The West's Awake by Cormac MacConnell
Passing the torch in Kerry
Posted on Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 09:58 AM
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The Dutch Nation, who does not possess an Irish vote, asks me in a puzzled voice, "Who is that strange-looking man with the flat cap on his head?" and I reply, "That is the new Healy-Rae, a strange-looking lad all right but out of a clan to be reckoned with.
“He's the kind of lad, like his daddy before him, who adds a bit of spice to our elections, a bit of strong mustard, and the Healy-Raes always wear flat tweed caps. 'Tis a kind of a trademark."
And Annett asks, " What does he stand for? Who does he represent?"
And I replied, "He's an independent candidate, but above all he represents the village of Kilgarvan which we will be passing through a few miles down the road. The Healy-Raes are characters down to the last flat cap.”
And then we were both silenced by the evening beauty of the soaring Caha Pass, the perfection and power of the rainbow arched high over it ahead of us, and the entire glory of this section of the fabled Ring of Kerry. Earth has not anything to show more fair, to quote the poet.
Kerry Radio announced in the background that Michael Healy-Rae was canvassing at that very moment in Killorglin, famed for its King Puck every year, but on this Sunday hosting a horse fair. And the flamboyant man with the flat cap.
Ye know at this stage the way I'm inclined to view general elections, even in dire times like these, as occasions of excitement and, yes, entertainment for the masses.
They are democratic exercises for sure and have serious consequences, but they are also stimulating at the human level. They are battles for power between candidates who increasingly look alike and talk alike and campaign in the same frequencies.
I am delighted that there is still a niche in there for a maverick candidate like Michael Healy-Rae. And that there still exists the possibility (maybe even the probability) that when the votes are counted in South Kerry by the end of the month that he might replace his celebrated father Jackie in Leinster House.
Of one thing ye can be certain. He is the only tweed-capped candidate on all the million posters right throughout the land.
So was his father, who is now nearly 80 years old, in his day. He has retired and passed the cap on to the son after a political career during which many urban folk regarded him as a backwoodsman and buffoon from the bogs of Kerry.
But also 14 years during which most of his peers discovered that if you burned him for a fool you'd be left with wise ashes.
A former Fianna Fail stalwart, he ran as an independent after some internal dispute and kept getting easily re-elected. A measure of his guile was the fact that he supported Fianna Fail-led governments in return for local development.
Another measure is the fact that both Michael, his son, and a second son Danny are members of Kerry County Council. That is not easily achieved either.
He was colorful in the extreme. I met Jackie first during a by-election in Connemara. At that time not only was he a Fianna Fail stalwart, he was also the party's top organizer of celebrations. Nobody knew more about organizing torchlight processions and bonfires than Jackie Healy-Rae.
And when the dispute developed later he was able to organize and illuminate his own triumphs better than any. He was a showband musician (the saxophone I think), a publican and shopkeeper and a man with a good earthy turn of phrase across all his activities.
He was, and is, a character always available for a good quote, and he never needed a PR adviser like so many more. By all accounts his son Michael is cut from the very same bolt of homespun.
In the increasingly dapper and suited world of Irish politics at all levels, there is no doubt but that there has always been a cringe factor at many national levels attached to the burly man with the cap and the Kerry accent and sayings.
But that never percolated down to the South Kerry region that was his kingdom, especially the Kilgarvan district, and, at the end of the day, I suppose, that is all that matters when the votes are counted.
At any rate, there was always a bit of craic attached to Jackie, and when he was on TV you did not look away. You were never certain what was coming next.
If he has passed on the most of his qualities to the son then the name could survive into the next Dail (Parliament).
I came to Kilgarvan and pointed out the family pub and shop to the Dutch Nation. Michael's posters and the thousand photos of the cap marched beside us all the way to near the Limerick border.
And a final flamboyant stroke was provided by the canvas flanks of an articulated truck and trailer parked alongside the main Limerick-Kerry road.
It was in a lay-by and presumably will remain there until polling day.
Michael's huge be-capped visage and appeal for number one votes occupied every inch of advertising space. A coup of a kind in keeping with a unique political dynasty.
I enjoyed the man's company all the way over the Kerry mountains......