Wednesday 24 January 2018

Locals filled with pride as Rebel County prepares a hero's welcome

Ralph Riegel

FEW doubted that he would be a success when he left Colaiste Chriost Ri.

But even fewer suspected back in 1978 that the GAA-obsessed, fluent Irish-speaking young man bound to study politics and history at University College Cork (UCC) would go on to become the leader of Ireland's biggest political party.

The sense of pride was palpable around the Cork suburb of Turner's Cross yesterday as it prepared for a hero's homecoming for Fianna Fail's new leader, Micheal Martin.

The working class suburb on Cork's southside was deeply proud -- and not only because one of their own had done so well but also because Mr Martin and his family still lives locally. Mr Martin may be a Corkman, but -- first and foremost -- he is from Turner's Cross.

"I am absolutely delighted -- he'll make a great leader of Fianna Fail and who knows, maybe a great Taoiseach some day too," local man Pa Daly said.

Mr Martin (50) attended Colaiste Chriost Ri in Cork as a student -- and then worked at Presentation Brothers College (PBC) as a teacher before embarking on a glittering political career.

Last night, his alma mater paid glowing tribute to their star pupil. "We are very proud of all our students but it is remarkable to see one of them go all the way to lead a major political party," Colaiste Chriost Ri principal Sean Culhane said.

"It is in the nature of teachers to follow the life story of their former students with great interest -- and everyone here has followed Micheal Martin's career with fascination over the past three decades," he added.

The links between the Martin family and the school run deep and Mr Martin remains a regular visitor to the famous Turner's Cross school.

"We are very grateful for all the support that Mr Martin has given the school and he has been our honoured guest here on many occasions at functions," Mr Culhane added.

Former teachers at the school retain vivid memories of the young Mr Martin from the early 1970s -- including his attendance at a Gaeltacht summer school ceili one year where the other dancers included a young Tipperary school girl by the name of Mary Hanafin.

Having studied at University College Cork (UCC), Mr Martin then worked for a brief period as a teacher before focusing full-time on politics.

"I think everyone knew from the 1990s that Micheal was bound for great things. He was a tremendous Lord Mayor of Cork and I'm sure he will lead his party very well too," Mr Daly added.

The similarities with Cork's former FF leader, Jack Lynch, also extend to a passionate love of Gaelic games -- though while Lynch was a lifelong Glen Rovers fan, Mr Martin is a devoted supporter of southside giants, Nemo Rangers.

Mr Martin's brother, councillor Sean Martin, said Micheal's success was down to hard-work and a determination to make a difference.

"On a personal level I am delighted for him and his family. But, to bring a note of reality into things, we are facing into a very difficult general election and that is what everyone in Fianna Fail is now going to have to focus on," he added.

Both brothers share the distinction of having served as Lords Mayor of Cork, Micheal in 1992 and Sean in 2004. And before launching his full-time political career, Mr Martin taught for about a year at PBC.

"Of course we are delighted that the school is associated with such a successful politician and now a leader of a national political party," one past pupil said.

A major homecoming party is now expected to be arranged for Mr Martin in Cork tomorrow.

One of his first major functions as Fianna Fail leader is expected to be the Cork South West selection convention which takes place in west Cork tomorrow night.

However, his return to Cork will see the limelight shared with Labour leader Eamon Gilmore who is launching his party's general election campaign with a whistle-stop tour of both the city and county.

Both Cork City Council and Cork County Council are expected to arrange receptions for Mr Martin at a future time to mark his elevation to party leader.

Irish Independent

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