Cllr Pat McMahon. Photograph: Eamon Ward
CLARE’S second longest serving politician is to call time on his political career.
Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) has revealed exclusively to The Clare Echo that he will not be contesting next year’s local elections. Ahead of a Fianna Fáil selection convention for the Shannon Municipal District, the seventy eight year old has confirmed he will be withdrawing his name from the race.
It leaves Cllr Pat O’Gorman (FF), David Griffin (FF) and Rachel Hartigan (FF) vying to represent the party in the Shannon MD. McMahon is to inform Fianna Fáil headquarters of his decision on Monday and will announce his withdrawal to delegates on Monday night.
Co-opted to the local authority following the sudden death of his father, Andy, his departure will bring to an end a near eight decade family representation on the County Council. Pat has cited health reasons as a hindrance to a potential re-election and another five year term. He has twice served as Cathaoirleach of the Shannon Municipal District and is currently the Chair of the Economic Development Strategic Policy Committee.
Speaking to The Clare Echo, the Newmarket-on-Fergus native reflected, “I went before the public eight times and am undefeated. My father before me was on the Council for thirty years so there is a McMahon from Newmarket-on-Fergus in politics for near eighty years which is unique. Fair play to the people of Newmarket-on-Fergus and surrounding areas who have given me that trust, having the sewerage works passed and starting early next year I think the population here is going to double in a short period of time over fifteen years. 52 settlements in Clare have no wastewater treatment so the places where it is going to grow will be the places with the infrastructure”.
Over the next month, he is to meet three consultants regarding his health. “My father died at the age of 64, my uncle Gerry was 45 and my brother Donie, I’ve already had an operation so having got advice from my family and my closest friends, they were unhappy with me going but I was flabbergasted by the amount of goodwill from people who wanted me to have another go. You can always be defeated, for the last three elections two days before them I’d go out and get a load of rubbish bags to be ready. I was astonished by people and the goodwill, I wasn’t naïve and I realised my medical issues have taken me out of the equation”.
Making the decision to bow out was not easy, he admitted. “I was amazed by the goodwill which was never initiated by me at all. I’ve been lucky all my life to have huge interests outside of politics, sport whether it is hurling, soccer or rugby, I go to the cinema nearly weekly, I go to the theatre nearly weekly and often up to Dublin, I love reading incessantly, sport and humour have kept me going through life. I’ve had awful tragedy in my life with sudden deaths, my father died suddenly, my uncle died suddenly and my brother Mike was killed on a motorbike, then I’ve had the death of my wife Kitty, it takes a toll not to be crying about it, I grieve silently, I still grieve but I’m no different to other people.
“I’d have never been in politics only for my father, there was always people coming with huge problems into the house but my father would sit them down. It astonished me the amount of problems, Newmarket-on-Fergus is domineered by local authority housing really, it has slightly changed, you could see the poverty first hand. I was only a married a few years when I was co-opted, I was running a busy supermarket at the time, a great friend of mine and my father’s Joe Casey asked me to serve out the term, I thought it was a great compromise that I could do that and walk away so I took it up on that premise”.
Forty years on he was still at it, something which he never envisaged. “I thought I wouldn’t live this long to be fair, I socialise as people know, when you follow games and three sports intensely which I do that will happen. The Newmarket-on-Fergus hurling team of the 1960s and 70s were the best club team I ever saw, I followed Shannon RFC when Michael Arthur started playing with them and I often when into matches with Frank McNamara, then Newmarket Celtic I’m the President and one of the four trustees of the club, I always loved soccer, a tear came to my eye this year in Jackman Park in Limerick when I saw Newmarket winning the FAI Junior Cup so I had saw the best club hurling team come from the parish and then our soccer team win the All-Ireland. I go to Manchester Utd matches for the last fifty years, I’ll be there on St Stephen’s Day this year against Aston Villa, it breaks up the Christmas nicely”.
Over this time, he made many strong friendships. “I built massive friendships not alone across the political divide but all over the place, I was Chairman of the Council for two years and Chairman of the Mid-West Regional Authority for a year, my colleagues recognised I had some leadership qualities”.
He said he was asked twice by Fianna Fáil to go forward for a selection convention for a General Election but declined on both occasions, “I was asked twice to go forward to convention for the Dáil but I had no interest and refused, I think a TD has an awful life”. He added, “I’m not saying I’d have made it, I’m under no illusions”.
Attempts were made by the Progressive Democrats to get ‘The Mace’ to run for them in a General Election, he admitted, “The PDs were really interested, they approached me privately because I was very friendly with Dessie O’Malley all my life”. McMahon continued, “I was great friends with Dessie O’Malley which was well known, I thought about it but to this day I think a TD has a genuinely awful life, I’ve seen it as a councillor, we’ve meetings from 09:45 some mornings and I tell people coming into local politics they haven’t a clue thinking they can do it while having a job. When I joined first, it was teachers, publicans, shopkeepers and tradesmen that were well set up, now it is self-employed people or someone with a very good boss that allows you to take time off like Pat O’Gorman, it is hugely restrictive. In Dublin, they have night-time meetings but I can never see that happening in Clare”.
