No fanfare as county salutetheir Enda
Published 06/02/2012 | 05:00
THERE was no air of exultation about Enda Kenny as he was presented with the Mayo Person of the Year award in front of 800 cheering county men and women in the Burlington Hotel in Dublin on Saturday night.
His acceptance speech was low-key and reflective, and he described the honour as "probably the second most important award that can be given to me. It's difficult to surpass the trust placed in me by the people of the country by my election to the office of Taoiseach," he said.
"But this award of the Mayo Person of the Year comes from our own, ourselves, and I'm deeply appreciative of that and humbled. I shall carry it with pride around the world. I draw strength from it, I draw consolation from it."
And perhaps the Taoiseach did need this affirmation from his own county tribe at a time when the skies are darkening over his Government. After almost a year in power, the job hasn't got any easier -- the country's economy is still in peril, the dole queues remain far too long and the national mood is one of disillusionment and resentment, and some of this anger is beginning to focus on Enda Kenny.
There was almost a wistfulness in how he spoke of attending a citizenship ceremony in Cathal Brugha Barracks two days earlier, where he watched several hundred people taking the oath of fidelity to their new country. "The excitement, the joy, the conviction, the belief that they expressed in this country, in becoming citizens like ourselves was palpable," he said.
"And when I saw that in the faces of those people, it made me think that over times past, that those in positions of privilege and power and influence, had they shown the same sense of conviction and belief and courage for the country, it might be a different place," he added in a clear reference to the greed-heads who crippled the country.
The Taoiseach can also take heart from the fact that it's still hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about him in his own home town. He was born and reared in Castlebar, and still lives just outside the town with his wife Fionnuala and two sons Ferdia and Naoise -- his daughter Aoibhinn is in college in Dublin.
Castlebar was quiet on a damp Friday morning last week. Its streets are well kept and clean, but there are no signs of the sort of building schemes or sudden prosperity which often comes to a place when one of their own attains high office. Nor are the inhabitants of Castlebar given to bursts of effusion over the success of their native son, but the pride in him is repeated over and again.
Pauline and Shane Rodgers have run Gavins grocery shop and video store for decades, and have followed Enda's political rise. "To go from what he was to what he is, is a huge thing," said Mr Rodgers. "I think there's a few bob slipping into the town, but not much. You can't be seen to be doing anything like that with the way things are in the country."
Local businessman Thomas Collins reckoned Enda was "a worthy recipient" of the award.
And Thomas -- who's related to Fine Gael hero Michael Collins -- believes that Enda's style is rooted in his Mayo upbringing.
Last Thursday when the Taoiseach attended the citizenship ceremony, he was chuffed to see his neighbour among the recipients -- Bangladeshi Sultan Ahammed from the Dhaka Tandoori Restaurant, which is next door to his constituency office on Tucker Street. "He is a very good man to have in Castlebar, a very good man. He's very friendly when he comes into the restaurant with his wife and daughter and sons, all of them are very helpful and very nice," said Mr Ahammed.
Mr Ahammed has been living in Ireland since 2001, and has applied for a passport. "I think of Castlebar as my motherland, because when I go on holiday to my country, always my mind is in Castlebar," he said.
Just like the new Mayo Person of the Year, Mr Ahammed knows there's no place like home.