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June 12th 2002

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Mary Makes History

First Lady Minister from Ulster in Dail

Mary crosses the Bundrowes River to step into Donegal for the first time as a Government Minister.

A Proud Day
For Donegal

Well done, our Mary. A proud day for you, for the Coughlan family and for the people of this constituency. Over the years we watched - and doubted. Shame on us. There’s more than Eamon Dunphy should eat humble pie. Just, there were so many slick city boys around, what chance was there for a country girl. But we were wrong. You kept your own counsel, Mary, and worked and persevered. And now we’re proud. Proud that one of our own has succeeded. And you deserve to, Mary. Many long miles under your wheels, many late night journeys home or heading off to attend some function or other. Never ending days operating clinics, listening to tales of woe and complaint, at everyone’s beck and call. The tedium of the back-benches. All work - no real power. But you kept your head, Mary, and your good humour. You absorbed, learned, gained experience, remained yourself, and ultimately it all came good. This paper has not always been kind to you, Mary, and possibly there will be times in the future when it won’t be again. But, unlike others, you never complained, always kept in touch and were unfailingly courteous to our people. We here at Donegal Times wish you well as do all your constituents in Donegal South. Let this be just another step up the ladder - who knows in years to come we could be celebrating Ireland’s first woman Taoiseach - and you know what, Mary, if that does happen, we won’t be surprised again, you made your own luck, now savour and enjoy the experience!

Friday evening saw history made when the first Ulster woman to be appointed a Minister in Dail Eireann crossed the Bundrowes Bridge at Bundoran. The new Minister for Social and Family Affairs became ‘Mary’ when she entered her home county. She arrived with mother Marian in her new black state Mercedes, proudly chauffeured by garda escort driver, Inver man Hugh Tierney. A large crowd awaited on the bridge as the cavalcade snaked its way in from Leitrim. When Mary got out and walked across, cheers went up and bonfires burned brightly. Sean McEniff, in his element, couldn’t wait to get our Minister back to the Hollyrood Hotel to outline his expectations. Once there, Sean made a welcoming speech to our new minister “On behalf of the McEniff family I want to congratulate and wish Mary, her husband, children and her mother, all the best. The Coughlan family have turned out to be a dynasty here in Donegal as much as the De Valera’s and Ahern’s in Dublin. It’s great to have a voice at the cabinet table which we have’nt had since the late Joe Brennan - great for the social and economic development of south-west Donegal and particularly for decentralisation”.

Mary then made her first speech as a Minister in her home county saying she was personally honoured with her appointment, her family is honoured but greatest credit should go to the Fianna Fail Party because it was them who put her there.

The next stop was Dorrian’s Imperial Hotel, Ballshannon where the new minister was warmly welcomed with champagne and flowers. Then on to Donegal Town taking in Laghey, Ballintra and Pettigo en route.

At the outskirts of town, the Ardaghey band were waiting to lead the new Minister down Quay Bray and up to the platform on a crowded Diamond. Pat the Cope spoke first. “It is a great honour for me to stand here on the Diamond and welcome home my long term friend and colleague Mary Coughlan. It is great for South West Donegal to have a minister, though this evening is touched with sadness for me. When I decided to contest convention in 1981 her uncle Clement helped and encouraged me.” Pat also paid tribute to Mary’s father Cathal saying he had achieved so much in his three years in the Dail that it seemed like three decades.

Next to speak was Senator Enda Bonner who said that Mary had taken on one of the biggest spending government departments with a €9 billion spend last year and five thousand staff. Enda said he felt confident that Mary had the ability to handle this.

Then the minister herself took the microphone and thanked everybody for coming out mentioning the Garda and the men from her own parish who piped her down Quay Bray. Mary went on “Pat mentioned he needed to get a visa to come up here - I had to get a visa to go down below as well. I thank him for showing me some of the ropes in my early days in politics. In 1987, at my nomination in Glenties, I remember saying it would be a hard act to follow in the shoes of two great Coughlan men, but at the end of the day I would do my own thing. When I came in to Bundoran and Ballyshannon this evening there were a few hints – they didn’t even give me five minutes – they wanted me to deliver instantaneously. Everybody speaks of 1992 when the Sam came – this is the first time a woman minister has been appointed in Ulster and I hope that in the next few weeks we will be standing here after winning the Ulster final - and will bring back Sam as well.”

After the speeches were over the crowd made their way to Pier 1 where everybody was in a party mood.

Next up was Mountcharles. The Glen was glowing with light from bonfires as Mary made her way from the bottom of the town accompanied by the Ardaghey band. Up the street, with the skies sparkling from fireworks, and Mary taking time to shake hands and talk to the crowds.

Back into the Merc at Glencoagh and down Drumconnor towards Frosses. Again bonfires and Kelly’s garage aglow, all cars with lights switched on. Out Mary gets again at Clancys - herself and Sean Campbell making their way through Frosses - more fireworks, bonfires - and perched at Burkes was Pat James on the accordion and Fr. McLoone wearing a stetson.

Then it was down the Cranny Road to Inver Bridge where Mary once again got out to greet well-wishers. Bonfires blazed and cheers rang out as the people welcomed the new minister back to base.

Finally Mary reached the Milltown Bar where the local band once again gave a display on the street, well appreciated by the crowd. Then the party was truly on with the Milltown packed from wall to wall and the band playing ‘Congratulations’. There was a great variety of food laid on in the front room with everybody tucking in.

Clr. Sean Campbell made a speech and then Mary brought house down by stating “It’s great to be home”. Muriel Ward presenting Mary with a bouquet of flowers as did Maureen Campbell to Mary’s mother Marian. With music, dance, food, drink and a new Minister, the celebrations were still in full swing when I departed in the early hours of the morning.


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