The country’s new Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe received a triumphant welcome back to his home town in Cork last night and spoke of the moment his long-term friend, Taoiseach Brian Cowen, announced his appointment.
Mr O’Keeffe said he walked in to the Sycamore Room in Government Buildings on Wednesday evening and saw a friend who said: “Hey kiddo — give me a hug.”
“And he said education and science. I won’t tell you what I said to him but I said I hope I make you and the people I serve proud.”
Mr O’Keeffe’s State car, or the “Batt mobile” as it has been dubbed, rolled in to town just after 8pm. He was swamped by friends, family, supporters and political colleagues.
And so began an emotional walk in to the town centre, led by drummer Jonty O’Leary and piper Pa Hurley.
Flanked by his son, Mark and his wife Elaine, and holding the hands of his grandchildren, Leah and Rian, the minister waved to people who filed out of pubs and restaurants.
There was a spontaneous round of applause when 84-year-old publican Mary O’Connell, in whose Main Street pub the minister has held his clinics for almost 22 years, came out to congratulate him. The two embraced and tears welled in the minister’s eyes.
“Home is where the heart is,” he told a crowd of almost 300 people who gathered on the square outside the town’s new shopping centre.
“In all the jobs that I’ve done before, I’ve always had one objective, that is to serve, to listen and to learn from the people.
“We can see quite clearly the Ireland of tomorrow has to compete on international scene and we must create jobs through the ideas and absolute genius that’s part and parcel of the Irish people.”
Originally from Cullen near Mallow, the 63-year-old Cork North-West TD has lived in Ballincollig for 30 years. But he did not forget his roots.
“The last Duhallow man to serve as a minister was appointed 57 years ago — Sean Moylan of Kiskeam, who ironically was then appointed minister for education. What a proud moment to follow in his footsteps.”
The celebrations continued in Ballincollig GAA afterwards.
Mr O’Keeffe is expected to perform his first official duties as a cabinet minister in Cork on Monday, when he will open a conference hosted by Cork Institute of Technology (CIT).
He was a lecturer in communications at CIT for almost two decades from 1973 and is a former member of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, with whom he will undoubtedly have many dealings over the next few years.