July 9th, 1964


FROM THE ARCHIVES:Polling day in a hard-fought by-election in Roscommon-South Leitrim in 1964 between the widow of the Fine Gael TD whose death caused the vacancy and the governing Fianna Fáil’s candidate was described by a special correspondent, probably John Healy.

The name of the new Dail deputy will be known by six o’clock tomorrow evening, and, to-night, in Roscommon, the most anyone will say is that it will be a tight fight, despite the enthusiasm generated by the feverish day of getting out the vote.

Nobody will do any better in the matter of betting than to give “even money” on the chances of Fianna Fail’s Dr. Hugh Gibbon, or Fine Gael’s Mrs. Joan Burke [the eventual winner]. But, whoever wins both sides are likely to claim that it was The Machine that was responsible for the victory. And this will be true, for both parties have excellent machines this time.

The Machine is detail, No one knows this better that Mr. Joseph O’Neill, the full-time Fianna Fail organiser, who keeps in the background but, on a day like to-day, sees to it that The Machine moves. He has been in Roscommon for the past three weeks. The town doesn’t know he’s here; he walks three times a day from headquarters to his hotel, 100 yards away, saying nothing, and rarely talking politics. He has been Director of Elections for Mr. [Sean] Lemass [Taoiseach], and he has fought every by-election for the past 12 years.

To-day, he is the nerve centre of the constituency-the one man whose voice counts, and to whom every politician, whatever his rank, Minister, Parliamentary Secretary, deputy, senator, or county councillor, is no more and no less than a person who is to be allocated a job and who must do that job. A Minister may prefer a route of his own. He is given no choice. Joe O’Neill has a stack of scribbled messages which have come in by ‘phone, from different parts of the constituency, and he allocates the men and cars and duties as he thinks best.

A call comes in from Boyle. The local organisation has discovered that there are three votes missing; they had gone out to a rural area to ferry-in the residents of five houses, and found that three people were in the County Home. O’Neill asks a few routine questions and rings off. The County Home is checked. The patients are there. It is 28 miles to their polling-booth, and 28 miles back again. Mrs. Honor Crowley of Kerry is reading her morning paper. Joe O’Neill assigns her to take the patients to vote.

Someone else rushes in: “There is no car at all in Carrowcrin.” He says it as if it is a national emergency. Mr. O’Neill knows there should be no emergency and checks his transport list. There are three names opposite Carrowcrin. Joe traces them on the ‘phone to find two have already gone there, the third won’t be available for an hour. The man says there are six votes waiting to be collected, and it’s important he has a car. A call comes in from Carrowcrin to say the first car has arrived and they are all right.