ALL roads led to Ennistymon last Sunday morning as the counting of just over 60,000 Clare ballots began. Storm Ciara tore along the western seaboard, leaving sections of the N85 barely passable. As political pilgrims queued to cross flood waters south of the Inagh village, the brother of outgoing TD Timmy Dooley came quietly to the rescue. Pat Dooley donned his wellies to check the depth of the water, then led a number of other drivers through. Gales and floods ultimately did little to deter the capacity crowd that poured into The Falls Hotel to witness a drama few could have anticipated.
As the ballot boxes were opened, the threads of a new political narrative emerged. Sinn Féin was on course to have a Clare TD for the first time since 1922. It took more than twelve hours, however, to confirm the dominance of newcomer Violet-Anne Wynne. Anticipation of the first count was at fever pitch by 9.10pm. Families and friends piled in to support the candidates. The heat forced some to remove their political anoraks. Microphone stands seemed to wilt in the glare of the swelling crowd as Pat Wallace made his way to the podium. The Returning Officer proved unflappable as microphones drooped under the intense pressure and the over-tired crowd repeatedly called on him to repeat the numbers.
But the figures were clear. 8,987 first preferences for Sinn Féin put their candidate comfortably ahead of nearest rival Cathal Crowe, on 8,355.
The night rolled on. Three outgoing TDs began to assess the seismic impact of the Sinn Féin surge, and stared down the barrel of elimination as proceedings adjourned following the fifth count.
On Monday morning, transfers were tallied and the prediction that Martin Conway’s second preferences would favour his party colleague Joe Carey over Pat Breen were borne out. The Senator exited with good grace after count six, two ahead of the Minister for State. Among those to commiserate with Junior Minister Breen were his former primary school teacher PJ Kelly a veteran Fianna Fáil councillor and the sense of loss across the political spectrum was palpable. The upside for Fine Gael was that the Ballynacally native’s transfers pushed Joe Carey ahead of another political behemoth Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley.
The exit of Roisín Garvey after the ninth count left the field clear and the stakes high. Her transfers pushed Independent Michael McNamara and SF’s Violet Anne Wynne over the quota. The third seat went to Cathal Crowe, and Joe Carey secured the last. Predicted poll topper Timmy Dooley lost out. By the time the four seats had been filled, snow was falling over North Clare, but it is likely to take some time for the dust to settle on this particular General Election result.