Farewell to Martin, a true one-off…

Martin Connaughton was a true one-off. I was greatly saddened to hear of his sudden passing earlier this week.

I considered him to be a good friend, but then that’s what made Martin special: a man of great nature, decency and humour, he had the capacity to forge friendships with people from all walks of life, and of all ages too. He loved life, as he loved people.

Many’s an afternoon he appeared in the Roscommon People office, eager to highlight some issue, beginning a conversation that would inevitably lead to a wider discussion on politics and whatever was topical in the community. Our last such chat was in February.

Few people have ever had their finger on the pulse of their community in the way that Martin Connaughton did. He was a brilliant politician, because he understood people and their concerns. He worked tirelessly for the people – and with his combination of common sense, persistence and charm, no Council official, TD or Government Minister could or would lightly disregard whatever case he was making at a given time.

A story that Martin loved to be remind me of relates to a chat we had in Down the Hatch on the night before the 2004 election.

When we met, Martin asked for my prediction as to how the then ‘Mid-Roscommon’ area would go. I told him I fully expected him to retain the seat he had won in 1999. Martin went further. With a smile on his face, he said: “Can I tell you something, Paul? I’ll come in with about 870 number ones”.

The only reason I raised an eyebrow was because of the preciseness of the prediction.

The next day, Martin Connaughton secured 876 numbers ones on his way to being re-elected.

We had a similar conversation five years later. Once again, Martin accurately predicted (to within a handful of votes), his first preference total.

There was no complacency or arrogance involved. Quite simply, this was a stunning example of a local politician at their peak. For me, it exemplified his remarkable knowledge of the electoral area, its townlands, its households, its people. Martin knew exactly how many votes he had in each house; he had ‘the work done’.

Of course Martin had one particularly great thing going for him; while he was a Fianna Fáil candidate, he could turn presumed Fine Gael (and Independent-minded) voters into Martin Connaughton voters through the sheer force of his personality, charm, and  the actual work that he did on the ground. He was an outstanding county councillor.

It was in farming circles – and through general community engagement – where he initially built life-lasting bonds of friendship (before the progression into politics). For a great flavour of Martin Connaughton –  family man, farming man, community man, politician, raconteur, and much more besides – I will refer readers to a marvellous tribute, published on page 20 of this issue.

Today, Thursday, May 23rd, the people of his community will gather to comfort Martin’s family – and celebrate his life – as he is laid to rest. He was a true one-off, a giant of our community, and a man who will be greatly missed. Rest easy, Martin.