Many tributes have been paid to the late Shannon Councillor Mike McKee in recent days, while large numbers attended his funeral.
Originally from the North, his family left the Protestant area of Belfast in which they lived during his youth, under threat from loyalists. They relocated to Omagh and came to Shannon in the mid 1970s, as many others did.
In 2017 he described arriving in the town. “I was about 17 and it was quite traumatic coming down here from the North, leaving all your friends behind and coming down to not just a strange place but to a strange country. I knew nothing about the Republic at that stage and I’d heard that it (Shannon) was just full of housing estates. The removal people who brought our furniture down said it was just houses, houses, houses everywhere and I couldn’t get my head around that until I arrived in Shannon.”
However he said he was easily won over and found that a town where everyone had come from elsewhere was quite accepting. “That’s the reason so many people are accepted, we would not reject anyone, we all had to come in at some stage and we had to be accepted.”
At the tender age of 17 he joined Sinn Féin, and while he spent a few years as an independent, he was associated with the party for almost all the time since then.
In 1985 he was elected to the Shannon Town Commissioners, a forerunner of Shannon Town Council.
The subsequent report in the Clare Champion said, “Another feature of the Shannon election was the great showing by Michael McKee, Sinn Féin, who polled 259 votes on the first count. However, he had to sweat it out until the seventh count before he exceeded the quota by two votes (275). His supporters were acclaiming his election victory as a great success for the party organisation in Shannon, but others were more inclined to point to it as an indication of the candidate’s personal popularity, especially among the younger electorate.”
Mr McKee’s vote was more than 50% up on the combined vote secured by three Sinn Féin candidates in the previous election.
He retained his seat in 1994, 1999 and 2004, while he served on the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle prior to the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998. He was also Mayor of Shannon in 2002.
In the years prior to the 2009 election Mr McKee had been serving as an independent and he had not enjoyed being outside the party framework. When he decided not to run for election again, it seemed that his political career was at an end.
However there was to be a dramatic second act, After rejoining Sinn Féin, he represented the party in the 2014 local elections and won a seat, becoming the party’s first representative on Clare County Council since the 1970s.
He was due to run in the next general election and would have been expected to perform well. However, before this summer’s local elections he received his diagnosis. Mr McKee still retained his seat in the Shannon Municipal District and sought to work for the town as best he could in the months since then.
Just ten days before his death, while clearly unwell, he still made a huge effort to attend a Municipal District meeting and introduced his motions. He also attended the opening of Shannon Town Park on the same day.
Mr McKee is survived by his wife Eileen, daughter Jeanette and her partner Brad, son David, grandchildren Óran and Rían, his mother Theresa, brothers Paul and Liam, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, nephews and nieces.