TANAISTE Mary Coughlan didn't hang around long enough in the St John Bosco count centre in Donegal town to witness her humiliating exit from national politics or deliver the customary concession speech as a defeated candidate.
Dressed in defiant red, the Tanaiste arrived at the centre at 7.40pm and spent the next 45 minutes poring over tally sheets as a coterie of family and party members hovered protectively around her.
Braving the media scrum on her way out, she described it as a difficult day for Fianna Fail and blamed the two-candidate strategy for her own downfall.
She added that she remained very much committed to politics and Fianna Fail, and had not made any decision about her own political career.
"I have given 24 years of commitment and I am proud to do so," she said, before being whisked away in a waiting ministerial car.
Ms Coughlan, who has held five senior ministerial posts since first elected as a TD, does not leave empty-handed. She will be in for a windfall of over €300,000 for the first year and is set to receive an annual pension in excess of €130,000 for the remainder of her life.
At 9.30pm, an hour after she had left the building, returning officer Liam Ward gave the results of the fourth count and announced that Mary Coughlan was being eliminated and her 5,655 votes distributed.
It was a surreal moment compounded later by the absence of Ms Coughlan from the stage for the final candidate speeches.
Typically, the hall would have been packed with Fianna Fail supporters, but there was nothing typical about last Saturday night.
An ashen-faced but brave Brian O'Domhnaill (Fianna Fail) joined two of the three winning candidates on the stage while a handful of sullen party supporters watched from the floor.
Among them, former Fianna Fail senator Enda Bonner predicted that Mary Coughlan would not return.
"It's a lonely place but it must be twice as lonely for someone who was the deputy prime minister in this country. Mary will not come back. Mary served her time, she did well, she brought honour to herself, to her family, and to the FF organisation, but she has done her bit," he said.
But he criticised her absence in the end. "I always believe you should turn up whether you win or lose, whether it is on a football field or a political field you must take the good with the bad, but I suppose she is dejected," he said.
Irish Independent Supplement