At the start of the campaign, Holly Cairns said running against her boyfriend was like being in a bad rom-com movie, but at nearly 4am today it had a fairytale ending.
Social Democrat Cairns and her partner Christopher O'Sullivan (FF) were both elected amid incredible scenes in the Clonakilty count centre.
Fine Gael was left without a seat in the constituency, unheard of around these parts.
Cairns looked dead and buried, 2,000 votes behind Fine Gael's Tim Lombard with just one round of counting remaining.
However, the redistribution of votes from Sinn Fein's Paul Hayes saw Ms Cairns slingshot to victory in the most spectacular style.
The Social Democrat picked up 3,023 transfer votes on the eighth count from Mr Hayes, giving her a total of 10,078.
Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard fell short, with 9,526 votes, and just 393 transfers from Mr Hayes.
Speaking to The Echo, Ms Cairns said she wanted to offer the people of her constituency a real alternative.
“I have always said there is a presumption that rural Ireland is conservative by default and it is not only untrue, it is a little bit insulting.
“We have shown time and time again we would like something more progressive here."
Ms Cairns said that she was very grateful for all the support and all the people who voted for her.
“I think we have really shown the appetite for change.
"The social democrats provide a real alternative. Most Irish people are social democrats they just haven’t really realised it yet.”
Ms Cairns' boyfriend, Christoper O’Sullivan, elected for Fianna Fáil, said he was elated to be elected and said he was delighted for Holly.
“She ran a fantastic campaign, she will be a huge addition to Cork South West and to Irish Politics. Of course, I am delighted for her.”
This is the second incredible victory for the Social Democrat in less than 12 months, winning her county council seat in May after two full recounts over four days when just 1 vote separated the last two candidates in the initial count.
Fianna Fáil's Christopher O’Sullivan has jumped back into second place following a substantial transfer allocation from his running mate Margaret Murphy O’Mahony.
Mr O’Sullivan took 3,045 votes of the 4,373 transferable votes available following Ms Murphy O’Mahony’s elimination in the sixth count.
The Fianna Fáil councillor now looks set to take the second seat in Cork South West’s three-seater constituency.
Mr O’Sullivan now leads Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard by 1,140 votes.
The latest twist means the third seat now falls between Mr Lombard and Mr O’Sullivan’s partner, Social Democrat Holly Cairns, who currently as 7,055 votes, but is expected to transfer well from Sinn Féin's Paul Hayes who was eliminated in the seventh count.
The eighth count will see Mr Haye’s 5,832 votes transferred between the remaining three candidates.
Speaking to The Echo, Mr O’Sullivan said he had his eyes set firmly on the second seat and he expected to receive a good number of votes from Mr Haye’s transfers.
If Ms Cairns does not receive a substantial amount of transfers, she will be eliminated in the eighth count, leaving the two seats to Mr Lombard and Mr O’Sullivan.
Senator Tim Lombard has jumped into second place in the Cork South West election, following a massive 1,888 transfers from the eliminated Fine Gael candidate Karen Coakley.
With poll-topper Michael Collins elected on the first count, the contest has been all about the final two seats in the three-seater.
Senator Lombard now leads Fianna Fáil councillor, Christopher O’Sullivan, by 1,329 votes and seems likely to be elected.
Mr O’Sullivan, the sitting county mayor, is now coming in at 7,228 with his girlfriend, Social Democrat Holly Cairns, following with 6,593.
In the sixth count, Fianna Fáil candidate Margaret Murphy O’Mahony was eliminated, with 4,863 votes now up for grabs in transfers.
While Mr O’Sullivan is likely to pick up a great deal of these votes, it is just as likely that Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Hayes will be eliminated in the seventh count, with over 5,542 votes to transfer, with a high proportion going to Ms Cairns.
It all means the third seat, which is between partners Mr O’Sullivan and Ms Cairns, is very much all to play for.
Speaking to The Echo, Ms Cairns said it is getting interesting.
“It is going to be very tight, but that is how I roll,” Ms Cairns said.
Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard has pulled away from Social Democrat Holly Cairns in the fight for a Cork South West seat in the fifth count and could surpass Fianna Fáil's Christopher O'Sullivan in the next count.
The transfer of Independent Councillor Alan Coleman’s 2,025 votes has proved fruitful for Mr Lombard, who is now chasing down Mr O’Sullivan.
While the second seat remains unclaimed, it looked almost certain to go to O’Sullivan, with three candidates vying for the final seat.
However, things look likely to change with a strong Fine Gael transfer predicted to follow the elimination of Karen Coakley (FG) when her 2,747 votes are redistributed.
In the fifth count, Mr Lombard picked up 499 votes from Independent Councillor Alan Coleman in his transfers, with Holly claiming just 286.
Going into the sixth count, Mr Lombard is moving up the ranks fast with 6,669 votes, just 291 votes behind Christopher O’Sullivan (6,960) who picked up 358 votes from Mr Coleman.
Mr Lombard told The Echo he expects to do well from the transfers from Mrs Coakley.
