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Back on home turf, Cowen delights the crowds with shaggy dog stories

EVERY dog has its day -- and it's no surprise Brian Cowen had his with his own people.

The outgoing Taoiseach had the population of Killeigh in fits of laughter at the weekend as he unveiled a bronze statue of the famous 1920s greyhound, Mick The Miller.

Even the children who stood on the green were chuckling at his stories.

He steered well clear of politics, not even giving the slightest hint as to whether he will stand in the election.

With the selection convention for Laois-Offaly looming tomorrow night, it looks increasingly unlikely that he will run again, so it was hardly surprising that he was in a nostalgic, reminiscent mood.

As a young man, Brian Cowen followed his father Ber to greyhound tracks and bars around the midlands meeting old characters. He grew up in a house where there were always dogs.

The wheeling and dealing involved in "poor man's horseracing" was the training ground for Mr Cowen's 27-year political career.

Mr Cowen recalled a greyhound by the name of Spanish Battleship who was owned by Kerry TD Chubb O'Connor.

"My father saw him running actually," he said. "He won three derbies. He was the sort of unusual dog that would come back and then leap out just as the hare came out.

"He was an intelligent dog, by all accounts. So my father asked Chubb, he says, 'what sort of a hound was he?' 'Ah well,' he said, 'He wasn't a hound, he was a freak'," Mr Cowen said to laughter.

He then told the story of how his father once desperately tried to off-load a dog.


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"I remember my father was selling a dog when we were down in Mullingar one night and a fella was giving him four hundred quid for it. Four hundred quid wasn't too bad at the time and he said, 'Ber, will you take four hundred quid?'... 'You can take the lead and all,' he says for fear yer man would change his mind while he got into the car."

It's a pity that the electorate rarely got a glimpse of the Brian Cowen that stood in the middle of a cold field on the side of the road in Killeigh on Saturday afternoon.

"A friend to so many people", "a decent skin", "a genuine man doing his best for the country" were just a few of the descriptions his constituents gave him.

Sadly, the nation knew Mr Cowen as a crabby man who scowled at the opposition, snapped at awkward questions and talked in riddles about "making corrections going forward".

He never condemned Bertie Ahern -- and he consistently defended the indefensible for the sake of his Fianna Fail party.

His much-talked about sense of humour, his good nature, his storytelling and his ability to connect with people was lost in translation when he went from local TD Brian to Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

His departure leaves a bitter taste in his staunchest supporters' mouths.

Chairman of the Irish Greyhound Board Dick O'Sullivan, who will shortly be finished his tenure, is one. "Every decent Irish person should feel angered and embarrassed by the treatment that has been meted out to him over the last 12 months. The silent majority don't say a lot but they think a lot," he said.


Mr Cowen assured the gathering it was not a "mutual admiration society" as he thanked Mr O'Sullivan for his leadership in the greyhound industry.

"It has become very fashionable to question the motivation of people who are available to serve the State," said Mr Cowen.

"It's no different for people who serve on semi-state boards than it is for politicians. But there are good people who give their service, their skills, their ideas, their competence as a service to the State."

Before the cover was pulled away to reveal the perfectly crafted sculpture of Mick The Miller by Elizabeth O'Kane, Mr Cowen showed he still has a thick skin.

"Delighted to be here, great to be amongst our own and no matter what they might be saying about it... don't worry about that... we're able for it," he said to cheers around the village green.

"And whatever we do, no one died as they say, and we won't lose our sense of humour."