AFTER one of the most eagerly anticipated elections of all time, the mood was similar outside the count centre at Dundalk IT on Saturday morning with representatives from just about every party present before the doors were opened for the first time shortly after 9am.
Amongst the candidates there from the off were Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd, the Green Party’s Mark Dearey as well as independents Luke Martin and Robin Wilson.
Others would come and go throughout the day but it was as the ballot boxes were opened around 9.30am that the real action began and we began to get a true picture of what lay ahead several hours later.
Led by Jimmy Cumiskey, the tally men got to work and by 10.10am it was clear that Fergus O’Dowd and Gerry Adams were way out in front ahead of Ged Nash and Peter Fitzpatrick with the Fianna Fáil duo of James Carroll and Declan Breathnach in chase.
That ordered varied from time to time throughout the course of the next 29 hours or so but by and large was reflective of how things would pan out in the end.
With some of the first boxes being opened coming by and large coming from the south of the constituency, one hopeful Sinn Féin supporter sensed victory from an early point when she said: “He could do it, Gerry could top the poll.”
That dream started to turn into reality shortly after midday when at 12.21pm, with a more even spread of boxes now totted up, the Sinn Féin leader moved ahead in the tallies for the first time. The timing was sweet as it was just minutes later when he arrived at the count for the first time with Northern Irish Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in tow.
When the final figures were totted up at 1.40pm, he was still ahead of the posse and that’s where he stayed with his election being confirmed by returning officer Mairead Ahern later that evening following the first count when he was confirmed as having 15,072 first preference votes.
With an army of supporters in tow, Adams was hoisted shoulder height in celebration as his party rejoiced at comfortably beating the quota of 13,864.
Moments later there were further cheers when Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd was also declared elected on the first count with a total of 13,980 votes.
The two parties taunted each other after that. Sinn Féin singing “top of the poll, top of the poll, top of the poll” and Fine Gael hitting back with “two seats, two seats, two seats.”
They would have to wait until the next day and sweat it out a lot more for that to become a reality but it looked the most likely outcome from a long way off despite a solid campaign from Fianna Fáil’s James Carroll which saw Fitzpatrick pushed all the way.
Before all that though, it was to be Labour’s moment. With the count suspended at around 2.45am on Sunday morning, count staff returned at 10.30am to resume their business with Ged Nash eventually elected on count 12 with 14,620 votes, largely courtesy of a transfer of 3,962 votes from his running mate Mary Moran.
It was an excellent campaign by Labour and they celebrated in style with fellow TDs Joe Costello and Dominic Hannigan joining the party.
The last and final seat was finally Fitzpatrick’s just before 2pm but he was not there to savour the success as he was in Wexford, guiding the Louth senior footballers to their third straight success in Division Three.
The previous night he talked about losing close fought matches lately and hoped the election would be his “third time lucky.”
It was, the only pity being that he wasn’t there to savour it. He no doubt enjoyed his homecoming later that night though when he was met at the county boundary by a team of his supporters, friends and family.
Election 2011 in Louth was well over by that stage. The tallymen had got it right and next Wednesday the team of Gerry Adams, Fergus O’Dowd, Ged Nash, Peter Fitzpatrick and, of course, Seamus Kirk, will head for Leinster House to do battle all over again for the good of the country and the constituency.