Having had a two year term as Mayor of Clare, McMahon has had to represent the county across the world at different events. “I was at the Clareman Association 100th year anniversary in New York about forty years ago, they brought people from Chicago, Boston, Minnesota, there was 2,500 delegates in New York and I had to address them as the guest of honour from Clare, the great thing about it to help me ease the nerves was that I found out they start drinking well before the function. I remember going to Australia with the Council one year and inside in a field in Sydney there was 18,500 people at this function and I was one of the speakers. I was in great positions and lucky enough to meet loads of people.
A former shop owner in the village, the premises was owned and ran by his mother before Pat took over and was later responsible for building three extensions before selling to SuperValu.
Highlights in politics are all connected to his native Newmarket-on-Fergus. “The growth of Newmarket-on-Fergus is something I’ve always been pushing for and it’s coming to fruition now with the infrastructure, I will be tabling more motions for a masterplan to give us a planned future now that we have the sewerage works so the extra capacity will be there. It breaks my heart to this day that people born in Newmarket-on-Fergus are living everywhere but here, it is where the parents live and where they want to be, that is going to change but I’ll be gone oddly enough”.
“Newmarket has to take off because it is going to be one of the few things that will have the infrastructure in place and I’m glad to have had a big part in that. I often think of my father and I work the old ways too, I used to condemn my father because he’d been ploughing a field and someone would come up in an awful way about health issues, he’d leave the plough and tractor to help them, I’d condemn him but I soon started to do the same thing,” he added.
Few councillors have been more vocal on the subject of Shannon Airport than Cllr McMahon, he has constantly sought for an improved marketing strategy of the International Airport. “Shannon Airport was always something I highlighted, I have a natural interest in aircraft and airports, I’d always read up about them and trying to see what we can apply to Shannon that might be working well elsewhere. The economic state of Shannon is massive, going to conferences from West Cork to West Donegal, people would be telling me we were ‘awful lucky’ to have an industrial estate where people work and the airport, some people born and reared here might take it for granted, it is only when you move and travel externally and internally like I do that you begin to realise it”.
He will serve on the Council until June and still will be tabling motions including renewing his call to create a theme park in Bunratty. “It is ironic now that Clare County Council have bought Bunratty Castle & Folk Park because I have proposed on record seven or eight times that a theme park be created there. I’ve done a lot of research on it and I’ve said there can only be two theme parks in Ireland, one in the West and one in the East, we have Tayto Park so I’ve proposed that the powers that be look at, try get plans and people involved initially for a historic theme park. I will be raising another motion on this before I finish, it will be a historic theme park. Clare County Council and a private entrepreneur or companies could do a fifty fifty partnership on it, it would be long-term finance and not putting in €25m annually, the rides are a costly venture I know but it is something to be investigated seeing as the Council have ended up owning the Folk Park. Hopefully someone will listen to me, if you do nothing then nothing happens, you have to throw up an idea, let up in the air as long as someone can catch the idea and look at it”.
McMahon is the second councillor to announce their retirement following Cllr Bill Chambers’ (FF) resignation last week. He feels there will be transition for the party locally, “I am Fianna Fáil but there are things I disagree with, I can think for myself and won’t be put in a bush by anyone in the party, I’ve made mistakes but I was never a yes man for anyone. I’ve two or three good friends that are very objective and won’t tell me what I want to hear”.
On a more local level, he pointed out that Newmarket-on-Fergus faces the risk of ending up without a county councillor. “Three or four people have said to me ahead of the convention that it could be possible Newmarket-on-Fergus would be without a councillor and it could happen very easily, Rachel Hartigan will have a strong vote in South Clare, Pat O’Gorman will pull up votes everywhere. I like David Griffin and wish him well but he needs a stronger presence in the village”.
He added, “There could be a wave of people to go as an Independent in Newmarket, whatever I am I pride myself on not being naïve, we can all be naïve now and again without knowing but as you get experience in life you cut a lot of that naivety out of the way because you can see it coming”.
“I will remain as a councillor until the first week of June, there’s things I’d love to do in Newmarket and love to investigate if it could happen because it would be of huge benefit if the Ralahine Commune which was the first in the world and only stopped because of a massive debt. My idea would be to look at setting up a weekly scenario of running a historical festival for a week for the whole area. For the first time ever, the Winterage Festival in Sixmilebridge is now being considered for Newmarket-on-Fergus, we have two halls and an excellent marquee in The Sports Bar, the pubs in Bunratty are crazy busy so the Council would be more amenable to having anything locally to bring people in January. I am not saying it will happen but it has been mentioned,” McMahon concluded.