Taoisigh in fine form as bookies pick up the tab
What is the collective noun for a group of heads of government? A torment of Taoisigh? A loftiness of leaders?
Whatever is the correct term, one could barely move in Ballybrit yesterday for the amount of political poobahs knocking about -- two ex-Taoisigh and the current incumbent, no less. And a Tanaiste, as Mary Coughlan was on the course too.
Brian Cowen strolled on to the Galway track just before 6pm and not even the sight of a greeting party of reporters and photographers could dim his sunny mood.
And sure why wouldn't he be in good form, he'd just come from Limerick where he was opening the posh new tunnel under the Shannon, one of those good-news stories that he likes the media to report on (happy to oblige, Taoiseach).
And sure the finishing-post to his own year is in sight, as he's due to head for the as-yet unspecified hills for his holliers -- although he got a little flustered when he was asked where he was unpacking his bucket and spade next month.
"I haven't sorted anything out," he prevaricated, "probably something local," he added eventually.
"Any tips for me?" he enquired from the assembled hacks, and looked distinctly unimpressed by the lack of replies.
Nor had he any insider, dead-cert, sure thing to offer in return. "I haven't studied the form yet," he explained. "Maybe I'll have something for ye tomorrow," he offered, ensuring that he'll be tailed by the press pack for the entire day.
But then his luck was in. As he began to make his way through the crowd towards a private function in the grandstand, two ladies -- both all out in their finery -- pounced on him. In fairness, they were members of the Fianna Fail family; one, Cavan councillor Niamh Smith, planted a hearty kiss on his cheek, and another party supporter, Sharon Keogan from Duleek, gave him a tip, Slievecorragh in the 6.20 race, and added a suggestion that he could "put NAMA on it".
By golly. Now there's a bright idea. Or maybe he could put Anglo on a horse this week -- so many people have already lost their shirt on the banjaxed bank, that he'd have nothing to lose. But if Brian stuck on, say, a couple of billion on a fancied Dermot Weld runner today and it came in at 3 to 1, sure there'd be no need for a Budget this December.
And since Brian has no more roads to open until tomorrow when he travels to Newry to unveil the fancy new town bypass with Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson, he's sticking around today to have a few flutters and present the trophy to the winner of the featured race, the Galway Plate.
So chances are he'll bump into either Albert Reynolds or Bertie Ahern, who are also around Ballybrit for a few days.
"I've been coming here for 41 years, and I've only missed one year," declared Albert, who has a great fondness for the Galway track. "I always come out all right at the end of the week."
And Bertie's also off to a flying start. He arrived in plenty of time for the first race, accompanied by two glamorous women; his personal secretary Olive Melvin and his long-time constituency secretary Sandra Cullagh, who caused a bit of a stir last year when she was over-exuberantly dubbed his "mystery blonde" in some photographs, much to his amusement.
Bertie arrived early at the track to attend a lunch organised by the Marie Keating Foundation, which was being hosted by Ronan's brother Gary and sponsored by Ladbrokes.com.
As usual, Galway is the first pitstop of his holidays, before he heads off to Kerry for his annual gathering of the clan.
"It's getting harder to get them all together -- Cecelia's just back (from her honeymoon in Portugal) and the Westlife lads are playing in Sligo at the weekend, so they'll be able to join us," he said.
Chances are that all three Taoisigh made out like bandits at Ballybrit yesterday, as the racegoers had a field-day. "We were taken to the cleaners. The punters cleaned us out," admitted Paddy Power. "This is how you break the recession, the bookies will pay for it," he said.
No wonder Brian Cowen was smiling.