Friday 21 October 2016

Geography that leaves town of 14,000 bereft

Published 21/02/2016 | 02:30

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan

There was a bit of excitement recently when the village of Glenealy declared itself free of election posters. But further south in Co Wicklow, there is a place which is freer still, a much bigger place called Arklow which has never had a TD, and which seems determined not to have one this time either.

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Except nobody talks about this any more, if indeed they ever did - Glenealy with its poster ban was amusing for the politics junkies, Arklow a town of about 14,000 people without a TD is apparently a thing of no significance.

No Prime Time enquiry has been held into this fascinating void in our democratic culture, no American academics have come to write some great thesis about the people of this important town on the east coast of Ireland who have apparently decided that public representation in the national parliament is not for them.

Living a few miles outside Arklow, over the years I have raised the matter with various townspeople and they seem relaxed enough about it, merely deepening my astonishment and indeed my admiration, which started on the first day that I was made aware of this phenomenon.

There was a general election about to take place when we first arrived down to these parts, and the Wicklow People had this story about the Arklow-based candidate Nicky Kelly, pointing out that if Nicky were to be elected, he would be the first TD in the town since the foundation of the State.

I read that piece, and then I put the paper down and thought about how right they are when they say that moving house is terribly stressful, that it can really mess with your mind when you're trying to get your bearings in a new place.

It seemed that I had become so distracted by the whole thing, my brain was not functioning in the usual way, and I was seeing things in the Wicklow People that just weren't there. That couldn't possibly be there.

No TD ever in Arklow? Since just about every town, village and crossroads in Ireland had had at least a Minister of State at this stage, it simply couldn't be true that Arklow with its famous pottery and its shipping - they made Sir Francis Chichester's Gipsy Moth III here, for God's sake - hadn't even had a miserable "depitty". That it had somehow stayed out of all that.

No, it must be me, so disorientated by the house-moving that I had been struck by some kind of a fever.

So I picked up the paper again, but the story remained the same. Arklow had never had a TD - not one, of any kind, ever. Indeed, I heard an item recently about some constituency which has never elected a woman, and apparently they think that that is a poor show. In Arklow, any sort of a human being winning a seat would be a journey into the unknown.

And sure enough, Nicky Kelly didn't get elected that time either, though he has the distinction of coming closer than anyone else to that fantastical prize, failing by just 19 votes to Mildred Fox in 2002. Over time, the sadness of this result has been darkened further by stories which are perhaps apocryphal - or, if you like, not true - such as the one about the 30 local lads who were away in Holland playing a match, who would all have voted for Nicky, but alas...

He had overcome great difficulties in his life, had Nicky, being the victim of a notorious miscarriage of justice in the 1980s when he was imprisoned for the Sallins train robbery, an ordeal during which he endured police brutality and went on hunger strike until eventually he was released by one Michael Noonan on "humanitarian" grounds - he got through all that somehow, but getting enough votes in his home town so that Arklow might at last have one voice in the Dail chamber, was just too hard.

Partly it is a matter of geography. Bray and Greystones are part of the Wicklow constituency, though they are on the Dart line, which in truth puts them in the greater Dublin area. Perhaps Arklow in the far south has been squeezed by this anomaly, and certainly something might have been done about this during the recent constituency changes, but of course it wasn't.

So you get the feeling that there is something more mysterious at work, though what that might be...well, it's a mystery, isn't it?

Perhaps Van Morrison felt something of this when he wrote Streets of Arklow for his Veedon Fleece album. Which is something else that is not widely known about Arklow, but which leaves us with the reality that Van Morrison has given more of himself to the grand old town than the entire body politic.

And taking the long view, most of us would probably prefer to have our town celebrated in song by one of the great artists of the 20th Century, than to have an Alan Kelly-type figure bragging about all the factories he is bringing to the area, going forward.

Anyone can do that. Any community can conform to that stereotype, organising itself in that self-interested fashion, gathering in the town hall to demand that attention be paid to its problems.

Arklow stands aside from that, wondering what all the noise is about.

Arklow is cool.

Sunday Independent

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