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The Rows of Tralee: Hopefuls in 'dog fight' for Kingdom's capital


Canvassing: Cllr Pa Daly, a Sinn Féin candidate in the General Election, talking to Eddie Cronin from Tralee, Co Kerry. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Canvassing: Cllr Pa Daly, a Sinn Féin candidate in the General Election, talking to Eddie Cronin from Tralee, Co Kerry. Photo: Domnick Walsh

Canvassing: Cllr Pa Daly, a Sinn Féin candidate in the General Election, talking to Eddie Cronin from Tralee, Co Kerry. Photo: Domnick Walsh

'In Mountjoy jail one Monday morning, High upon the gallows tree, Kevin Barry gave his young life, For the cause of liberty...'

Although he has no tangible link to Kerry, there's an estate in Tralee named after Kevin Barry, the celebrated 18-year-old medical student executed 100 years ago in the War of Independence.

It's just down the road from Austin Stack Park, the GAA ground named after a more local hero from the same period, who went on to become a TD for Kerry.

The honorary titles on the locations reflect the republican traditions in Kerry's county town.

The battle to become Tralee's TD is playing out among the parties of varying shades of modern-day republicanism in Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin.

And both candidates are seeking to carry on a legacy.

Canvassing through Kevin Barry Villas, Norma Foley is careful not to knock on the doors where there has been a recent bereavement.

The Fianna Fáil candidate is capable and cheery.

The greeting for every woman she meets goes along the lines of: "How are you doing, girl?"

Older voters fondly recall her father, the late Denis Foley, either for his work as a TD or for running the ballroom in the Brandon Hotel.

A steady stream of housing, health and crime issues come up on the doors.

"You're going to have to do something about the criminal element. I'm thinking of getting a shotgun," a man in Hawley Park declares.

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A councillor for 20 years, Foley ran unsuccessfully in the 2007 General Election.

She handily topped the poll in Tralee in last year's local elections and was added to the ticket by Fianna Fáil only a month ago.

The party senses a weakness in Sinn Féin where Martin Ferris is retiring and not being replaced by his daughter, Toiréasa, who has quit politics.

The task of replacing the iconic Sinn Féin TD falls to Pa Daly, a well-spoken solicitor and a well-organised councillor for the past eight years. The 49-year-old is also born and bred in Tralee, lives there with his wife and three children.

Ferris is out pounding the pavements for Daly in rural and urban county areas and feeling confident.

Canvassing the Sinn Féin stronghold of Rahoonane, a large council estate in Tralee near his own home, Daly emphasises the importance of voting on the day.

Getting its own vote out will be vital for Sinn Féin.

Both there and across the road in the middle-class Killeen Heights estate, he gets a string of housing-related queries, from leaky roofs, to the housing list to complaints about rents and house prices. Housing is again the big issue.

Daly is not to be written off.

Here's the catch in Kerry.

Foley and Daly are the key battle, but it's possible for both to get elected - and cause a chain reaction.

There are four political parties really operating in Kerry now: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and the Healy-Raes.

The Labour Party, once a power in the county when the Spring name had national significance, has no candidate.

A failure to run anyone would make it the first time since 1933 that Labour won't be on the ballot paper in Kerry.

Much to the chagrin of the brothers from Kilgarvan, Michael and Danny Healy-Rae have found a dreaded political epithet attached firmly to them: "Safe."

Everyone expects the pair to be returned comfortably.

Fianna Fáil will take at least one seat. Sitting TD John Brassil has to fend off competition from his running mates - Foley in the north and Norma Moriarty in the south.

Fine Gael will also win a seat, but two looks a stretch at this point.

Junior Transport Minister Brendan Griffin announced €25m for regional and local roads in the county yesterday. He is the favourite for the Fine Gael seat, ahead of his running mate Mike Kennelly.

Kennelly has a few strings to his bow, though. He gets automatic name recognition from being a brother of the late Tim Kennelly, a genuine footballing great who won five All-Irelands with the Kingdom's legendary team of the 1970s and 1980s.

And his patch in Listowel is Fine Gael's strongest part of the county.

Foley getting ahead of Brassil, who is also based in the north of Kerry, and Kennelly being still in the game, will make it nervy for Griffin.

As Foley notes: "Kerry is always a dog fight. It seems to be in our DNA to fight to the bitter end."

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