Tuesday 24 April 2018

'Mr Longford' was 
a people person - and pure glamour on ballroom floor

Albert Reynolds with his wife Kathleen and their seven children
Albert Reynolds with his wife Kathleen and their seven children
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

IT was 2am in the morning and things were supposed to have been wrapped up by six. But the constituency clinic still had a queue going down the street.

Having opened the clinic at 3pm that afternoon, Albert was still in full flow and the people would not be deterred from seeking the advice, attention and reassurances from 'Our Man.'

Kathleen Reynolds had sent down tea and sandwiches earlier and somehow they managed to make it through the marathon 12-hour stretch.

It was an episode recalled by Constituency Secretary Pauline Foody (pictured below) with a wistful smile. "He loved it. He got a buzz out of meeting people," she said.

Sometimes, she revealed, he even paid bills for people out of his own pocket when they came to him in severe financial difficulties. "That wasn't known about - but he did it," she said.

Flanked by flickering candles, two photographs of the former Taoiseach stood in the Longford Arms hotel which is still owned by Mr Reynolds's brother, Jim.

Pale and upset, Jim's daughter, Orla, was accepting the condolences of locals who were dropping in throughout the day to confirm that the news was really true. 'Our Man' or 'Mr Longford' as he was sometimes known, was no more.

All had the same thing to say: "He was a good man and a good businessman." "Albert and I go back a long, long way," said long-time Fianna Fail activist Benny Reid. It was the early days of the Reynolds's brothers Cloudland ballroom in Roosky, Co Roscommon and the official price of admission was six shillings. "But with Albert on the cash desk you could slip by with two half-crowns - sometimes," added Benny with a smile.

Kathleen would appear for the last hour of the dance and the glamorous young couple - still in the days before their marriage - would take to the floor, all eyes upon them.

"Albert was a very, very good ballroom dancer and they were something to behold. She was a very good-looking girl."

He was first and foremost a people person, said Benny, recalling how they had both become involved politically in the 1965 election when Sean MacEoin who had held the seat in Longford since 1921 was defeated by PJ Lenihan, Mary O'Rourke's dad. "Albert was involved in the transport end," explained Benny.

Bitten by the political bug, Benny urged Albert to run himself - but he was very reluctant.

"He'd say: "Jesus, no," recalled Benny. "He had a very young family and he had a couple of different projects that he was heavily involved with. Some, like the pet food factory, did well." It was only when pressure was applied by legendary Longford political adviser Mickey Doherty that Albert was prevailed upon to stand in the 1974 local election. Albert got two quotas. "Nobody has done it before or since," said Benny still with pride.

The 1977 campaign saw the now legendary Battle of Tang when supporters of Mary O'Rourke over the Westmeath border clashed with Reynolds supporters on Longford on 'disputed territory'.

Tang church was in Westmeath but the parish - or at least part of it - lay in Longford.


Mary's supporters arrived with a lorry but Albert's arrived with an even larger lorry.

"They had many a good laugh about that. They were team political rivals," said Benny.

He was a "great man to drop in and drink tea til 3am," he recalled with fondness.

His ability to speak to people across any divide stood to him and he would canvass all over North Longford, even once sitting in a kitchen of a house with a tree growing up in the centre of it.

"He had the touch - people liked him and he liked people. He knew it was all about the grassroots," said former TD Peter Kelly, who took over Reynolds' seat in the 2002 elections when the former Taoiseach bowed out of politics.

"We will miss him greatly," he said.



Irish Independent

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