Tributes paid as Cork’s Noel Collins, Ireland’s longest-serving politician, dies aged 86

One incident saw him bring a dead rat to the Midleton UDC chamber. The rat had been trapped beneath a baby’s cot by a mother languishing on the housing list.
Tributes paid as Cork’s Noel Collins, Ireland’s longest-serving politician, dies aged 86

Noel Collins, longest-serving public representative in the State receiving his second Covid-19 vaccine in 2021.

The longest serving public representative in the State, Cork county councillor Noel Collins has passed away aged 86. 

Mr Collins was first elected to serve the people of Midleton in 1968, a role he held for the 55 years that followed, and was a regular poll-topper in the area. 

He was also very well-known for his charity work, personally financing taxi fares to Cork refuge centres for victims of domestic violence, often late at night.

In 2021, Mr Collins became one of the first people in Munster to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. He was a resident of Oak Lodge nursing home in Cloyne, Cork.

An 'old-style' politician, Mr Collins used a typewriter to contact his constituents which had some damage to its keys - often leading him to fill in the blank spaces with a biro.

He also never owned a mobile phone or used social media, and did not drive.

Noel's unwavering stance on social issues fuelled heated confrontations and occasional walkouts.

Mr Collins was affectionately referred to as "the father of Cork County Council”
Mr Collins was affectionately referred to as "the father of Cork County Council”

One incident saw him bring a dead rat to the Midleton UDC chamber. The rat had been trapped beneath a baby’s cot by a mum who was languishing on the housing list.

As management denied the existence of vermin and warned against “giving the town a bad name” he tossed the proof in their direction. 

“There was murder!” he recalled. “But the woman got re-housed.” 

Taioseach Micheál Martin has paid tribute to Mr Collins, saying he is "deeply saddened" by his passing, adding that he "truly earned the title ‘Father of Cork County Council’."

"I regarded Noel as a friend, and always admired his great commitment to helping the less well off," Mr Martin said.

"He was very popular in Midleton, and his background as a social worker defined Noel’s unwavering dedication to social justice, and framed his personal touch in advocating for those he represented.

"He will be sorely missed by the people of Cork, and political colleagues across the divide."

Cork County Mayor, Gillian Coughlan, led tributes this morning, describing him as “a lifelong public representative and the embodiment of advocacy”.

“A native of Lusk, Co. Dublin, Noel’s early career was that of a social worker, a role and responsibility that would come to define his approach to public office, with a dedication to supporting the marginalised in his community,” Ms Coughlan said.

“After parting ways with Fine Gael in 1969, Noel engaged in each election as an Independent with support from a legion of friends united in admiration for his charitable, political and social work.

“At the 2019 Local Elections, Noel received 2,267 first-preference votes, securing a seat on the first count and was so far ahead it took seven further counts before another candidate was deemed elected.” 

She said his fellow council members “affectionately referred to Noel as the father of Cork County Council”.

In 2017, Mr Collins celebrated 50 years of unbroken service as a public representative, and his colleagues “remarked on his unwavering dedication to social justice, his uncanny local knowledge, his support of younger members of Council through sharing his wisdom and experience together with his unorthodox and direct approach to holding clinics in public,” the Mayor said.

Ms Coughlan noted how his lack of a mobile phone, internet and car “never stopped him”.

“Noel used a typewriter and written letter to communicate and he did so to great effect, winning the hearts and minds of those he met.

“Despite a raft of changes both here in Ireland and globally throughout his political career, Noel showed just how much could be accomplished with the written word, freedom of speech and commitment to public service.” 

Stories from the past

Famously, he eschewed modern technology; a 30 year-old typewriter dispersed his views and postal replies to “about 40” letters a week while County Hall reception and a kindly neighbour provided further contact to constituents.

Journalists would receive copious deliveries of typewritten motions, directives and strategies.

It was a constant disappointment to him that health and housing continued to be the major issues of concern they were back in 1967.

Deeply religious, many would have been surprised that he voted for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in 2018. 

His choice was poignant. "If it had been there years ago my mother would not have died giving birth", he once said.

Wistfully, he would recall the late 1970s/early '80s, “when the council was directly involved in health through the South Cork Advisory Health committee. 

Back then, "things got done far faster”, he would reminisce.

Housing also gave him his most memorable day as a county councillor when, as chairman of the southern committee in the 1980s, he “officially opened housing schemes in Carrigtwohill, Cloyne, Ballymacoda, Macroom and Cobh in the one day.

The 2014 abolition of town councils, which “increased bureaucracy and compounded difficulties”, dismayed him.

“Before you got answers from the town hall", he said. "Now you’re passed from one department to another and issues raised at one meeting are again raised at another, with nothing happening but lip service. So the electorate lose faith and see councillors as fairly useless”.

Mayor Gillian Coughlan said: “As Mayor of the County of Cork and on behalf of the Elected Members and staff of Cork County Council, I offer my deepest condolences and sympathies to Noel’s family, friends and to the people of East Cork who he so passionately represented. Noel will be forever remembered.

“Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.”

Noel will be reposing in The Church of the Most Holy Rosary, Midleton after 6pm on Tuesday. 

Requiem Mass on Wednesday at 11am after which Noel will be transferred at his instruction to UCC for Medical Research.

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