Nicola Anderson: Half the room went wild, but the other half stood in stony silence
Published 28/02/2011 | 05:00
THEY were saying this could be the end of Civil War politics. Tell that to the crowd of ecstatic Shinners brandishing Gerry Adams aloft like a prized trophy, and the Fine Gaelers with the black scowls on their faces at the other end of the room.
The natural antipathy between the 'bussed in from Belfast brigade' and the 'pro-treatyites' might be ancient history -- but we got a whiff of its embalmed DNA at the count centre in Louth and it still emits an acrid stench. We might have forgotten, they never did.
Unvocalised was the defiant message: "Ye left us to fend for ourselves. Aye, ye did -- but look at us now, hey?"
Unspoken, too, was the bewildered reply: "But what is he doing here across the Border?"
It had been a long day and a peculiar one. Little trails of sustenance lay around the conference room of Dundalk IT -- pink-iced buns and boiled sweets, Coke and Tayto.
Just before lunchtime, with a sheen of sweat on his brow, a tallyman was predicting Adams and Fine Gael candidates Fergus O'Dowd and Peter Fitzpatrick "in that order", with "a dogfight for the last seat between Fianna Fail and Labour".
There's nothing a tallyman likes more than a dogfight -- even if it means staying up all night to call it.
At one o'clock, a gleeful hiss arose. "He's here", and Gerry Adams appeared in a neat suit, a red scarf encasing his throat. Gerry had "man flu". He actually looked nervous. He'd given up his Stormont and Westminster seats for this gamble.
Any other interloper in the constituency other than the iconic figurehead of Northern Sinn Fein would have been told to take a wee running jump for himself. He topped the poll.
So Pee Flynn's insufferable burden of running three households has fallen squarely on to the shoulders of 'Jurry Adams' who, on top of his West Belfast homestead and his electoral base in Ballymakelett, Co Louth, will now presumably need a Dublin pad too.
Martin McGuinness strolled in, and while Gerry had managed to keep a woodenly lid on his emotions, McGuinness could not. "Things are going well," he beamed.
Sinn Fein had set themselves the target of doubling their Dail representation. They had done that and more.
But would the Sinn Fein president be leading the party in the Dail? Adams shrugged. "Aye, we'll see when all the numbers are counted up where we are." Of course he will.
He has merely replaced the outgoing Arthur Morgan, as Fergus O'Dowd pointed out -- but there's no denying his presence here will do wonders for party morale.
How he will go down with the majority of the Irish people is quite another matter, who will find his appearance in the Dail disquietening.
In the count centre, flyers circulated referring to a "disappeared MP" who had turned up over the Border in a pointed reference to Jean McConville and the other Disappeared.
"Squeezy-bum time," remarked one of the exhausted James Carroll supporters in the Fianna Fail camp, still holding out by the barricades.
Though the results of the first count were all but known by 2.30pm, it wasn't until close to seven that they were revealed, live on television.
"Adams, Gerry, 15 thousand . . ." but the result was drowned out by the shrieks as Gerry was lifted alongside a triumphant tricolour.
Half the room went wild, the other stood in stony silence.
Moments later, when Fergus O'Dowd was lifted, the Fine Gaelers had their own tricolour to wave pointedly, holding up two fingers -- the polite way -- signifying two seats.
Sinn Fein couldn't resist the bait, chanting: "Topped the poll."
More dignified was Labour's Mary Moran, sister of former Dublin lord mayor Emer Costello. Having entered the race only three weeks earlier, the mother of five was thrilled with her 4,546 first preference votes and lots of Gerry's number twos, despite having "no money and no time off" for her campaign.
Outside under the stars, Gerry Adams addressed the troops.
"History in the making," his supporters told one another.