Carlow-Kilkenny byelection: Roll up, roll up, the circus is back in town — and so is Fianna Fáil

David Fitzgerald, manager of Fossett's Circus with Otto the clown and fire juggler Gabi at Cillin Hill during the Carlow-Kilkenny byelection count

On Saturday, Kilkenny was filled with thoughts of tightrope walking, fire juggling that has burned more than a few, and a horse-and-pony show that still keeps at least some entertained.

And that was just the circus next door.

The Carlow-Kilkenny by-election count rather aptly shared an open space in Cillin Hill on the outskirts of the city with Fossett’s Circus, and at times it was difficult to tell the difference, particularly when Fossett’s manager shared a name with the Fine Gael candidate.

Ultimately, after questionable verbal gymnastics, death-defying leaps of logic, clowning around, and spotlight stealers momentarily hogging the limelight, a Dáil seat left empty by Phil Hogan’s (don’t spray the spritzer, it’ll cost you) European ‘promotion’ has finally been filled.

Fianna Fáil’s Bobby Aylward regained the position he lost in the 2011 revolt at 2.20am on Sunday and, in doing so, brought the warm glow of a welcoming Big Top crowd back into view for his party.

Carlow-Kilkenny byelection: Roll up, roll up, the circus is back in town — and so is Fianna Fáil

Whether it is just one victory in a constituency the party always favourite to dominate, or the sign of a genuine recovery, is now the big ticket act the audience is baying to see.

The morning started with so much optimism for 12 other candidates dreaming of running away with the circus, before the cracking open of ballot boxes brought hopes crashing down to earth like a high-wire act gone wrong.

Predictions that a high 65.7% turnout meant a third trapeze member in Sinn Féin or Renua could swing in to join Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were also dashed as it became clear the traditionally dominant parties would continue to steal the show.

As Fianna Fáil spokespeople struggled to contain the outlines of a long-forgotten smile, director of elections and environment spokesman Barry Cowen warned that his own father Ber was “congratulated in the morning and commiserated with that evening” after a shock saw him lose a Dáil seat presumed won.

But, in truth, all parties knew Mr Aylward would win by the early afternoon — long before the first count was announced. Everything else was like candy-floss: Pointless.

That doesn’t mean the vital parts of any circus act — animals and humour — were far away, with Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness taking up the role with gusto when asked about his supposedly lukewarm Aylward support.

Responding to the question, the notably tanned Kilkenny City TD — who went to the Canary Islands during the campaign and has a long-standing rivalry with his colleague — said the Facebook profile picture of his German shepherd Mikey instead of the candidate was easily explained.

“She shows great loyalty to me,” he said drily as Mr Cowen stifled a laugh.

Clowning around aside, the apparent lack of cohesion underlines how Fianna Fáil needs a ringmaster cracking the whip to keep the lions (and dog-lovers) in line.

Until now, party leader Micheál Martin was a man who had the uniform, just not the whip, meaning he risked being eaten alive.

However, armed with the party’s first by-election win since 1996, when he entered the ring at 9.30pm he was swamped by well-wishers keen to be pictured with him. Everyone loves a winner.

It was Bobby Aylward’s name on the ticket, but the weekend was just as much Micheál Martin’s success.

Roll up, roll up, the Fianna Fáil show may just be back in town.

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Wesley O’ Regan is the General Manager of Popscene in Voodoo Rooms, Cork city. Popscene opened last November and is Cork’s only themed bar that is dedicated to celebrating the best of the 80s and 90s. https://www.facebook.com/PopsceneCork/You've Been Served: Wesley O'Regan, Popscene

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