Monday 19 March 2018

A real Councillor, in the best sense of the word

LEO CARTHY was what could best be described as a ' real' County Councillor. He was parish pump in the best sense of the word. For half a century, he diligently represented the needs of the people of the Wexford District, but particularly gave voice to the concerns of those who resided in the South East corner of that District and especially to the people of Our Lady's Island Parish.

When I first encountered him at Council level in 1979, he already had a couple of decades of service behind him. That Council was pretty political, having among its numbers three TDs and several aspiring TDs, so the debate was regularly ferocious and more often than not involved national issues which really had little to do with the Council itself.

When things got heated it was almost always Leo who brought things back on the straight and narrow. ' For God's sake lads, you are like Ballymagash', he'd declare in a reference to an RTE programme of the time which depicted councillors as buffoons. When Leo spoke, his colleagues tended to show respect and listen. Then, having achieved calm in the Chamber, he would take the opportunity to raise a couple of issues relevant to 'my own area', as he liked to call it. It might be a bend on a road close to Kilmore, a water problem in Rosslare Harbour, potholes near Tagoat, the state of Rosslare Strand after another particularly violent storm, or the very important matter of the cutting of the lake at Our Lady's Island. They were all relevant County Council issues and very important to the people whom her served .

While many of his colleagues were making speeches about things over which they had no control, Leo had his feet firmly on the ground and in his own way was achieving so much for the people who faithfully returned him to the Council chamber for fifty years.

His long-term membership of the Council, in addition to his involvement in mumming and traditional music, meant he was known across the county, indeed across many parts of the country.

There were few in the Wexford District he did not know personally, as I discovered while accompanying him on the canvass during the 1985 local election. I had been due to spend an hour or so gathering material for a campaign notebook, but in the end spent almost the entire day in his company. We were in people's kitchens, their sitting rooms, even their bedrooms and we drank tea, ate sandwiches, cakes and drank more tea. Everyone wanted to embrace Leo, young and old.

He also had a great sense of fun - a fact well illustrated by an incident that happened that day. As we canvassed around a Council housing estate in a village which will remain nameless, it became clear that residents were up in arms over the 'goingson' in one of the houses. Let's just say the clear implication was that a certain type of business was being run from the house. On every door residents demanded that Leo have something done about the problem.

Then we arrived at the gate of ' The House'. 'Come on ' til we see what all the fuss is about,' said Leo as he marched to the door. As Leo was about to introduce himself, the lady of the house beamed broadly and said ' hello Ger, how are you keeping?' As Leo might say, she was originally from my part of the country. Leo smirked knowingly and as we left looked at me and said 'wait until I tell the lads about this'. By the time the story was retold the lady was throwing her arms around me on the doorstep and Leo was in his element at my expense.

A great mixer in any company, he had a fine sense of fun and a great wit. He was the ultimate people's person and was always on hand in times of grief and distress. He was an outstanding man to attend funerals and didn't just go to be seen. Indeed the last time I met him, just a few weeks ago, it was appropriately enough at a wake house in South Wexford.

He must have held the world record for delivering graveside orations and his were always worth listening to providing as they did such an accurate and comprehensive picture of the deceased.

And many of his words were reported faithfully in this newspaper the following week, written by Leo himself. He was indeed a much valued and in many ways outstanding local correspondent of People Newspapers for most of his adult life. In the days before e-mail he could be seen in the council chamber putting the finishing touches to his notes before delivering them to the office. There was little that happened in his corner of South Wexford that did not make it to the 'paper.

He was particularly diligent at ensuring that all deaths were adequately reported and people's life stories recorded. He also made a point of making sure that the attendance of any public representatives at the funeral was reported and, of course, this gave him the opportunity to include his own name. Many of his colleagues were envious of this little facility.

Too often on occasions like this, it is said 'we will not see his like again'. On this occasion I absolutely believe it to be true. The day of the real on the ground local councillor who could serve for half a century is sadly at an end, partially because the type of mundane, often thankless and anonymous work required for such an achievement is no longer attractive to a new breed of local politician who often see local government as just the first step on a ladder to something else. For Leo, local government wasn't a step to anything, it was simply his life.

Of course all his public work was secondary to his family. He was a devoted family man and the sense of loss being experienced by his wife Anne, who was such an outstanding support to him, his daughter Assumpta and sons Ger and Sean, will be immense at this time.

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