Greg Harkin: It's back to the future for 'the Cope' in Donegal
Published 25/02/2016 | 02:30
He's old Fianna Fáil, but Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher is marching, running at times, around businesses off The Diamond in Donegal town.
It's a cold February day, with the winter sun barely raising temperatures above 5C.
So where does a man of 67 get all this energy from?
Local people in Dungloe, where he lives, talk of a man who can be seen most mornings around 7.45am pounding the roads like a man half his age.
"I'm two months younger than Hillary Clinton and she wants to run the United States. I'd be happy just helping to run the parishes of Donegal," says the Cope.
Anyone in party headquarters who didn't want Gallagher on the party ticket in the five-seat Donegal constituency - and some of them didn't - would have been astonished at his popularity here in this part of Donegal.
County party secretary Brendan Byrne, recovering from a battle with cancer, is alongside the Cope with party stalwart Michael Naughton.
"Five years ago we had to run the other way," says Byrne, remarking on the difference in the reception Fianna Fáil is getting this time around.
"But that's the Cope. They're always happy to meet the Cope. He has always been available to the people, 24/7, even since he lost his MEP seat. People know he will do a job for them."
Warm handshakes, pledges of support and hugs greet Gallagher inside and outside every shop, bar and business.
The Cope is darting around the town at a rate of knots, party supporters breaking into jogs to keep up.
Father James Sweeney, the parish priest of Bruckless, is among those to shake his hand. "He has been helping the people of this county for 30 years and I wish we had more like him," says Fr Sweeney.
Age isn't a factor, he says.
"I call that experience," says Fr Sweeney, "sure my own boss Pope Francis is a dozen years older."
Butcher Liam Walsh is upset, however. His business is in Donegal town but he lives near Ballintra, which has been moved into the Sligo/Leitrim constituency.
"I'd love to vote for Pat," he says, "but someone in Dublin has cut us out of the county."
Minutes later, the Cope is chatting to a Polish woman. He carefully notes the name of her son for a passport, a treble-barrelled affair, with the last name of 'McFadden'.
"No problem at all," says the Cope. "I'll help you get that sorted."
He adds: "I always got a buzz out of helping people."