Pious, new moral FF is like some marooned, naked emperor in exile
Fianna Fail's recent gathering was haunted by a strange sense of absence
AS anticipated, the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis was dominated by the man who wasn't there.
There was, however, one twist in the tale – for the man who wasn't there wasn't Bertie or Biffo or the rest of the cast of thousands.
Instead, the invisible figure who dominated events was the Minister for Justice.
Fianna Fail, mind you, wasn't complaining as it for once trod the enchanted way of the high moral ground.
Opposition is a hard old road and if Alan Shatter wants to keep on shooting himself in the foot and Leo wants to take the odd pot shot too in order to lighten the load, they weren't going to complain.
Still, though Micheal Martin was eloquent and forensic, those who recall the Haughey era would have blinked a little at the sight of a Fianna Fail leader piously giving out about the politicisation of the gardai by a Minister for Justice.
History, you see, as Fianna Fail is finding out the hard way, is a difficult ghost to exorcise. That is not to say it is not doing its very best, for the astonished observation of one pub owner that "the FF lads went to bed very early last night, they were gone from the bar by 2am", indicated that pious, new moral FF was very much in the ascendancy.
In Killarney, the tone, alas, was set by Ogra's celebration
of its 'Healthy Living Campaign', which represented some sea-change from the good ole boys of the Bar Lobby.
Instead all now is about niceness, the evils of irresponsible drinking, mandatory cycle helmets, gender recognition processes, the decriminalisation of marijuana (hurrah!) but only for medicinal purposes (boo!), and a client-centric social welfare system – whatever that might be.
The one bit of old-style FF that appeared was the gents who called for this Ard Fheis to "reject the Government's attempt at reforming local government".
Just as we thought that's the old "we'll have no truck with that FG reform thing" FF we know and used to love, sadly it became apparent that FF wanted to reform the poor old councillors even more thoroughly.
History, however, keeps on spoiling the view, for our main interest was whether 'the Bull' O'Donoghue might gallop in the door and shake the hand of a quivering Micheal.
Still, it has all calmed down a little from that time when Fianna Fail was the political equivalent of one of those 'devil dogs' the tabloid press used to become so exercised over.
It does help that Bertie is a ghost now, as is Biffo too – and the rest of the cabinet of the damned for that matter. And it does help that Micheal Martin makes for a far more convincing vicar of Montenotte than a political devil dog.
In Killarney, despite all those plaques thanking Bertie for opening the INEC and the photos of Micheal gazing adoringly at Bertie in the wake of an Ard Fheis speech, reinvention continues apace.
Far from being surrounded by devil dogs, the new seedling FF TDs are closer in their nature to a convention of Cocker Spaniels. As they race around under your feet pulling at political leads, there are more lovely girls on display than on the set of Father Ted.
Amid such perfume pleasantry it is almost easy to forget the past, which, one supposes, is the idea. Despite all of the hustle and bustle, the gathering is still surrounded by a strange sense of absence.
It is as though the party is, in terms of its soul and its brand, like some naked emperor in exile on an island waiting for someone or any-one to come along by chance to rescue and clothe it.
Its current situation was summarised by one local, who, on discussing the delights of the new FF Kerry ticket of 'the Bull' O'Donoghue and former TD Tommy Mac (no you never heard of him even when he was the Dail either), admitted: "We've lost the young; they vote now on Twitter and social media calling us b*ll***s – and they may be right."
Or, to put it another way, having once been kings, they are now wild geese in exile waiting to migrate home.
The problem, of course, with that analogy is that, whilst it might sound comforting, the Irish Wild Geese never actually came back.