'This is just great for the parish' - new Taoiseach Micheál Martin comes home to Ballinlough

'This is just great for the parish' - new Taoiseach Micheál Martin comes home to Ballinlough
Micheál Martin with his wife Mary and their daughter Aoibhe by their family home in Ballinlough, Cork. Pics/Vids: Denis Minihane.

There will be no formality in the estate in Cork where Micheál Martin has lived for three decades, with neighbours who have celebrated birthdays and weddings alongside him saying that they will continue to call the new Taoiseach by his first name.

To neighbours, the Taoiseach is just father to Micheál Aodh, Aoibhe, and Cillian. Or a plus-one to Mary.

Micheál’s next-door neighbour Ella McSweeney, 26, said that to her, the new Taoiseach was simply the pleasant man next door.

“One of their kids, Micheál Aodh, is my own age,” she said. “I would have grown up with them. He is just a lovely neighbour that we always got on with. He is a genuine guy.”

Jim McSweeney, putting up balloons and banners in the park, said Micheál was a down-to-earth, approachable man who worked tirelessly.

“He deserves this honour,” he said. “I think he needs some time now with his wife and children and I think we will all give them a bit of space.

“He’s a great neighbour, and we have always got on very well, sharing many events like birthdays. We have always been good friends.”

Asked if being Taoiseach would change Micheál, he replied: “Absolutely not. He’s a very mature man and I know he will take it all in his stride, as will his family.

“I think life will go on here just the same . He has got a lot of hard work to do, and we wish him the best of luck.”

Mairéad Richmond gives the thumbs up to her big brother Martin’s elevation to the role of Taoiseach.
Mairéad Richmond gives the thumbs up to her big brother Martin’s elevation to the role of Taoiseach.

The Martins are viewed as a regular family next door. As the media waited for Micheál to arrive, Mary Martin and her daughter Aoibhe went out for a walk without even attracting the attention of local photographers, such was their low-key style.

Mr Martin received a socially distanced guard of honour from neighbours, friends, and supporters as he entered the park to a rousing verse of ‘The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee’.

Amongst his supporters was Ursula Shannon, wife of local Fianna Fáil councillor Terry Shannon. She said it was hard for her to contain her emotion seeing the best man at her wedding become Taoiseach of the country.

“I am thrilled, delighted, and excited,” she said. “Fianna Fáil is in our family going back generations. My grandmother followed Jack Lynch all around the country. Especially when free travel came in. This is just great for the parish.”

Micheal’s former teacher Liam Byrne, who is also a neighbour, described him as having a “roguish” sense of humour. He taught a young Micheál in Coláiste Chríost Rí in Turners Cross in Cork.

“He was a very diligent student,” he said. “He was popular in the school. He was very good at maths and also excellent at English and history, which would have been his favourite subjects.

“He was a very nice lad. I would describe him as having a great sense of a roguish type of fun. He had a great sense of humour and still has.

“At the same time, he was very involved in most school activities. He loved the school tours and his visits to the West Kerry Gaeltacht instilled a great love for the Irish language and Irish culture in him that continues to this day.”

A socially distanced greeting for Taoiseach Micheál Martin as he arrived back to Ballinlough in Cork.
A socially distanced greeting for Taoiseach Micheál Martin as he arrived back to Ballinlough in Cork.

Mr Byrne said they were a close-knit bunch of neighbours with very few changes in households since the properties were built in 1989.

“We watched his political career closely and himself, Mary, and the family have been lovely neighbours down through the years,” he said.

“They are lovely people to live beside and to deal with. “We are all very proud of him here. We saw him elected as lord mayor of Cork in 1992, then as a Cabinet minister in 1997, and now as Taoiseach.

"It’s a great day for the parish, for Ballinlough, for Turners Cross, and for Cork.”

Also among the supporters waiting for Micheál to arrive was former Fianna Fáil councillor and lord mayor of the city Donal Counihan, who has been cocooning for months.

Wearing a visor to keep him safe, he said that the new Taoiseach had dedicated himself in a disciplined manner to politics.

He also spoke of his immense joy at seeing Cork so well represented at Cabinet.

“In our constituency here we have the three best public representatives in the country — Micheál Martin, Michael [McGrath], and Simon Coveney,” he said.

Meanwhile, Micheál said the hot topic for locals was not Government formation but where they were going to get their hair cut.

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