After returning from working in Saudi Arabia in the seventies, Derryman Gerry McMonagle secured employment for a six month period with his father, Willie, during the building of the former Courtaulds factory in Letterkenny.
Little did he know then that not only would he, a few decades on, be elected to Letterkenny Town Council as a Sinn Fein representative but that he would also be serving as Town Mayor - an honour that will be confirmed next Monday night when he accepts the chain of office at the annual meeting of the Local Authority.
In those intervening years, there were the Troubles and the ensuing involvement of the young McMonagle and many like him in the conflict and consequently the emergence of Sinn Fein as a strong political entity in the South.
The election of Pearse Doherty and Padraig MacLochlainn to Dail Eireann - “I honestly believe had we run Cora Harvey in Donegal South-West we would have had three T.D.’s from the party”, the Letterkenny councillor insists - and now his own appointment as Mayor of the county’s largest town, serves to underline the progress made within the past few years.
A native of the Creggan, he came to live in Letterkenny in the middle of 1984, and became involved in the CDP, of which he’s now a Director, at the turn of the Millennium.
“I’ve always had an interest in the community and what can be done in such a voluntary capacity.”
His first venture into local politics came when he stood for Sinn Fein in the elections of 1999, bidding for a seat in the Letterkenny area for the County Council. That was unsuccessful but his next campaigning venture saw him secure a seat on Letterkenny Town Council in 2004. “It was a great honour to be elected as a Sinn Fein candidate onto the Council,” he said, citing his work in the community as a significant help.
As the profile of the party increased across the country, there was little surprise that he regained his seat in the elections of 2009.
And now the ultimate step - a Sinn Fein Mayor on Letterkenny Council. “I’ve searched the records and I can’t see any evidence of a Sinn Fein chairperson before so we’re breaking new ground here.”
Clr. McMonagle believes the power sharing agreement ensures a fairer system and gives everyone an opportunity to don the chain. “For instance, I was delighted when Jim Lynch was given the honour after so many years on the Council without getting the chair.” And he was also praiseworthy in the work undertaken by his predecessor, Tadhg Culbert. “He’s had a fantastic year culminating in the Letterkenny 400 commemorations.”
In his own role, he’ll attempt to advance the cause of the developers at Stevenson’s Aerodrome who put their case to this week’s meeting of the Town Council. “Myself and Deputy Padraig MacLochlainn went out to see the facility and we were very impressed. The plans they have are fantastic and I’ll certainly be doing all I can to help them get the backing of the Council. “There’s great potential to bring people into Letterkenny and Donegal from all over Europe which could be vital for business and tourism interests here.”
The proposed Bonagee Link, the incoming Mayor maintains, represents a vital step in the development of Letterkenny. “I’ll be endeavouring in my term to keep that on the boil and will do whatever I can to advance it.”
The issue of the link route was discussed at Monday night’s meeting of the Council with members determined to have it included in an NRA Strategy Document. That outlines the priorities for the roads authority but the latest publication has not included the proposed bridge over the Swilly and a subsequent easing of traffic gridlock in the town.
“It’s crucial for the future of Letterkenny that this link road is developed and we will be doing all in our power to ensure it gets the priority to deserves.”
At this week’s meeting, clr. McMonagle highlighted the lack of facilities available in the town for dealing with young adults who were experiencing addiction problems through drink and drugs. That will represent another priority during his term of office.
“This is something that needs to be done urgently and as Mayor I’ll be hoping to raise awareness of the situation. I just don’t think we have the necessary facilities for those young people suffering from addictions of one sort or another. This is a problem that isn’t going away and we need to put the proper structures in place to deal with it.”
The soon to be elected Town Mayor has also urged the townspeople to make “one big push” to bring Letterkenny the required number of points to secure top spot in the National Tidy Towns competition.
“It’d be great to see such an achievement on my watch!,” he laughs.
Acknowledging the role of local Tidy Towns chairman, Jim McCormick and his hard-working team, he appealed to the business and voluntary sector of the community to help the town achieve the ultimate goal.
The Sinn Fein representative also intends to reach out to the ever growing foreign national presence in the town with a view to getting them more involved in community endeavours and indeed in the Council. “I have no doubt that in ten years time we will have a foreign national on the Town Council which will be a great thing.”
As chairman of the Glencar Celtic Saturday League team, he points to a lack of sporting facilities, including under-age pitches, and is keen to see the provision of a municipal centre to cater for all.
An awards ceremony to highlight the works of the unsung heroes of the community is another objective he is hoping to follow through. “There are a lot of them out there but they don’t often get the recognition they deserve.”