Jackie Healy-Rae, who died in December 2014, became defined as the politician who represented the people who have their dinner in the middle of the day. But this shrewd, flamboyant character was much more than that.
A new book, The Healy-Raes – a twenty-four seven political legacy, traces the growth of a leading political dynasty; how a man from a frugal, rural background became a successful businessman and the country’s most colourful politician of his time.
“The 200-page book (€14.99) will be launched by Michael O’Regan, Irish Times parliamentary correspondent and Radio Kerry political commentator, in Healy-Raes’ Bar, Kilgarvan, on Sunday November 22, between 3pm and 6pm. Everybody welcome”
The dynasty is now into a third generation, with a son, Michael, an independent TD, and another son, Danny, and Danny’s son, Johnny, both poll-topping members of Kerry County Council.
A Healy-Rae has never been defeated in a council, or Dail, election since Jackie entered Kerry County Council, in 1973. The book, by journalist Donal Hickey, outlines this remarkable family’s story from Jackie’s early life on a small, mountainy farm, in Kilgarvan, Co Kerry, to the present.
Jackie Healy-Rae struck deals with minority Fianna Fail governments in return for projects for his Kerry South constituency. Details of the 2007 agreement, costed at €66 million, are revealed in the book (page 80). That agreement was not honoured in full because of the economic collapse and consequent spending cuts.
Three for the Price of One
After the 2007 election, Jackie told his voters they were getting ‘’three (politicians) for the price of one’’ – a reference to the manner in which the three, elected family members work as a team.
Hickey probes the reasons for the Healy-Raes’ success (page 174). Rather than having a branch structure, or formal organisation, he writes the ‘’wheels under the Healy-Rae machine’’ are loyal and tested supporters in every corner of the scattered constituency.
He also says the phenomenal Healy-Rae work ethic, 24/7 availability and populist stance on a wide range of issues, including planning and health, garner support for a ‘’vote-hoovering’’ political machine.
Excerpts From The Healy Raes
Life was tough growing up on a small farm in the Kerry hills, in the grim 1930’s and ‘40’s. In his own words, Jackie’s mother, Mary, was a ‘’miracle’’ and often had to do the work of a man.
‘’According to Jackie, they would not have survived without the help of the shopkeeper Quill family, of whom they were customers. He never forgot a time, in 1947, when his mother had no money to buy flour. Mrs Quill, however, sent up a 10-stone sack which was left on the ditch at Rae crossroads. His mother went to collect it. She slung it on her back and brought it across the bog and fields. Exhausted, she landed the heavy sack on a seat in the kitchen. Not a single grain of that flour was wasted,’’ Hickey writes.
Healy-Rae earned a reputation as a colourful and shrewd political campaigner, long before he became a member of Kerry County Council, in 1973. He was involved in several Fianna Fail by-election campaigns around the country, in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, and organised final rallies for the party.
‘’We arranged bonfires, we arranged torches, we arranged goalpost crossbars that lit up with sods of turf. They were spectacular. One man would stand at one side of the goalpost and another fella at the other side, both holding up big turf torches,’’ he recalled.
‘’The crossbar was lined up with cans and a burning sod of turf in each can. The sods would be soaked in petrol and diesel oil so that they’d burn brightly. There’d be two or three bands out in front playing. It was a beautiful sight to see as you were coming into a town. We’d get massive crowds along to the rallies in the last two or three days before the votes were cast.’’
Secrets of Success
The Healy-Raes attribute their success in politics to hard work, service to the people and the efforts of a loyal network of supporters in the constituency.
‘’The Healy-Rae machine is not a political party as the term is understood; neither does it fit into the left, right or centre slots on the Irish political spectrum. The approach is populist and intensely local based on service to the general public – giving the maximum number of people what they want and limiting restrictions, in planning for example, as far as possible,’’ Hickey writes.
Michael Healy Rae, Independent TD
‘’What you are is a servant of the people and if you get any other ideas into your head, you’re only a fool. We’ve expanded our support base by giving a sound, respectable and reliable service to the people. We want to do the right thing and the day we can’t do the right thing we just won’t do it anymore.’’
Donal Hickey, an Irish Examiner journalist for 40 years, covered the life and times of the Healy-Raes since the early 1970s. He lives in Killarney can be contacted on: 087 24 53 891, or firstname.lastname@example.org See the Rushy Mountain Books website with a click on the link here: www.rushymountainbooks.com