attendance to ‘preside’ over the proceedings! One wag asked: “What do we call you now Terry in your new position?” Terry just laughed it off as the serious business continued all around us.

There were stories of joy and heartbreak in all three local electoral areas.

  In the Athlone Municipal District, Emer Kelly, who was standing in her first election (she was co-opted during the lifetime of the last council after Ivan Connaughton stepped down) turned in a stunning performance with almost 2,000 first preference votes. It’s really refreshing to see a young female politician making such a name for herself.

The beaming Emer arrived into the count centre on Sunday along with family and friends. There too were fellow candidates and serious vote-getters, Tony Ward and John Naughten. Between the three of them they clocked up 5,482 first preference votes. Some achievement for all three.

Sitting councillors Larry Fallon and John Keogh also polled well and were elected in later counts, but one of the most dramatic stories of the 2024 local election would come in this electoral area. But not until 3.30 am on Monday morning. More on that later.

Probably the most predictable electoral area was the Roscommon Municipal District. Most forecasts were that it would be ‘seven for six’ and this assessment was proven to be spot on as it became evident early on that Robbie McConn, even though he polled very well, was slightly behind the ‘big six’.

  Sitting councillors Paschal Fitzmaurice, Nigel Dineen, Marty McDermott and Tony Waldron polled very well and looked home and dry from early on Saturday evening.

The Castlerea area votes stayed local too. First-time candidate Gareth Scahill attracted a great vote and he was always going to be elected, with long-estabished councillor Paschal Fitzmaurice doing very well too. The Castlerea votes stayed in Castlerea.

Then we come to Larry Brennan, who was running for the third time. He tried his luck again on this occasion after Orla Leyden decided not to run. It turned out to be a good decision. Larry is a great community man and popular around the county town and beyond. He gets his chance now after a number of disappointments.

Robbie McConn (a good personal friend of mine) was just squeezed out. Although he got a very good vote, it indicated once again that there is not a big Fine Gael vote in the Roscommon town area currently. A number of Fine Gael candidates over the years have found that out. Robbie put in a huge effort but just fell short. The cruelty of it all.

In the Boyle area, there were always going to be changes, and we ended up with a cliff-hanger. At the top of the poll Valerie Byrne came up trumps once again with a very strong showing. ‘Mr Ballaghaderreen’ himself Micheal Frain finally gets his chance on the council after a number of disappointments, and he will be delighted with his personal vote. One of the new rising stars of Roscommon politics is Sinn Féin’s Leah Cull, who bucked the national trend for her party with a superb showing.

But back to the Athlone Municipal District. When I left the count centre at 11.30 pm on Sunday night, all the political analysts, tally people, party personnel and various observers were calling the final seat as being a battle between young candidates James Murray of Fianna Fáil and Sam Brooks of Sinn Féin, with veteran Domnick Connolly (now back in the Fine Gael fold) a distant third. Not one person I spoke to gave Domnick a serious chance. To be honest I didn’t think he had a hope either.

When I woke early on Monday morning and looked at my phone I couldn’t believe my eyes. He had made it! Domnick hung in there until the very end and the fact that James Murray (from his local area) was eliminated pushed him over the line. It was an incredible victory.

When preparing for this article I looked up the history of local elections in Roscommon. The first local election that I covered officially was in 1991. On that occasion Domnick took the last seat in the Roscommon area after a battle with Seamus McDermott. Now 33 years later the Fuerty man is back on the council again, having missed out in the last election.

I know Domnick for over 30 years. He is a mighty character. I rang him on Monday. We both laughed heartily first at the good of what had happened. I then said to him: “I thought you had no chance when I was here last night”. He replied: “I didn’t think I had a chance either”. As one experienced political observer remarked to me on Monday – ‘Lazarus Connolly’.

But the drama wasn’t over. In fact it played out right until 10.20 pm on Monday night. The contest in the Boyle area was so close that only three votes separated two candidates at one stage. No surprise then that a recount was called.

On Sunday evening another widely-held view was that sitting councillor Liam Callaghan was set to lose his seat. However, similar to the Domnick Connolly fightback, Liam hung in there and emerged victorious alongside newcomer Sean Moylan and veteran Tom Crosby, thus signalling the completion of the count. It had been a long weekend and the longest local election count here that I can remember.

It was a gruelling marathon for count staff, security personel, the tally people, the candidates and their families, and the media too, but when you have stories unfolding like the ones we saw over the weekend it’s a timely reminder that there is something special about how we go about elections in this country. Another weekend of drama had finally concluded.

That’s Roscommon elections for you. It’s never over until it’s over.

*A word of thanks to Brian Carroll who provided a wonderful service on WhatsApp over the weekend with up to the minute tallies, counts and all the developments from the Hyde Centre.