‘We were reared to care and
and now is the time to go’
Cllr Martin Bellew has served the people of Dundalk for 30 years and now he has decided to call it a day.
Or at least he hopes so.
The last time he was away from the council - 26 years ago - the people kept coming to his door.
But this time he feels it will be different.
“It is the right time to go,” said Martin.
“After losing Sarah halfway through this term I decided it would be very emotional to go through an election campaign without her.”
His late wife Sarah was not only his life-long partner and friend, she was the driving force and organiser behind all his council work.
“When I went back into education as an adult, I threw the books into the green bin a few times, but by the time I came home from work, Sarah had them back on the table.”
Martin is now an adult guidance co-ordinator with the Louth Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB) the body which has replaced the county Vocational Educational Committees.
He studied for his degree at Dublin City University and completed his masters at NUI Maynooth.
That would be a great accomplishment by any standards, but for someone who left school at 15 it is a story of courage and honest hard work.
Martin Bellew was co-opted to Dundalk Urban Council in April 1979 a month after his father Jimmy was killed in a car accident.
Jimmy Bellew had been a county councillor and a Dundalk town councillor for nine years.
Seamus, Martin’s older brother, was expected to take over the seat, but politics was not Seamus’s thing.
Then Martin’s uncle Paddy was approached. Paddy wasn’t ready either, although he went on to spend a decade working as a councilor.
Martin was 21-years-old and married to Sarah. He was a carpenter and the young couple were thinking of emigrating to Canada.
Martin relented and said he would serve on both councils until June. Thirty-five years later he is still there.
In June 1979 he put his name forward for the urban council and county council elections. The result was he topped the poll in the Dundalk South ward.
He also held onto the county council election seat his father had held.
“For the next five years I worked extremely hard,” he said. “People would queue to get in the house. There would be seats in the hallway.
“A lot of the issues then were similar as what you have now. People would come with tax forms. It was very busy coming up to April.
“And some people would come with letters for you to read. They would trust me to read them and often I had to write a reply.
“You had to be a good listener, but we were reared to care and when people knocked on my door they would be told the truth.
“I remember one young fellow who came one day with a box of chocolates, which was quite an expensive thing in those days, to say thanks.
“You didn’t do anything for me,” he said, “but you were nice about doing nothing for me.”
In 1985, when the town was going through a difficult, politically emotive time, Martin lost both seats.
But even though the seats on the council were gone, the work never stopped.
“People kept coming to the house,” he said.
“The hall was still full. I was still reading the letters and still making representations.
“When I called to the town hall officials treated me better than some of the councillors,”
In 1990 he won back the county council seat, and then the town council seat in 1992 when he changed from the South ward to Seatown ward and headed the poll.
He has continued to head the poll in that ward ever since, his vote getting stronger in each election.
In 2004, he topped the poll with his fellow independents Mary Grehan and Jim Ryan.
Martin worked hard with the late Dr Mary Grehan on the Louth Hospital campaign. They were two great fighters and great friends.
Sadly, Mary, who also served the people of Dundalk with such distinction, passed away five years ago. But now Martin is calling it a political day.
“Everything is achievable in life if you want it badly enough,” he says proudly wearing the Dundalk FC crest on his shirt, all geared up for the match against Bohs at Oriel that evening.
“With the help of friends you can do it.”
He certainly did.