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Trip to 'motherland' changed Irish politics forever

ONE New Yorker's trip to the 'old country' with her Irish-born parents changed the course of Irish politics -- and gave us two of its most colourful characters.

Julie Healy said goodbye to a career in the consular's office in New York after her head had been turned by a charming young man she met in Killarney.

This weekend, almost six decades later, she looked on with pride as their son Michael Healy-Rae was elected to the Dail for South Kerry.

"I was born in Wilmington, Delaware, but adopted in New York and brought up there," Mrs Healy-Rae told the Irish Independent.

By chance her maiden name was also Healy and her adoptive mother hailed from Killarney.

"My adoptive parents were born in Ireland but hadn't been back in 50 years and it was on a trip to Killarney I met Jackie. He was driving a hackney car at the time and I was 22," she recalled.

Had it not been for the encounter, the now retired TD may never have pursued a political career as it had been his intention to emigrate.

"Jackie had a visa to go to Canada and a job there but we fell in love."

The couple moved back to New York and were married in St Patrick's Cathedral but the young Healy-Rae's heart was in Ireland.

"He had a job in New York but he always wanted to come back to Ireland," Mrs Healy-Rae said.

"We had six children and now have 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren."

Although the couple separated in 1977 they remain friends and take an equal interest in their family's achievements.

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"Naturally, I'm very proud of Michael," said his mother who has been one of the new TD's strongest supporters through recent election campaigns.