Rude songs and banter... how I miss the elections of the past

From away back in his childhood Michael Pattwell has loved election time - when campaigning for elections took place from the backs of lorries parked outside churches after Masses on Sundays.
Rude songs and banter... how I miss the elections of the past

GETTING HIS VOICE HEARD: GeneralElection candidate Gerard Carrollcampaigning outside a Cork church in 1973.

I HONESTLY cannot understand the objection that some people have to election posters.

Now that the elections are over, the more diligent party workers and supporters of Independent candidates will already have performed their civic duty and most of the posters will be gone.

According to the Litter Pollution Act 1997 and the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2009, posters may only be erected for a certain specified time period before an election. This period is either (a) 30 days before the poll date or (b) from the date the polling day order for the election has been made, whichever provides the shorter period of time. Posters must be removed within seven days of polling day. These requirements are set out under section 19 of the act.

The European Parliament Elections Order 2019 and the Local Elections Order 2019 were signed on March 25, 2019, and fixed the polling day for both elections on May 24. Therefore, the 30-day period applied and posters could be erected from April 24.

There is a requirement for candidates to remove all posters including any cable ties within seven days of the poll. Failure to comply with these conditions constitutes an offence. If posters are not removed within this period, the local authority will remove them and issue an on-the-spot fine of €150 for each offence. If a party or candidate refuses to pay this, they can be prosecuted and fined up to €3,000.

Several weeks before the elections, I was standing outside the railway station on the Lower Glanmire Road, waiting for somebody, when I noticed a small white poster stuck on the electricity poles nearby. It stated (I paraphrase) that the people of that area had decided they didn’t want any election posters to be displayed there. I understand similar ‘posters’ were displayed in other areas too.

The fact of the matter is that the display of election posters is quite legal and above board, provided they comply with the law. On the other hand, the little posters calling for the non-display of election posters that I saw displayed were the ones breaking the law in several ways.

The truth of the matter is that it is illegal to put up posters or signs on poles or other structures in public places, unless one has written permission in advance from the owner of the pole or structure. In addition, any poster, sign or advertisement must carry the name and address of the person promoting or arranging the event being advertised, or the person on whose behalf the poster, sign or advertisement is being put up.

For myself, I find the posters very helpful, especially when there are large numbers of candidates. On top of that, I think they add a great sense of occasion and, indeed, excitement.

The week before last, I travelled a good bit around the counties of Meath and Louth and the several counties en route to there and the posters helped me to place the various candidates, especially the ones we’d be familiar with from radio and television. I was especially struck by the number of female candidates in that area.

Perhaps there were no more than in other areas, but the posters did give the impression that the women were at last catching up — and if that is true, not before time too.

From away back in my childhood I have loved election times. I’m speaking about the times when campaigning for elections took place from the backs of lorries parked outside churches after Masses on Sundays.

Even though there was a fairly strong population of Protestants in our area in West Cork, I never remember seeing the lorry parked outside either the Church of Ireland church or the Methodist church in our town. It was as if the Protestant voter didn’t exist or didn’t matter.

When candidates and supporting speakers took their places behind the microphone, we judged them by the quality of their oratory. Feelings ran high in the 1950s and the speeches of the candidates were frequently interrupted by heckling. Sometimes, if the ‘meeting’ was, say, promoting the Fine Gael candidate, a supporter of the opposition would shout “Up Dev.” and this would be followed by a loud cheer from his pals at the back. How the speaker dealt with the heckler was noted too and a good put-down would be a positive mark for a candidate and his party.

Once, when the speakers were of the Fianna Fáil party, I remember a crowd of ‘lads’ at the back singing: “F**k de Valera and Seán MacEntee, they gave us black flour and a half ounce of tea.” 

They were adapting from the old war-time song about the rationing of the time:

Bless ’em all, Bless ’em all,

The long and the short and the tall,

Bless de Valera and Seán MacEntee,

They gave us the black flour, And the half-ounce of tea.

They rationed the cocoa and all, But they couldn’t ration the porter at all.

They brought starvation To our little nation,

So cheer up St Vincent de Paul.

In some versions, instead of “black flour” they said “brown bread”. Sometimes there was the added verse from the supporters of Seán McBride and his Clann na Poblachta party:

Come on MacBride, the brave and true,

Few men in the Dail could equal you.

For me I know you’ll do your best,

God speed you to victory with the rest.

There were several versions of the same song. another version went:

Goodbye de Valera and Seán MacEntee

Who gave us the brown bread and a half ounce of tea.

We are saying goodbye to them all

As out of the Dail they must crawl.

We’ll give them the pension When they stand to attention,

So vote Clann na Poblachta, all!

The original song came out the trenches of the First World War:

Bless ’em all, Bless ’em all.

The long and the short and the tall,

Bless all those Sergeants and WOI’s,

Bless all those Corporals and their blinkin’/bleedin’ sons,

Cos’ we’re saying goodbye to ’em all.

And back to their Billets they crawl,

You’ll get no promotion this side of the ocean,

So cheer up my lads bless ’em all.

A WO was, I think, a Warrant Officer.

Elections were very different back in my youth. Perhaps television and the various types of social media have changed all that. I do miss, however, the canvassing and the banter that existed right up to and through the 1990s.

In the election last week there was a huge number of candidates, yet I met only one who called to my home. I know I missed just one other too, who called whilst I was out and left a card.

There was no end to the cards that came through the post and, in fairness, I did read them all, though for anybody who knows me my voting pattern is fairly predictable.

It was whilst reading one of the cards that came through the post that I noticed what I considered a fairly serious mistake on the part of one of the candidates. She wrote: “The South East has rarely returned an MEP and Waterford has never had one. I want to promote the economic development of THIS (the emphasis is mine) area, which has so much potential.”

She must have forgotten that the constituency covers all of the six counties of Munster plus six of the counties in Leinster : Carlow, Laois, Kilkenny, Offaly, Wexford and Wicklow. If we apply the old legal rule of interpretation, Expressio Unius Est Exclusio Alterius (= the expression of one thing is the exclusion of the other) it would then appear that the citizens of 11 of the 12 counties should expect little from that candidate.

Perhaps I am nit-picking but that is what she said. As I am writing this before the election results are known, I’ll be really interested in seeing how she gets on — unless, of course, that very few people actually read her card, as I expect.

At this stage, we know most of who has been elected and it is all over — for how long, we don’t know.

I have no doubt that today there will still be a couple of recounts going on, but in particular I hope that the elections workers are still busy taking down the posters.

Contact Michael at

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