Nicola Anderson: 'The tallymen were in place as the RDS clock tower struck 9am - this was the blood sport they loved'
A CORK shot off a bottle of champagne at the North Dublin count centre in the RDS, narrowly missing bystanders as it sailed through the air.
“Ah for Jaysus sake who done that?” said the outraged man holding the bottle - Billy Roche of the St Saviour’s Olympic Boxing Academy, who was part of Mary Fitzpatrick’s election team in Cabra/Glasnevin.
The longstanding Fianna Fáil stalwart – whose European Election posters memorably blocked traffic in 2014 - had just topped the poll in the locals and Billy had been hoping to join her in toasting her success with a bottle of the finest Moet.
“It came out itself – I told you that would happen when you took the foil off,” scolded the garda standing beside him.
Later asked if she’d managed to have any of it, Fitzpatrick laughed: “No it’s warm and flat at this stage - but there’s a pint of Guinness with my name on it.”
As the clock tower at the RDS struck 9am, it signalled the opening of the ballot boxes and tallymen poised their pens with a flourish – and a smile.
This was the blood sport they loved and they guarded their spots at the barricades with their elbows, some never budging until evening drew in.
And as the big picture emerged, you could almost call it a city of two tales, as the Green wave swept through the capital - leaving the traditional left languishing at the bottom of the polls.
Spearheading the revolution are the new Green power couple in Dublin - Hazel Chu who topped the poll in the Pembroke ward, with fiance Patrick Costello, who also topped the poll in Kimmage Rathmines. Their one and a half year old daughter, Alex, was at them at the RDS.
For Chu, her phenomenal victory came as a shock - she got 33.3pc of the poll.
“Between the two of us we were canvassing every night – for eight months – it’s hard to be a new parent as it is but when you’re running two campaigns….” she said.
“It was a matter of getting organised – we do what a load of people do these days, I suppose, which is to work two jobs almost. You work then you go home, take care of your kid and then you go out and work again.”
“It was surprising because we knocked on a lot of doors sand the reception was good but it was never overwhelming so we never thought we’d do amazingly well – I’m in shock,” she said.
But where there were victories, there also had to be losses.
In the Ballymun/Fingas ward, Senator Kevin Humphries ruefully observed that the Labour party’s Andrew Montague was likely to lose his seat. “And he’s the most green Labour councillor we had,” he said, revealing that Montague had introduced the Dublin Bike Scheme.
Even as early as 9.20am, tallymen were grimly predicting a wash out for Sinn Fein.
The Sinn Fein vote had “collapsed” in Clontarf, Jim Nolan, a Fine Gael tallyman said. “It’s not that the vote has gone down - it’s collapsed,” he said.
He also claimed it was not looking well for the Greens in “working class and lower middle class areas” in the area.
Laois woman Sinéad Moore running for Peader Tobín’s new party, Aontú, in Mulhuddart electoral area for Fingal Council in Dublin, was nursing disappointment after it became clear she had no chance at a seat.
“I’ve enjoyed the run,” she said, adding that she fully intends to stand again next time.
The former Green Party candidate said she was disappointed with the turn out in the constituency and said there was a real apathy on the doorsteps, while many foreign nationals did not know they were entitled to vote in the local elections.
“There needs to be a big advertising and educational campaign around voting,” she said.
There was also much anger on the issues of housing, crime and health care, Sinead noted.
“Not a great day for the left,” said a disappointed Richard Boyd Barrett in the earlier part of the day.
Asked what had happened to decimate their vote, he said: “The working class did not come out to vote.”
“A lot of seats we’re fighting for are going to come down to transfers,” he said.
“The big hit we took is that our traditional strong areas didn’t turn out to vote.
Some people just chose to spoil their votes, with one writing: “F*ck off the lot of you” while a couple of European ballot paper spotted were completely empty.
Half-way through the day, well-known architect Dermot Bannon was spotted outside, but was startled to be asked whether he had popped into the count centre for a look.
“No, I don’t know what’s happening, I’ve been in at House all day,” he said, of the exhibition simultaneously running in the RDS main building. He asked what the news was and when told of the Greens success, said: “Maybe they might do something this time.”
Over at Simmonscourt, Culture Minister Josepha Madigan had come in for a look and was quietly pleased with the early predictions for the Divorce referendum.
The campaign wasn’t about “rocking the system but humanising it,” she said.
She said people stuck in the current legal limbo will “feel the warmth of the vote today.”
“There is a deep well of kindness in the Irish people,” she said.
“I think people felt it was a reasonable proposal, a moderate proposal.”
However the Minister was less pleased to be asked about the ongoing controversy surrounding her colleague Maria Bailey, saying it was a legal matter and she could not comment.
Asked if she had any role in the case, she said: "Whether I did or didn't, there is client-solicitor confidentiality so I am not in a position to say.
She then pointedly turned her back on the reporter who asked the question whether the controversy had affected Fine Gael’s poll standing.
However asked again by a second reporter, she said: "There have been a number of issues. You have to put this into context, this is a mid-term election, in the last 20 years there is no Government that has made gains in a mid-term election.