One of the enduring memories of elections in our house was my fathers quip “vote early, vote often”. Whether it was a local, national, EU, presidential or referendum, Bob would be wound up with the run in to the day and was positively buzzing when it came to the count. A firm left of centre voter, he took a keen, vocal and biased interest in politics in general.
It was the general election of 1977 that I remember most vividly, I guess it must have been the first that I was old enough to understand. Jack Lynch, then leader of Fianna Fail was fighting the election against Liam Cosgrove, then Taoiseach of Fine Geal and to this day I can remember Lynch’s poster plastered on most of the telegraph poles in the village.
But it was a sticker which we got, possibly at mass one Sunday morning, that really stands out. It was the novelty value of course, it meant nothing in terms of party allegiance. Bob nearly had a caniption when he saw i, he saw it as an attempt to attract people with a gimmick, politics with no substance, and indeed his view is still debated today. Fianna Fail won landslide victory, in part, on the basis of what they promised to give away (nothing new there then!).
All the elections in Cheekpoint were, and are, held in the National School, which was a cause of celebration too! No school!
To get there people would have generally walked. But there was also a political taxi; local party supporters that would call to your home and offer you a lift. Of course the drive would be filled with advice, a leaflet and an offer of a lift home, or to the pub! I remember Beardy Mick (Mick Sullivan) driving around with the car festooned with posters, speakers on top, urging people out to vote, offering a lift, and of course recommending the Labour party.
They say never talk about politics and religion. It was good advice in an Ireland still racked with civil war politics, and even in some homes adults could barely live with each other in the run up and aftermath of elections. My Grandfather – Andy Doherty (hops) had no such qualms however. Aunt Ellen lived with him in the village from where she ran the shop. The shop was a counter inside the door behind which she kept the basics and plenty of sweets and ice cream. The rest of the room was the living room, and Andy was often perched in his seat with the neighbours sitting around; Jim Doherty, Baby Burns, John Barry, Maryanne Cullen to name a few.
While Andy poured over the Irish Press and exclaimed loudly on what he found, excoriating everything from the local to the international, Ellen would try to act as moderator and the air was often blue with debate. In fairness, there were strong feelings on all sides whether it was the “civil war politics” still being fought or the campaign waging in Northern Ireland, more often than not I left the shop more confused and unsure of where I should stand, than when I went in.
My father told me one time there was pandemonium in the school one election day. It was the referendum on whether Ireland should join the EEC held in 1972. An older woman from the village had come in and taken her voting slip behind the booth when those present heard her loud exclamation. She arrived back out damning and blasting, asking where in the name of God was de valera’s name? Although the returning officers tried to explain patiently that as de valera was president (and almost 90) he could not feature on the ballot, the woman would not be silenced. A crowd had gathered and there was an excited debate some trying to calm her down, others only adding to the woe.
Eventually, a young returning officer (according to my father a teacher in the school at the time) offered a solution, since the woman wanted to vote for de valera and his party was advocating in favour of joining the EEC, surely the woman could be advised that that would be showing allegiance to him. Satisfied, she went back to the booth and exercised her constitutional prerogative. I can’t imagine any personality in Irish politics having the same effect today.
Although I can’t say with any certainty that my father voted early, and can almost guarantee that he didn’t “vote often” I can say that he voted every time he was given the option. It was important to him, and my mother and it rubbed off on me. I don’t know which way he would have voted today, but I’m guessing he would have had strong opinions on both, and here’s another Bob telling it plainly and in a way my father would have appreciated.