Hearts swell with pride as local hero returns in a blaze of glory
THEY had waited patiently all week. They had sat in front of the TV and felt their chests heave with pride as Enda Kenny was formally appointed head of government.
They felt several inches taller as he was presented with his seal of office by President Mary McAleese in Aras an Uachtarain.
They had bided their time as he then dealt with the business of appointing ministers and junior ministers in the Dail.
And they kept their patience as he headed off to Brussels for the vital first meetings with his counterparts across Europe.
But Saturday was their day.
Despite the firm insistence from those who make such decisions that things were not to go OTT for the homecoming, his neighbours in Milebush were determined to light his way.
A strip of waste ground was cleared and the bonfire was lit. The neighbours gathered and, accompanied by wife Fionnuala and the children, Mr Kenny walked from his home to thank them for the gesture.
Of all the thousands of good luck cards, text messages and emails he received from around the world, one stood out. It was from a lady in her 80s and she wrote that she thought that she would never cry again until Mayo won the All-Ireland.
"But I cried this week," she told Mayo's 'first' Taoiseach.
Charlie Haughey's accident of birth in the west was scratched from the record books as Castlebar welcomed home one who was truly of their own.
Downtown, the crowds had been gathering at the front door of the TF Royal Theatre for the main event. Slated for an 8pm kick-off, they began queueing just before six.
By 7pm more than 300 were waiting in the plummeting temperatures for the doors to open.
A street trader had grabbed the initiative and was flogging mini Tricolours emblazoned with 'Welcome Home Taoiseach' and a picture of Mr Kenny.
At €5 a go, the trader was quickly running out of stock.
A massive sign containing a similar message was beamed on to the building, while banners and Mayo flags were carried by hardy-looking men who had seen more than a few elections.
The Midwest Radio mobile studio was belting out country and western music to keep the crowd happy until, finally, the doors opened.
First in and taking up position at the front of the stage were two families who had travelled the 40 miles from Renvyle in Connemara. Mary Joyce and husband Michael John had made the trip with their neighbours, Mikey and Evelyn Faherty, and daughter Kate (14).
"We're so happy to have this man as Taoiseach. We'll never see the likes of it again in our lifetime," said Mrs Joyce.
"I suppose the closest to it would be the time the Pope came to Knock," she decided.
On stage, the seats were soon filled by ministers, ministers of state, TDs and even former ministers such as John Donnellan.
As the crowd began putting names to faces, there was no mistaking the man who entered from stage-right during a momentary lull.
The 3,000-strong crowd erupted as Mr Kenny acknowledged them and brought his fellow local TDs Michael Ring, John O'Mahony and Michelle Mulherin to the edge of the stage.
"As I have said on many occasions, I never take myself seriously, but I take the job very seriously and I'm proud of what you did in this constituency. . . never done before in any constituency in the country where four out of five seats went to one party. That record belongs to you," he told the crowd.
He spoke with quiet emotion of those who had campaigned with his late father from 1954 to 1975 and the indelible mark that had made on him.
He acknowledged his mother, who had given 57 years of her life to politics and referred to his own family bond with Fionnuala and the children.
The challenge ahead would be difficult, a mountain to climb. But for a man who had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, he was ready for it.