Speaking to The Echo, Mr Lombard said he would be hoping and praying for a large percentage of the Coakley vote.
This means Mr O’Sullivan (6,960) and his partner Ms Cairns (6,280) could be in contention for the final seat.
Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Hayes picked up 233 in the fifth count.
With a total of 5,462, Mr Hayes is still ahead of Fianna Fāil TD Margaret Murphy O'Mahony who gained 404 votes now totalling 4,761.
Social Democrat candidate Holly Cairns has made a massive move in the race for the final Cork South West seat, taking 986 transfers from the eliminated Green Party candidate on the fourth count.
It means Ms Cairns is now hot on the heels of Fine Gael's Tim Lombard and could pull off what would be a major breakthrough for the Social Democrats.
Ms Cairns now sits on 5,994 votes after count 4, just 176 behind Lombard in the race for the final seat.
Speaking to The Echo, Ms Cairns said it was still very close and there were still more eliminations to go.
“It is certainly a big boost, I grew up green. There are a few more eliminations to go," she said.
Independent Michael Collins topped the poll and was elected on the first count. The second seat is set to go to Fianna Fáil's Christopher O'Sullivan, who is the partner of Ms Cairns.
The romantic connection has added increased interest in the Cork South West count, with international media covering the story.
Green Party candidate Bernie Connolly was eliminated in the third count of the Cork South West constituency, where seven candidates and two seats remain.
In the 1,001 transfers from three eliminated candidates, Sean O’Leary (35 votes), People Before Profit Kevin O’Connor (435) and Aontu candidate Mairead Ruane (531), Holly Cairns picked up 200 votes, bringing her total to 5,008.
However, Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Hayes picked 194, bringing his total to 5,075. The third seat leader, Fine Gael Tim Lombard only salvaged 65 votes from the transfers bringing his total to 5,982.
Fianna Fāil TD Margaret Murphy O'Mahony looks set to lose her seat, gaining just 111 votes bringing her total to 4,274.
County Mayor, Fianna Fáil councillor Christopher O'Sullivan, who is likely to take the second seat, picked up 103 votes bringing his total to 6,503, still some distance from the quota of 11, 085.
Green Party Candidate Bernie Connolly has now been eliminated from the election and her 1,765 votes will now be redistributed among the other seven candidates in the fourth count.
The battle for the third seat in Cork South West is likely to be a hard-fought one.
However, with the third count underway, a gap is widening between the three competitors, with Fine Gael Tim Lombard leading the way on 5,917 votes, followed by Sinn Fein Councillor Paul Hayes on 4,881 and Social Democrat Holly Cairns hanging in with 4,808.
Speaking to The Echo, Ms Cairns said she was “absolutely thrilled” with how her campaign had run and said she would be fighting till the very end for the seat.
“Whatever happens, it was a great first campaign. We had great success."
As a Social Democrat, Ms Cairns said she was used to being underestimated and relished the role of proving people wrong.
“We were told in the local elections, it would be a miracle to get in, we pipped the odds then and we will hopefully do it again.”
Leading the way to the third seat, Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard said he felt comfortable in his current position.
“The last seat was always up for grabs, we always knew we would be fighting for that seat," he said. "I am very happy with my first preference vote and now it is about making sure that the transfer from Karen Coakley comes on board and if it does it will help a long way to get this seat.”
The second count has been completed at Cork South West without any candidate reaching the quota.
Cork county mayor, Fianna Fáil councillor Christopher O’Sullivan, picked up 138 votes in the second count in Cork South West bringing his total to 6,400, still quite a distance from the quota of 11,085 for election.
Next in line to take a seat, with no main competitors, Mr O’Sullivan must play the waiting game before claiming the second seat in the constituency.
Social Democrat Holly Cairns, picked up 112 votes, increasing her total to 4808, however, Sinn Féin councillor Paul Hayes picked up 104 votes, surpassing Ms Cairns in the battle for the third seat.
While Ms Cairns and Mr Hayes made big gains in the transfers from the reelected TD Micheal Collins, Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard remains in the lead getting 53 transfer votes to strengthen his lead to 5917.
The next count will eliminate the three candidates with the lowest number of votes: Sean O’Leary (35 votes), People Before Profit Kevin O’Connor (435) and Aontu candidate Mairead Ruane (531).
These 1001 votes will now be redistributed among the other nine candidates, but it will be at least two more counts before anyone is elected, with talks of the centre staying open through the night to elect two other candidates.
Schull-based TD Michael Collins retained his Dáil seat for a second term after coming up trumps in the three-seater constituency on the first count with 11,712 votes.
Mr Collins vowed to fight for West Cork in an impassioned speech following his election. The Independent TD said that he hadn’t taken a holiday in three years and often worked 18 hour days for the people of West Cork.
The reelected TD from Schull said top of his list of priorities was ensuring Bantry Hospital remained open.
“The people of West Cork can be assured that I will go back and speak another 438 times in the Dāil for them.”
