Drizzle fails to dampen cheerful O'Rourke


On the Canvass:"You're not the master of the house?" says Mary O'Rourke incredulously. "Well, you look like a garsún."

"You're not the master of the house?" says Mary O'Rourke incredulously. "Well, you look like a garsún."

The young man, who is indeed the master of the fine new house in Glasson, Co Westmeath, blushes furiously. "I'll leave you a card and hope you will think well of me?" she says gently, by which time, the garsún has composed himself sufficiently to recall his little local difficulty.

He paid a €5,000 levy to the county council to have the dusty old excuse for a road outside "taken in charge". Everyone gasps. €5,000? Never. Now the council was telling him it "could be next year or 10 years" before something would be done.

Mary looks thoughtful and scribbles down the details. "Very well," she says efficiently, as we head back out to the drizzle, which dims the glory of Glasson, "the Village of the Roses".

It hasn't deterred the lunch crowd though. The village and every pub and restaurant in it is packed, the little main street lined with cars half up on the footpath. The Greens are putting up posters. "It's time", says the slogan.

We watch them in action outside Grogan's. "That's a bit ominous. A poster saying 'it's time' outside a pub," muses Mary. As an amenity area, it could be Green territory. But with half-acre sites fetching €300,000, an inflow of Tiger- birthed business folk, sleek new cars in front and the odd private swimming pool out back, its heart is in Fianna Fáil.

The recurring complaint in Glasson is about the Thursday polling day. Patricia Wilson, a young Dublin-based marketing professional, explains that she has no allegiance to anyone there.

"Down here, I know the people I'm voting for. But I work late and start early. Why is the election not on a Sunday?"

Mary, flourishing her endearingly old-fashioned green and gold FF rosette, nods sympathetically as if it was the Opposition that had called the date. No one demands an explanation from her as a senior Fianna Fáiler, a rottweiler of a woman that even the Taoiseach is known to tiptoe around.

The only serious "chat" is with a Moate woman in the supermarket, with the sadly familiar story of a special needs child and a dearth of psychologists. Mary discusses it knowledgeably and takes notes.

She's a genial canvasser who enjoys a nice chat with the punters and hearing about their children's brilliant careers.

She gasps gratifyingly at the palatial interiors and - not discouraged by the journalist - accepts offers of a nosey tour at the drop of the hat. "Isn't that nice? He has it very nice, doesn't he?" she says, admiring a manicured garden. "My, it's a gorgeous house, isn't it?"

At one door, after warm handshakes, the master announces that his wife is in the bath. "Is she in the bath?" gurgles a highly amused Senator, "like Michael O'Leary found me," slapping your man on the shoulder. All good, clean fun.

On a day when the PDs look like they're falling apart, no one mentions Bertiegate, except a man who wonders who might be FF's "partners" now. "Is it Sinn Féin after this morning?" he teases. She affects puzzlement.

"McDowell is saying one thing and Parlon's saying another," he explains.

"So there's going to be a break in the PDs? Small and all as they are?" inquires Mary innocently.

Once asked about Bertiegate, Glasson is solid. "Bertie obviously got some kind of a deal buying a house. So? The man was in trouble. A few friends came to help him out. What has that to do with an election?"

"Look at the country - it's gone from strength to strength. Look at the North - he zipped it when he had to and talked when he had to. That alone must have saved millions."

"Lives, too," adds Mary.

One woman, "not a diehard Fianna Fáiler", has no doubt that he has questions to answer - "but not on the campaign trail. I would change, definitely, if there was anything better on offer, but I don't think Enda's strong enough."

You can see why Fine Gael is running scared. So, no excitement there then. Speaking of which . . . any sign of Donie Cassidy in the territory?

"Well, there's no territory any more. It's a free county now. That's what we wanted, an open county, and that's what we have, except for, roughly, Mullingar and Athlone. But we have our little forays. Oh yes."

They keep it country by staying apart. "We don't meet. That makes it very practical."

For all that, with six Oireachtas members battling for four seats in Longford- Westmeath, this is scorched earth canvass-wise.

If Glasson isn't Mary's, she can throw in the towel. According to the bookies, Donie is toast and Mary is set for the fourth seat. But listen, what's Donie at?