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Friday 20 September 2019

Former TD Mildred Fox jumps on the band wagon and keeps it country

After bowing out of politics to spend more time with her family, former Independent TD Mildred Fox couldn't be happier singing the blues in a local country band

Ready to rock: Former TD Mildred Fox (centre) loves nothing more than performing with her band the WipperWills
Ready to rock: Former TD Mildred Fox (centre) loves nothing more than performing with her band the WipperWills

Allison Bray

Former Wicklow TD Mildred Fox is back on the public stage - but the last thing she wants is your vote.

In one of the strangest career trajectories since leaving politics almost a decade ago, the married mother of four now spends her time strumming a guitar and singing about lonesome cowboys as part of the Co Wicklow-based country roots and Americana band The Whipperwills.

That's when she's not volunteering at a charity shop for the homeless following a brief foray as an artisan ice-cream maker.

The 43-year-old daughter of the late Independent TD Johnny Fox was one of the so-called Gang of Four Independents including Jackie Healy-Rae, Barry Blaney, and Tom Gildea who struck deals with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to support his coalition with Progressive Democrats in the Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrats coalition between 1997 and 2002.

While the rest is history, Mildred decided to retire from politics to "spend time with her family" before the 2007 election.

And while that expression has become a bit of a political cliche, in Mildred's case she really meant it.

Having been capitulated into the cut-throat world of politics at the tender age of 23 following the death of her popular farmer-turned-politician father during a by-election in 1995, she retained her seat in the subsequent election in 1997 and was re-elected to the Dail in 2002.

Although she kept a relatively low parliamentary profile - aside from helping to copper-fasten the FF-PD government - her life was so consumed by politics that she retreated to the Dail just hours before giving birth to her second son, Sean, after going into false labour the previous night.

She was also a member of Wicklow County Council between 1995 and 2003 before her brother, Christopher Fox, took over her seat when the dual mandate ended in 2003.

"That was a great time, and I enjoyed politics. When I was elected first, I found myself lost, wandering around, feeling my way, and I even considered not running again," she previously said of her initiation into politics.

But eventually the never-ending demands of the job took its toll and she declared: "The family had to come first," when she bowed out of politics ahead of the 2007 election.

It was a decision she has never regretted.

"I went from making €100,000 a year to nothing, but no amount of money can make up for the sacrifice of not seeing your children grow up," she said of her children, Caoilfhionn (16), Sean (12), Muireann (12) and Conal (10).

"You're gone all day. Everything else goes out the window. Family and your own interests come last," she said.

The pressure and hectic lifestyle as well as being "permanently pregnant" led her to gain two stone in weight, which she promptly lost after leaving politics.

Although her brother Christopher, who remains a councillor on Wicklow County Council, has kept up the family name in local politics, Mildred made headlines again after leaving the Dail when she and her brother, a dairy farmer, established their own artisan ice-cream company which they sold at the weekend market at the People's Park in Dun Laoghaire.

But they got out of the business two years ago because it didn't prove to be financially viable.

In the meantime, she went back to being a stay-at-home mother who volunteers twice a week at a charity shop at the Bray Recycling Centre which her husband Daryl manages.

In her spare time, she began indulging in her love of singing and playing the guitar at informal music sessions in local pubs and became friends with local graphic artist Dave Rooney, a singer-songwriter and self-confessed "Hank Williams fanatic".

Together with other local musicians from Kilmanogue who had a love of Americana and country roots music, they formed The Whipperwills - a sextet featuring the music of country legend Hank Williams, Ry Cooder, Emmylou Harris and others.

They gig at mostly local pubs, like the Harbour Bar in Bray, and occasionally further afield, including a 'World Tour of Banagher' Co Offaly.

And while she admits she never thought that she'd wind up on stage singing country "hurtin'" songs as a middle-aged mother, she said she's never been happier. "We're not millionaires but we're happy and I love the music."

Sunday Independent

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