After nine years of Fine Gael government, would Paddy have been enthusiastic for a general election? Paddy was a member of Fine Gael in Mayo forty years, a Garret Fitzgerald supporter in the three elections of 1981 and 1982.
Being the pharmacist in an isolated town on the western seaboard, there would be callers at his house on a Saturday evening. Frequently the callers would arrive by tractor; the only journey of the week from a remote farm. The trip would take in shopping, Saturday evening Mass, a couple of pints in a bar, and, when necessary, a call with Paddy.
“I can’t turn them away – I go and open up the shop. Do you know what really annoys me? The lawn mower. I work six days a week and like to have Sunday quiet, so I cut the grass on a Saturday evening and the old lawn mower takes ages to get started and I no sooner have the thing started than someone arrives, ‘Paddy, I know it’s after hours, but could you help me out?’”
It’s almost four decades since the summer of 1982. Paddy believed that Fitzgerald, who had lost the general election earlier that year, would regain power in the autumn. He believed Fitzgerald needed to pursue wholesale constitutional reform. Paddy had no confidence in the political system believing it was being used for people’s personal advantage. He could recite in detail the abuses he encountered.
One day, Knock was visited. It was miles and miles on roads where speed invited an encounter with a bog or a dry stone wall. It was an odd journey for Protestants curious about what it was that drew the crowds. Whatever it was seemed elusive.
Getting back that evening, at the dinner table, Paddy asked. “Were you at Knock today? Had I known you were going, I could have had a word with you about that place”. He shook his head. His wife, a traditional countrywoman, glared at him. Maybe Paddy had not found whatever it was that prompted pilgrimages.
The last encounter with Paddy was 1987. He was in a regional hospital, undergoing tests for cancer. There was a moment of self-consciousness going into his room. Taking a school assembly that morning, I was still wearing a clerical collar, “Father is here to see you”, said a deferential nurse. Paddy waved me in and waved the nurse away.
“Look at this place”, he said, “they want money for everything. I even have a pile of 50 pence pieces to get the television to work”. He was in despondent mood; not so much about his health, but because his party was about to lose the forthcoming general election. He was suspicious of those who were to gain power.
I don’t know what Paddy would have made of the Ireland of 2020. Maybe that gentle country pharmacist, who was a member of a conservative political party in a small west of Ireland town, was a revolutionary out of step with the rest of his community. Would he still have confidence in the party of Collins?