A kind and supportive man who played a strong role in the community is how all will remember former Councillor Declan MacPartlin, who died on Saturday.
Born in Dublin to a Wexford mother and Dublin father, the former Independent Councillor spent much of his life in Camolin. He was elected in 2004 and served as a public representative until 2014.
His passion for people and country life developed at an early age. At the age of eight, he was put on a bus, with a label stuck on his coat that said 'Camolin'. He spent many summers in his formative years, learning more than his prayers from his cousins, the O'Learys and Maguires.
Hurling in ‘Roney's Bog’ may have laid the foundation for his life-long love of hurling and while he hurled for Dublin and won a National League title, one of his most valued achievements was winning the Junior County Final with Clonee when he was in his 40s.
His early working life included a stint on the Glen Abbey Show, working on the production side where he met such greats as Ella Fitzgerald and worked alongside the late great Frank Kelly. He worked for around six months in Deutsche Grammophon in Germany, where he honed his love of jazz music.
His work in public relations started with Infomark Ltd, a UK company led by Alistair MacDougall who became a lifelong friend and who Declan and Catherine’s eldest son was named after. A branch of Infomark was set up in Upper Mount St. in Dublin and run by Declan, who took over as Managing Director by the time his wife Catherine started to work for him in 1976.
In the early 80s, they moved to Wexford and set up office at home where his love of horses flourished. The house had around half an acre of garden in which he built three stables.
Between consultancy and office work, Declan and Catherine now worked side by side looking after the horses. It was a very basic set up and while they enjoyed luxurious stables, they ran and roamed free around the garden, once the gate was kept closed! On times when it wasn’t kept closed and the pair heard commotion from outside, they would have to drop everything to get the horses off the road.
Declan took it all in his stride, that is, after much shouting, a few expletives and lots of hand waving. He wasn’t the calmest in a crisis and over the years, there were calls of "all hands on deck” when the horses broke into neighbouring fields.
Working alongside Declan for many years was frustrating for Catherine at times but the variety of subjects covered, campaigns and events to be organised meant there was never a dull moment. In those pre-computer and internet days, press releases had to be typed on a clack clack typewriter and if on a tight deadline, had to be hand delivered by bike from Mount Street, to the Irish Press, Independent and Times, running up the stairs to hand deliver to the individual journalist.
This changed after moving to Wexford, where they set up an office at home, surrounded by typewriter, telex, Gestetner and fax, which were in constant use. The focus now was on managing the sheer volume of press cuttings, newspapers and documents that had to be filed and stored – many times on top of the kitchen table.
Declan's love of history and books meant that shelves groaned under the weight of volumes ranging in subject from the labour movement, politics, Irish and American culture, revolution, biographies, to life on Inishbofin. Add to this mix the increasing number of horses, housed in three stables.
Catherine became a willing participant in the menagerie which over the years grew. Dogs became a constant in their lives, and they had a goat for a short period but it outstayed its welcome when it ate a blouse off the clothes line.
For the past 17 years, Kaito, their family dog, was a loyal companion and to Declan’s delight, attracted much attention on their daily walks. He always enjoyed when people stopped to say how handsome he was (Kaito that is).
In mid 80s, they bought and moved to neighbouring Baylands Stud and this allowed Declan free reign to indulge his love of horses and farming. Standing a stallion meant they had to learn new skill sets. Declan organised for Catherine to go to Kentucky for six months to get experience on a stud farm next to Lexington race course. Back in Baylands, when Declan was away, she acted as ‘stallion’ master, overseeing the process of the mare being covered. This was unusual at the time, and perplexed some mare owners when they brought their mare to visit the stallion. They would come to the door asking for the boss and were surprised to be told that she was in charge.
For a while, Declan and Catherine trained horses for point to points and that meant that they had to schedule riding out and gallops into their daily routine. They had some great successes and some let’s say, not so successful, but they had some memorable characters and great days out. He loved the whole horse scene, the craic, the people, the in-depth discussions of performance and pedigree.
He was a passionate believer in the co-operative movement when it was owned and run by farmers. He worked on many ground breaking campaigns with the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, Golden Vale Co-op and North Connacht Farmers Co-op at a time when agriculture was a key driver of the Irish economy. Other clients included CIBA-GEIGY and the Anglo Irish Beef Group,
Over the years Declan had many voluntary roles including Secretary of the Irish Racehorse Owners Association, Irish Rural Dwellers Association and up to recent times, was an active member of the Executive of Wexford Local Development.
He worked on many ground breaking campaigns on a voluntary basis over the years, particularly in the co-operative movement. One campaign was pushing for objective one status for the North West and this is where he met Marian Harkin, who was also a community activist and volunteer. Declan recognised in Marian her talents and dedication in working towards achieving goals and encouraged her to enter politics. Marian went on to become an MEP and TD and he has worked alongside her as an adviser for 20 years.
It was typical of Declan to recognise and encourage talents in others and this was a huge feature of Catherine’s life with him. Over the years, he worked with many people in Ireland and Brussels who lacked confidence at the start of their careers. He brought his experience, humour and support and importantly, gave them confidence by telling them where their talents lay.
His love and extensive knowledge of politics was acknowledge and appreciated by those in the broader Harkin team. Messages over the past few days reflect their admiration: “He not only turned the light on he showed us where the switch was.”
As with so many of Declan's clients, his relationship went beyond the working environment and it is a testament to his character that so many of these friendships have lasted to this day.
