Thursday 19 October 2017

Islanders in no rush to cast the first votes as balloting begins

Garda John O'Toole (left) and Hugh O' Donnell Presiding Officer leave the polling station with the ballot box after voting on the fiscal treaty referendum on Inishfree Island off the coast of Donegal, Ireland.
Garda John O'Toole (left) and Hugh O' Donnell Presiding Officer leave the polling station with the ballot box after voting on the fiscal treaty referendum on Inishfree Island off the coast of Donegal, Ireland.

Greg Harkin

WHEN voters in a tiny school on an island off Co Donegal went to cast their votes yesterday, they were met by one member of staff who has come to represent the spirit of Arranmore.

Marie Therese Gallagher isn't just part of the community; her own story has been seen worldwide, thanks to her daughter.

Marie Therese's husband Hughie was one of six local fishermen who died when their 'Evelyn Marie' fishing boat sank in 1975.

She was five months pregnant with her twin sons at the time and had five more children to look after.

She went on to raise her seven children alone -- and one of them, Helena, won a Radio Gold Award in New York last year for her touching documentary about life in Arranmore.

So running a polling station for the day is a doddle for this cheery and happy grandmother.

"I've been doing this for 15 years and it's not a bother," she says.

"None of my seven children are left on the island. Helena is in Glasgow working away on documentaries and trying to get commissions."

Four of her children are on the mainland in Donegal, another in Derry, and one lives in New York.

By early afternoon, just 20 of the 173 people registered to vote at the school in Aphort had cast their ballot.

"It's very slow; not many people are coming out today," said Mrs Gallagher.

Just 12 pupils now attend the school and locals fear it will be closed one day and amalgamated with the larger national school at Leabgarrow two miles away.

At Leabgarrow, Father John Joe Duffy organised a one-hour vigil to highlight cuts to services.

He believes there has to be a growth agenda and points to fishing as one example which the Government must look at if island communities like Arranmore are to prosper.

Positivity

"There is a great deal of positivity here," he says of the island, which has an official population of 514.

"Tourism can grow with the right infrastructure and the Irish colleges for the summer are fully booked.

"But I look out there to the Atlantic at night and I can see Spanish, French and Dutch trawlers filling their boats with fish.

"Our fishermen aren't allowed to go out. I've been to Brussels to talk to the EU and if our Government would allow a few of our own boats to go out and take a tiny proportion of our fish, it would make a massive difference here," he added, while refusing to be drawn on which way he would vote.

Polls closed on the island at 7pm last night and the consensus was that the 'No' side would win out.

And it's likely to be the same on Donegal's other islands of Gola, Inishboffin, Tory and Inishfree whose sole voter, musician Barry Edgar Pilcher, cast his ballot in a polling station set up in his living room.

Irish Independent

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