Saturday 20 October 2018

Gallagher: the lessons I learnt from my first wife

Marriage break-up taught him to trust his heart and gut, writes Gemma O'Doherty

A cosmetics saleswoman from Cork, Patricia O'Connor rarely leaves her husband's side, clutching his hand as he works the crowds, dashing to his rescue when journalists ask uncomfortable questions.

But back in their home county of Louth, where the couple share a romantic beachside cottage, there is another woman the presidential hopeful once called the love of his life.

Sean Gallagher met his first wife Irene McCausland when he was studying for an MBA in the University of Ulster. It was the late 1990s and he was well into his 30s when he fell for the striking young northerner, who shared his passion for enterprise and was known for her drive and ambition.

A committed bachelor, marriage was the last thing on his mind. At the time his obsession was Fianna Fáil. He had given his heart and soul to the party all of his adult life, as head of ógra Fianna Fáil, and now political secretary for Dr Rory O'Hanlon, the then minister for health. There was little time for romance as he built his profile through the ranks of the party to become one of the most successful movers and shakers in Leinster House.

In a book about Irish entrepreneurs, published by Mercier Press called That'll Never Work, he described how it was "a great time, because of the sense of being at the centre of things, the ability to get things done..."

"I had a network of contacts built up within departments so good that other ministers would ring me to get things done. I just knew my way around the system. The first people I spoke to when I went into a government department were the guys at the gate.

"Why? Because they were the guys who opened up in the morning and shut the place down at night and you had to get in and out. The people in the restaurant, similarly, were the people who fed you. And they deserved exactly the same respect as a department secretary general or a minister.

"The more you do for people -- just because it's the right thing to do, not out of any cute hoorism -- the better network you have and the better your chances that they'd help you out if you were in difficulty. I could ring someone in a government department and say 'there's a case file somewhere, at the bottom of such and such a drawer, is there any chance you'd look it out for me?' and they would because there were no bully-boy tactics involved. It wasn't about sending strong letters."

When Albert Reynolds became leader of the party and Rory O'Hanlon lost his job, Gallagher did, too. He went to work in the party HQ but missed the buzz of life at the centre of power.

He left Dublin in 1995 and decided to finish his education and set up a business of his own in Dundalk.

Shortly afterwards, he caught the eye of a petite, raven-haired beauty, and plunged into a whirlwind romance. Sean and Irene had a lot in common. They both had similar interests and strong personalities. He admired her intellect and was smitten with her good looks that attracted many an admirer.

In 1997, they walked up the aisle. But before long, Sean realised something was missing. They were on the wrong frequency. Within two years, as he threw himself into his budding business, Smart Homes, they had got an annulment and were divorced.

Last year, in an interview, he described how, at that time, it was thinking with his head and not his heart which ultimately ended the marriage.

'She was a beautiful and bright woman. But I was more tuned into my head back then. Now I tune into what my heart and gut are telling me. Sometimes we all have to keep making mistakes until we eventually learn the lesson.

"While it was a tough time, letting go of it was the right decision. It was a transformational time for both of us and I am really happy that she is now happily married. I have nothing but good wishes for her. I am definitely a better person and partner as a result. I learnt honesty, compromise and telling the truth faster.

"Sometimes we can try and pretend to be happy about something so as not to upset others, when if we are honest we all end up happier because things are real. And therefore we don't waste energy trying to pretend to be something or someone we are not. It's a bit like when you are too tired to go out to dinner and you make up some stupid excuse when really all you had to say was: 'I'm tired and don't feel like going out.'"

Today, McCausland has a well-paid job in Dundalk Institute of Technology where she works in management at the campus centre for enterprise.

Colleagues describe her as a tough operator who is assertive and determined in everything she does.

"She's not the sort of person who takes things lying down," says one employee of the institute.

"She likes to be in control and won't take any nonsense from anyone."

When contacted by the Irish Independent, Ms McCausland declined the opportunity to speak about her husband's bid for the áras.

Gallagher met his current wife Trish when he was speaking at a dinner in 2009. He calls her his soul-mate. She wonders why it took so long for him to find her.

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