His political instincts may have been engrained from the start. His grandfather Thomas MacPartlin was President of the ITUC and a Labour leader who became a senator in the first Seanad. His father Tom was also heavily involved in the trades union movement and the Labour Party.
Because of the lack of representation and delivery of services in the area, Declan was asked to run in the local elections of 2004. A cross party group of community activists in the Ferns area got together and organised a campaign which resulted in Declan winning an Independent seat in 2004 and again 2009.
He loved working with people, especially those without a voice and with a just cause. He loved debate, reading and research, and believed in preparing for council meetings, but was disappointed when advances were not made because others had not done their ‘homework’ in advance of meetings. He became disillusioned with the increasing lack of power at local level and did not run for re-election after 2009.
Declan’s interests were varied but people, books, history, animals and travel were prized – not in any order. Through his work, he travelled extensively but he and Catherine also travelled to some really fascinating places on holiday. Exploring culture and meeting local people were key to a good holiday. He loved archaeology, history and visiting graveyards. Trips to Cuba, Damascus, Lebanon and Pigna in Italy stand out.
He also loved nothing better than to have a meal with friends around the table, good food, wine and conversation were the staple. The trick was how to divert him off the soap box when he got going on a favourite subject.
Friends and family meant a lot to him. He and Catherine were very fortunate to have had great neighbours. Their children brought him such joy and he took such pride in their achievements and hearing their exploits. He wasn’t known for his patience when they were younger and at times they liked to test it. Having an office at home was challenging, there was no such thing as keeping to office hours and balancing parenting and business was testing at times.
Declan’s loss will be great but his capacity to get over things and move on will help Catherine in the future. His senses of humour, joy of life, support and inspiration were fundamental to the success of their relationship.
Former colleagues and friends of Declan have paid tributes to him and extended their sympathies to his wife Catherine and extended family.
This included TD for Sligo/Leitrim and former MEP Marian Harkin, who counted Declan as a political advisor and friend since the mid 1990s.
According to Deputy Harkin, she and Declan shared common views on things such as balanced regional development and rural development.
"Declan was very much into rural development," she said. “He recognised the importance of a proper co-operative movement that is owned and managed by farmers.”
"We shared common ideas even though he was from one end of the country and me another.”
Deputy Harkin said she greatly admired the fact that Declan was always well-informed.
"If there was a document that was important, he always read it. He was always well-informed,” she said, adding that his broad knowledge was the result of a ‘lifetime’ of reading and watching political debates.
"Declan was also very well-liked,” she said. “In all of the emails I have received in the last few days, people have mentioned how much they admired Declan professionally, but also personally. Not only did he provide you with information, but he was also always a laugh.”
According to Deputy Harkin, Declan always looked at details and tried to find a solution to any problem.
"Everyone thought so highly of him. He gave everything his 100%,” she said. “On a personal and political level, Team Harkin will really miss him.”
Chairman of Wexford County Council George Lawlor referred to Declan as a very ‘courteous and affable’ man who left his mark on the community.
“We were all deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Declan,” he said. “He did a lot of work in support of the development of rural Ireland and rural Wexford, rural housing being one of his key campaigns.”
“Declan was always very knowledgeable in the chamber and very courteous. He was never one to offer a harsh word and was always there to offer his valued opinion.”
According to Cllr Lawlor, Declan has a ‘particular grá’ for specific water schemes and made sure to mention them at every meeting. As a result, many of the areas he campaigned for have seen greatly improved water services in the years since.
On behalf of Wexford County Council, County Secretary David Minogue paid a tribute to Declan.
“The Council is very saddened today to learn of Declan’s passing. He was a part of this Council for many years and would have been seen by staff and members as a very fair and committed politician. He was a part of the fabric of this organisation for many years and he continued to be active in his parish and community after his time on the Council. Both he and Catherine have been a big part of this County Council we would like to extend sympathy to Catherine and his extended family at this very sad time.”
Senator Malcolm Byrne described Declan as a ‘very genuine person’ who always looked at the big picture.
“I had enormous time for Declan. He was a gentleman. He was deeply committed to both where he lived but also to community development in general. He was a great supporter of community organisations and getting people involved in areas where they lived. As a councillor, he always saw the big picture. He had a real sense of vision about what could be achieved. He would solve the small problem but would also see the big issue on the horizon. Declan never played politics and always focused on the best results.”
Former Councillor Robbie Ireton referred to Declan as a ‘very balanced fellow who could always see reason’.
“He believed in dialogue and didn’t hold any grudges, which is good, especially in politics,” he said. “I was privileged in the five years that I spent with him. I learned an awful lot from him and his style. He had a unique style about himself and the way he went about his business.”
Ireton said that Declan always welcomed in newcomers, and was a very sincere person.
“You couldn’t say a bad word about him. He was a rare breed, as they say.”
Declan was the beloved husband of Catherine, loving father of Jenny, Alistair, Fionn, Caoimhe and Oisín, brother of the late Tom and Ann. Deeply regretted by his wife, sons, daughters, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, daughter-in-law, Rachel, Naomi (Partner of Oisín), and grandchildren; Euan, Molly, and Beren, nieces, nephews, relatives and friends.
Declan’s Funeral Mass will be in St. Columba’s Church, Ballyduff, at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, June 29. Burial will take place afterwards in Ballyduff Cemetery.
May he rest in peace.