“Marie Means Business,” is the slogan splashed on Marie Murphy’s election literature, posters, and campaign cars and the candidate herself is taking it literally during this whirlwind few weeks.
Chosen by Fine Gael HQ as a third candidate in the new, amalgamated Tipperary constituency, to the bemusement of some in the camps of sitting TDs Tom Hayes and Noel Coonan, the county councillor is determined to be no third wheel as she approaches polling day.
“I’m not, and never was, a token candidate,” she says with the air of someone who feels she has a genuine chance of upsetting the odds come February 26.
If the response garnered on a dank, damp, grey morning during a thorough trek through some of her own heartland in south-west Tipperary can be relied upon, maybe it’s not so fanciful?
“I know what you’re looking for and you’re going to get it,” is the encouraging greeting from Margaret O’Brien in Castlegrace past Clogheen, close to the Vee and the wider Knockmealdowns. “Fair play to you, you’re a great worker.”
Ms O’Brien speaks of a scheme prodded along by Ms Murphy, which involved the removal of trees which were blocking the sightlines on the road outside her house. “You were taking your life in your hands coming in and out of the road.”
Next up: “I must get that light fixed,” vows the candidate, in relation to one of the public lights along the road.
Nearby, Tommy Dwyer is asked by Murphy and her team, including her sister Noelle Ahearne and other volunteers, for a vote. “Ah, I will, I will,” Mr Dwyer assures them. He wonders about the practicalities of campaigning throughout the entire, large county of Tipperary.
“Did you go to north Tipp?” He wonders, as if asking about a venture across the world.
“Not yet, but I will,” the first-time general election hopeful but two-term county councillor says. “I’ve been to Thurles.”
Speaking of the other side of the world, Tommy and his wife Margaret say they have a daughter in Australia. “She was home for Christmas. She has a lovely job over there and says she couldn’t come back to the HSE.”
This is Ms Murphy’s heartland, this corner of Tipperary which includes her home town of Clogheen and the likes of Ardfinnan, Cahir, Ballyporeen, Ballylooby, and even Newcastle — Mattie McGrath country.
But she is far from limiting her canvass to that largely rural stretch of the county, she explains. “Yesterday morning I was in Goatenbridge, in the afternoon I was in Powerstown outside Clonmel, then Abbey Meadows in Clonmel. Tomorrow we’re in Cashel and the day after in Fethard.” Seán Tierney wonders if candidates have “the same clout” since “John D retired,” referring to a long-serving council overseer. “He knew every nook and cranny of the area,” Ms Murphy agrees.
Seán asks: “Are you going to do it?” “With your help,” is the reply.
In Ballyboy House, a guesthouse just off the main Ardfinnan-Clogheen road run by the charming Breda and John Moran, there’s hot tea and coffee, biscuits, and an Aga-warmed kitchen in which to reheat and refresh those tired bodies. “I saw you on the television, you were very good,” Breda says as the crew settle down for a chat and a rundown of the rest of the day’s agenda.
Twenty minutes later, after that welcome pit-stop, it’s out into the rain again for some more hours of door-to-door, voter-to-voter, pressing the flesh. “Time to get going again,” Ms Murphy gently prods her team. She means business.
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