Monday 23 October 2017

'He said all I wanted to say, so I reached out and held his hand'

Brian McDonald

IT was the kiss that said it all.

Michael D and his family had just voted at Bushypark National School on the outskirts of Galway city on Thursday morning. As the cameramen and photographers filed out of the polling station, Michael D turned back and went to each member of the polling station staff and shook hands.

As ever, Sabina waited and smiled as he joined her on the way to the door. Instinctively, he turned and gently took hold of both of her arms. The words he spoke were clearly intimate and she smiled as he leaned across and kissed her.

Immediately afterwards, the couple had to do a reprise for the cameras, but that moment was staged and some distance from the touching, unscripted scene that had immediately preceded it.

It was Michael D's way of telling his wife how much he valued her constant presence throughout an exhausting campaign, the latest in a long line of campaigns that Sabina had endured for her man.

Throughout the months of planning, the weeks of endless meetings and the long days of hard campaigning across the country, Sabina (69) had been with him every step of the way. When they had to separate, she set out on her own and battled to win votes from shoppers in Galway city centre on so many Saturday mornings.

On a rainy Saturday evening in early August she had gathered up a stack of his campaign leaflets and made her way, alone, to the Claddagh, where she spent a couple of hours meeting athletes and their families at the annual Street of Galway run.

It was unglamorous foot slogging and a world removed from the life she will experience for the next seven years.

The world of presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens will also be light years away from where they both came from. He grew up on a small farm in Clare and she on a holding in Mayo. The fact that they were to spend most of their lives later living in Galway seems like a perfect, mid-distance compromise.

As Michael D got his head into the books at St Flannan's College in Ennis, the young Sabina Coyne was growing up a farmer's daughter just up the west coast. And she too was fascinated by books. Her mother read Dickens and other great authors to the family at every opportunity. "We were reared on stories and I can remember my mother telling us about Little Nell as she milked the cows," Sabina recalled in an interview last year.

She had set her mind on becoming an actress from an early age and struck out for Dublin in the early 1960s. Among the close friends she made in the Dublin theatre world in those early days was the Irish-American actress and folk singer, Deirdre O'Connell.

The pair soon founded the Stanislavski Studio, based on the theories and acting methods of Constantin Stanislavski. They would later form the Focus Theatre and when Deirdre went on to marry Luke Kelly of the Dubliners, Sabina was her bridesmaid.

Michael D entered her life in 1969 when she was invited to a party in the Dublin home of journalist Mary Kenny, who had just been appointed women's editor of the 'Irish Press'.

He arrived in the company of future Labour Party leader Michael O'Leary and the political correspondent, Michael Mills. The young articulate academic chose to sit beside "the willowy young woman with the long flowing blonde hair".

The attraction was mutual, Sabina remembered. "He said all I wanted to say so clearly, so I reached out and held his hand." He proposed at Christmas 1973 and they married the following July.

Her introduction to the world of politics was as dramatic as the career she had followed. At the 1977 General Election she found herself thrown into a car, with instructions to speak on behalf of her husband outside a church. She hasn't missed an election campaign since.

Michael D credits her with changing his life. In an interview with John Quinn of RTE, later published by the broadcaster in 'My Education', he says: "I think that my entire life was changed by my wife, Sabina Coyne, my partner, whose commitment to the Stanislavski technique in her acting formation made for me a connection to the power of reflection, meditation and awareness."

In a later assessment, he said: "She is somebody I regard as a rock, somebody who I would keep coming back to and whom I wouldn't have to be explaining myself to either".

Irish Independent

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