Nicola Anderson: Air carries a hint of turf smoke as Enda tries to fire the imagination
THESE were the kind of dark and dank evenings that campaigning politicians had been dreading when first the Greens mooted their idea of an early election.
Too dark for pictures and, with the streets too deserted to even search for a hand to pump, hard to see the point of it all.
As night began to fall in Dundalk yesterday, the Fine Gael election bus pulled into town and Enda Kenny and his team filed into the safe refuge that was the headquarters of new party candidate Peter Fitzpatrick, the former Louth football manager.
The local party faithful had gathered in anticipation of a rousing start to the campaign, and there was an acrid smell of kerosene in the air -- as one of the walls of the office had been freshly painted a deep and heritage-appropriate shade of blue.
Enda kicked off with a speech employing plenty of football metaphors and addressing the key problem facing Dundalk -- the 30pc rise in unemployment over the past two years. The cheers were just dying down when he was lit upon by two mild-looking elderly ladies, Christina Dunne and Bridget Collins, two Dubliners renting in the town.
At length, they told him their problem. They had bought a house in Claremorris in a ghost estate that remains unfinished. They have no sewers and have been let down by their insurers and they had called into Enda's office one day to see if he could help them solve their problem.
"You had a mobile phone in one hand and a sweeping brush in the other," Christina informed him.
Enda's eyebrows shot up in question. "You talk about how you're going to bring employment -- you couldn't even employ a cleaner!" she said in great indignation.
Enda's people soothingly took the women's details and proffered cups of tea. It had been a long day and the Fine Gael leader had been on the go for the past 12 hours.
The first job of the day had been a meet-and-greet at Dublin's Pearse Street Dart station on Westland Row at 7.30am. A difficult one and not his natural habitat. Commuters were rushing by on their way to work and the sight of a politician and the various flashing bulbs surrounding him caused most eyes to scan furiously for an exit strategy.
Enda's own strategy was reduced to a little curly fingered wave as he let them on their way. One press conference later and he was out of the traps and on the road at last.
This was better and he was greeted like an already all-conquering hero at the Farnham Arms hotel on the main street of Cavan town, together with local candidates, senator Joe O'Reilly, Sean Conlan and Peter McVitty.
The lobby of the hotel, with posters advertising the upcoming appearance of Ireland's number one Elvis impersonator, Greg Traynor, was packed to the rafters with elderly farmers smelling faintly and pleasantly of turf smoke.
Enda gamely lept up onto the table and gave a rip-roaring speech with the guttural roar that is the universal sound of the electioneer.
"What we face now is the same as what the first government faced," he told them. "They built a new country out of the ruins of the old. We need to build a new economy out of the wreckage of the old.
"You go to your work and I'll go to mine," he finished off, to whoops and cheers.
One woman from the crowd of party faithful turned to her companion and thoughtfully said that she thought he would make a good leader "if they only give him a chance".
Turning to two excited teenage girls who had pressed closer for a better look, she said: "Isn't he very good, tell all your friends.
"Would you like to go up to him and say hello?," she added generously.
At Navan shopping centre, Enda had another brush with teenagers as the photographers seized on the opportunity to get a few shots of the leader in his pristine navy suit alongside Luke Rochford (18), who was wearing a baseball cap turned backwards and who had a ring through his lip.
"I'd vote for him. He seems cool," Luke said afterwards, "Who is he anyway?"
"He's from Sinn Fein but I don't know his friend," answered a pal.