After quiet start, count delivered drama, joy and disappointment

On a weekend of significant election drama in County Roscommon, the most dramatic battle was in Boyle Municipal LEA where a recount called on Sunday night ultimately culminated in sitting councillor Liam Callaghan (Fine Gael) edging our fellow party representative and first-time candidate, Dympna Daly-Finn.

For most of the weekend, Cllr Callaghan’s seat looked in great peril, and his success and that of former Fine Gael councillor Domnick Connolly – who dramatically edged out Sinn Féin’s Sam Brooks (Athlone LEA) – were two of the highlights of the local elections of 2024 in Roscommon.

Perhaps the most stunning performances of the weekend were those of Leah Cull and Emer Kelly. Cull, a first-time candidate (Sinn Féin), stormed into the Council in the Boyle area, having polled a sensational 1416 number ones. Kelly, a sitting councillor who was going before the electorate for the first time (she was co-opted on to the Council in 2021, to replace Ivan Connaughton) received a spectacular mandate in Athlone (South Roscommon), topping the poll with almost 2000 votes. Indeed Cllr Kelly’s 1946 first count haul made her the top vote-puller in the entire county.

Cllr Callaghan’s dramatic rescue act came at the expense of Dympna Daly-Finn in the most heartbreaking of fashion for the latter candidate. After the ninth count, with three candidates already elected, Cllr Callaghan had moved just three votes ahead of his party colleague, Ms Daly-Finn (995 to 992). Independent candidate Paul Forde, who had a very impressive first electoral outing, was actually ahead of the Fine Gael duo, on 1053 votes. Ms Daly-Finn called a recount on Sunday night, which proceeded on Monday. When the results of that recount were announced, the gap of three remained, meaning Daly-Finn was eliminated, her transfers predictably benefitting her Fine Gael colleague and electing Callaghan (over Forde). Sean Moylan and Tom Crosby were also elected on that final count.

There had been huge drama in Athlone too, in the battle for the final seat. With five sitting councillors elected earlier, that battle came down to a three-way contest between Sam Brooks (Sinn Féin), James Murray (Fianna Fáil) and Domnick Connolly, the latter now back in the Fine Gael fold after leaving the party in 2011 over the closure of Roscommon A&E unit.

  With Connolly back in eighth place after the first count declaration – having polled a disappointing 482 first preferences – his prospects of completing a comeback (he lost his seat in 2019) seemed extremely slim. As eliminations and the distribution of votes continued in this LEA, it seemed increasingly likely that Brooks, an 18-year-old first-time candidate, would take a seat. Meanwhile, in the battle for bragging rights out Athleague way, Murray was consistently ahead of Connolly, and still in with a shout.

By count 7, Brooks held an apparently decisive 250 vote lead over Connolly, who had edged ahead of Murray by virtue of a series of small timely head-to-head wins on the distribution of (a) Tony Ward surplus, (b) John Naughten surplus, (c) Laurence Fallon surplus, (d) Dominic Naughton vote, and (e) Joe Harney vote. Murray recovered ground on Connolly on foot of John Keogh’s surplus, but not by enough. With Brooks on 1002, Connolly on 743 and Murray on 728, the latter candidate was eliminated. It was a very solid performance by Murray.

While Connolly had managed to stay in the race longer than Murray, he still had a much bigger mountain to climb. Count 9 would see the distribution of Murray’s 728 votes. Connolly needed to win at least 260 more of them than Brooks. As it transpired, Brooks received 76 transfers, bringing his total to 1078; that meant Connolly needed a massive 336 to win. While Murray is geographically close to Connolly, they are representing different parties. Connolly’s enormous transfer gain – plus 373 – propelled him to a sensational win. It was a crushing way for Brooks to lose out, but a remarkable comeback by Connolly.

Kelly and Cull were big winners over the weekend, as was Domnick Connolly. Liam Callaghan retained his seat in the most tense fashion. But there were other stand-out performances. In Boyle LEA, Micheál Frain was elected, securing a very impressive 1335 first preferences. In Roscommon, Larry Brennan’s long journey to the Council was finally completed, the well-known community activist comfortably being elected (polling 1198 on the first count). Also in Castlerea, Gareth Scahill (Fine Gael) became a first-time councillor in style on the back of 1168 first preference votes. Sean Moylan of Fianna Fáil was another of the big winners over the weekend, a superb outing for him (1278 on first count) securing a seat.

One of the most impressive performances of the weekend came from Cllr Marty McDermott in Roscommon, who increased his first preference vote from 1173 in 2019 to 1626, a rise which will add to speculation that the Oran native might consider a General Election run in the near future.

There were impressive vote tallies by Anthony Waldron (1390) and Nigel Dineen (1298) in Roscommon, and by Laurence Fallon (1202) in Athlone, and by serial ‘big-hitters’ Paschal Fitzmaurice (1853), Valerie Byrne (1565), John Naughten (1750) and Tony Ward (1786).

Poll-topping honours went to Emer Kelly (1946) in Athlone; Valerie Byrne (1565) in Boyle, and Paschal Fitzmaurice (1853) in Roscommon.