Longford man who brought razzmatazz to midlands Ireland
While getting on with his countless other schemes he became a central figure in ours
Former taoiseach Albert Reynolds with his wife, Kathleen, in 1996: he got a palpable buzz out of life and people, without a drop of alcohol passing his lips (apart from a sip of champagne in September 1994 when the IRA declared a ceasefire, his life’s great achievement). Photograph: Frank Miller
It was 1977, the general election was in full swing and the one feature that could not be ignored – apart from Fianna Fáil’s brazen, vote-buying manifesto – was Albert Reynolds’s tanned visage. It gleamed out of the full-colour (a first), highly personalised (another first) posters blitzing the entire Longford-Westmeath constituency.
The man himself was bounding through both counties, patting babies and pinning the odd fiver beneath a pram hood, trailing a heady air of money, glamour, ferocious energy and US-style razzmatazz. It felt like Hollywood come to Longford.
The long-standing FF incumbent, Frank Carter, was the immediate victim but to the rest of us campaign veterans, it felt like the end of something. A glitzy, new element had landed in town.
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How long he had had his eye on the Dáil goal was never clear. In 1961, when my father, Joe Sheridan, was rejected – again – at a Fine Gael convention, he took the risky, costly route of running as an Independent.
Among the first campaign volunteers were fellow Longford men Albert Reynolds and Jimmy O’Brien. Albert had an extraordinarily effective way of establishing himself as a helpful, practical presence in people’s lives.
While getting on with his countless other schemes in life – not to mention his adored wife, Kathleen, and seven children – he became a central figure in ours. He regularly called to our Westmeath home – a 35km diversion on his Longford-Dublin journey – to drive our father up to Leinster House and hung around the Dáil before driving him home.
Occasionally he would speed us ingrates back to boarding school in Co Wicklow, chain-smoking, chomping on Mars bars (a grown-up who admitted, thrillingly, to hoarding biscuits beneath the bed), chatting endlessly, amiably, unpatronisingly. Sometimes he talked so much he ran out of petrol, my father recalled. There is little doubt that those long drives ignited Albert’s interest in active politics, as opposed to his previous drive-by involvements in FF byelection campaigns.
It’s fair to say his decision to stand in Longford-Westmeath created a certain frisson between the two men, especially since Albert’s brother had sided with Joe, but they remained civilised – in public, anyway. In the event, my father headed the poll and Albert swept in with him, headed for his own office in Leinster House at last.
With his sharp suits and succession of big, shiny motors – a Jaguar, a Daimler or an unmissable white Mercedes – Albert represented a radical changing of the guard. A man with a private swimming pool. In Longford.
A man who was clearly going places, inhaling food and exuding limitless energy, late for everything, hitting the country roads in spots (with more than the odd crash), getting a palpable buzz out of life and people without a drop of alcohol passing his lips (apart from a sip of champagne in September 1994 when the IRA declared a ceasefire, his life’s great achievement).
To many observers of that hard-drinking culture, his ability to weather boring drunks into the dawn while stone-cold sober, verged on miraculous. A useful talent in the early hours, observed others, for a keen listener and memory man when in the company of important people whose tongues are loosened by alcohol.