‘I really enjoyed my year as County Mayor’: Mary Linehan Foley's term comes to an end

Roisin Burke speaks to outgoing County Mayor Mary Linehan Foley about the unique challenges and highlights of her year in office.
‘I really enjoyed my year as County Mayor’: Mary Linehan Foley's term comes to an end

The outgoing Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr. Mary Linehan Foley from Youghal. Pic: Brian Lougheed

After a year at the helm, during a global pandemic, outgoing County Mayor Mary Linehan Foley said she enjoyed her year in office and despite the many challenges, she has a lot of good memories that will stay with her forever.

“You get the cards you are dealt and you just have to deal with them,” Mayor Linehan Foley stated. “That’s just the way it is.”

The pragmatic approach from the County Mayor has resulted in a busy year for Mrs Linehan Foley; different to the one she had imagined.

“I really enjoyed the year, it was very enjoyable. It had challenges, there were loads that I would have liked to do. I had loads of plans to visit schools and hotels and nursing homes, my aim was to get out in the community, but with Covid, I didn’t manage to get to everything.”

The County Mayor said there were somewhat of a silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic, if you look closely.

“Normally, as Mayor, I would be travelling a lot to America, etc, but this year I was very much centred in Cork and that gave me the opportunity to really explore the Cork community.”

Mrs Linehan Foley said she was lucky and fortunate to get to see so much of Cork and said the year really opened her eyes to the vast expanse of the Cork County.

“I have travelled to west and north Cork before, on holidays and that, but to travel it under time constraints really makes you realise how big it is!

“I never realised how big Cork was, you would be in Dublin quicker than you would be in Mizen! I have a better understanding of Cork as a county.”

Mary, who did not want a mayoral driver, did most of her travelling herself, although she said her husband John often helped out, driving her to locations when she needed.

“I drove myself most of the time, but my main man John also stepped in to help at times. It wasn’t always easy, I can understand why there is a driver for the mayor, it is a hectic role.”

Mary said that the family support she received during her year as County Mayor was amazing and she couldn’t have done it without them.

“The mayorship is a team effort. I couldn’t have done it without the team on Floor 14, the Chief Executive and my family. I was blown away by the support I received.”

Mary said from late night to early morning, her team was behind her and everyone rowed in to get the job done.

One of the biggest challenges of the mayorship for Mary was taking meetings online.

“Chairing online meetings was the toughest aspect of being mayor. Once the restrictions came in after Christmas, the meetings were fully online and I was just thinking how can I chair 80 people online, completely on my own?”

While the task was originally intimidating, Mary said she is now a ‘dinger’ at looking after online meetings.

“I was nervous, I just kept thinking, how am I going to do this, it was definitely the biggest challenge. I had my daughters at home with me during the lockdown after Christmas and they were helping out screening messages coming through to my phone while I was chairing and things like that.”

The outgoing mayor said now, she was a professional at looking after online meetings.

“It doesn’t phase me at all anymore, I’m a right dinger at it!”

While Mrs Linehan Foley said she no longer had any trouble with online meetings, she also said she was looking forward to getting back to physical face to face meetings.

“I’m looking forward to going back, I love people, I’m very sociable, i think you have to be for this role.”

One positive Mrs Linehan Foley took from the online meetings was the way they allowed the democratic work of the council to continue.

“It showed me we could still get things done online. We did a lot of work online and it made me see that things were possible.

“Applying for grants, funding, etc, you don’t always have to travel to Dublin to meet someone for 20 minutes, you can just speak to them online.”

Over the year of ups and downs, the Cork politician said her favourite memory was on the day she was elected as County Mayor.

“The day I was elected, it was lashing rain, now I mean it was really lashing and when I got home from County Hall, people had lined my road, all socially distanced, and there they all were, lining the road with the rain belting down on them to welcome me home. That is something I will never forget.”

In terms of highlights, the outgoing mayor said signing the contract for the extension of the Youghal boardwalk and subsequently opening the completed project in her hometown within 12 months was a very proud moment.

Mayor of the County of Cork Cllr Mary Linehan Foley together with Heather Humphreys T.D., Minister for Rural and Community Development, and Tim Lucey, Chief Executive, Cork County Council opened Ireland's longest seafront boardwalk, a 2-metre-wide and 7km accessibility friendly walkway between Youghal town centre and Redbarn beach. Photo: Cathal Noonan
Mayor of the County of Cork Cllr Mary Linehan Foley together with Heather Humphreys T.D., Minister for Rural and Community Development, and Tim Lucey, Chief Executive, Cork County Council opened Ireland's longest seafront boardwalk, a 2-metre-wide and 7km accessibility friendly walkway between Youghal town centre and Redbarn beach. Photo: Cathal Noonan

“It is a great facility that can be used by all and that will greatly enhance the local area. It is tying the whole area together, you can stroll 7/8/9/10km from the beach along by the lighthouse, Greenpark, and Quayside.”

Mrs Linehan Foley, who is proudly born and bred in Youghal, said she thinks the East Cork coastal town is a ‘hidden gem’ that has much to offer visitors and locals alike.

Looking back at the year, she said her only regret was not getting to see more of Cork and to visit frontline workers and schools.

“I’m not big on regrets, but I do wish I was able to visit more places. I didn’t get to visit a lot of community- based projects and I would have liked to thank the people who worked through the pandemic.”

The outgoing County Mayor said one of the toughest tasks of the year was maintaining her councillor duties while being the mayor.

“My secretary Trish was my shadow and she made sure I was where I needed to be. She took care of the mayor side of things and I looked after my councillor duties.

“I’m not great at delegating, I prefer to get stuck in myself, it was an extra workload but I managed.”

Looking ahead, she joked her husband was worried about her next challenge.

“I’m always looking ahead, looking for the next challenge, but I think I’m going to take a week or two off and take a time out. I don’t normally do it, but I’m tired, its been a busy year.”

Mrs Linehan Foley said her husband had booked a staycation in Bantry for three or four days and she had endeavoured to turn off her phone and leave her laptop behind, things she has already accepted she will not manage to achieve.

“I never turn off my phone, I am always on, but I am going to try and relax for a few days.”

The new County Mayor is to be elected today and Mrs Linehan Foley said her advice to the new mayor was to enjoy every second of it, because the time flies.

“I would be telling the new mayor, it is an honour and a privilege to be the County Mayor of Cork and I would also be telling them to make it their own.

“Do what you want to do, see what you want to see, visit where you want to visit and you know where I am if you need help in any way.”

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