Mr Collins said he would work tirelessly for the people of West Cork and said his constituency always came first to him.
The total poll was 44,626, there were 288 invalid votes, leaving 44,338 valid votes. The quota 11,085.
Michael Collins secured 11,712 votes, followed by the County Mayor Christopher O’Sullivan who racked up 6,262 first preference votes.
Senator Tim Lombard was next with 5,865 and then Social Democrat Councillor Holly Cairns with 4,696.
Not far off was Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Hayes with 4,777 followed by Margaret Murphy O’Mahony with 4,077.
Fine Gael candidate Karen Coakley came away with 2,526 and Alan Coleman gathered 1,801 votes.
Next was Green Party Councillor Bernie Connolly with 1,647 votes.
People Before Profit candidate Kevin O’Connor had 427 votes and Aontu candidate Mairead Ruane had 515.
Last was Sean O’Leary with 33 votes.
Sinn Féin's Paul Hayes is expecting a long battle before the final seat in Cork South West is decided but believes there will be opportunities for him to pick up transfers.
With Fianna Fáil candidate and current county mayor Christopher O'Sullivan also looking likely to take a seat, Mr Hayes faces a three-way contest with Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard Social Democrat councillor Holly Cairns.
“We knew we were fighting for the third seat, we just expected the fight to be with Fianna Fáil,“ he said.
"So we are exactly where we expected to be - but against a different candidate.”
Aidan said that the third seat would be hard-fought with nothing in it.
“We will get transfers from Karen Coakley and Alan Coleman, Holly will get transfers from Greens and Sinn Féin, it will come down to nothing.”
THE final tally for Cork South West shows 27.1% first preference votes for Independent Michael Collins, who is certain to top the poll.
Next on the list is Fianna Fáil Councillor Christopher O’Sullivan with almost 15% (14.9%) but there will be a battle to the wire for the third and final seat.
Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard looks to be pulling in 11.9% of the vote, according to unofficial tallies, and Social Democrat Holly Cairns has taken home 11% of the first-choice votes.
Not far behind is Sinn Féin’s Paul Hayes on 9.5% followed by Mary Margaret O’Mahony on 8.7%.
Speaking to The Echo, Mr Hayes said transfers would have a big part to play in who takes the third seat and he would have his fingers crossed for the evening.
“I’m delighted to still be in the mix, it will all come down to transfers now.”
Mr Hayes said he expected a strong vote for Michael Collins but said he was surprised by the “incredible” first preference vote he received.
Mr Hayes said he would have hoped to pull a little more but said, realistically, he knew it would have been hard to reflect the figures from the national scale.
Next on the list was Skibbereen Fine Gael candidate Karen Coakley with 5.9%, Independent Councillor Alan Coleman with 4.4% and Green Party candidate Bernie Connolly grabbing 3.8%.
People Before Profit Candidate Kevin O'Connor took 0.8% of the tallied votes, Aontu representative Mairead Ruane took 1% and Sean O'Leary pulled 0.4% of the first preference votes.
Independent Michael Collins looks set to retain his Cork South West seat, with votes to spare.
With over 90 of the 133 boxes opened, Mr Collins said from the tallies it looked like he was picking up a good number of votes across the constituency.
Speaking to The Echo, Mr Collins said that he was very happy with the support.
“The people of West Cork are very hurt and angry at how they have been treated, I fought for them. I spoke 438 times in the Dāil over the past four years, pushing for solutions and getting solutions.”
The Independent candidate who was one to seven in the run-up to the election to take a seat, said there was a wave of happiness following the outpour of electoral support.
“I am a community candidate, I think that helped and resulted in a strong vote for me.”
The count in Clonakilty for the Cork South West is underway, with 133 boxes to be opened, including the postal vote. Twenty boxes will be opened at a time.
The total electorate was 69,127, up 5,000 from the 2016 elections.
Social Democrat Holly Cairns was at the count bright and early as was Independent councillor Michael Collins.
Ms Cairns said she felt calm today as it was now out of her hands.
“There is nothing I can do right now, but enjoy it.”
Ms Cairns said it had been a stressful full-on three weeks, but it had also been great.
“No matter what the result we will be happy with the campaign we ran.”
Independent Councillor Michael Collins said being the favourite was a dangerous position to be in and he just hoped his support voted for him yesterday.
“We got a good response on the doors, we have worked very hard over the past few years to concentrate on the people, not the politics and I think this will pay off.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Hayes was also milling about the count centre awaiting early indications of how the vote has gone.
“The exit polls were promising. I was concerned the goodwill and appetite for change that we were seeing on the doors would not translate to votes.
“I have my fingers crossed for the tallies and votes to favour me.”
Mr Hayes said that it was a short intense campaign that saw him travelling from Kinsale to Castletownbere and everywhere in between.
Aidan Lombard was also at the count from the offset supporting his brother Tim who is fourth in the odds to grab a seat behind Independent Councillor Michael Collins and Fianna Fāil candidates Christopher O’Sullivan and Mary Margaret O’Mahony.