Liam Cosgrave arrived in Listowel in a last ditch bid to secure support for Fine Gael during his national constituency tour. It was days before the general election of 1977 and the outgoing Taoiseach was facing a surge in support for Jack Lynch’s Fianna Fáil who were pushing hard for two seats in Kerry North.

On the platform on Main Street, Cosgrave appealed for support for outgoing TD Gerard Lynch and his running mate, Senator John Blennerhassett. They were joined on the dais by local publican and playwright, John B Keane, a loyal party supporter.

Fine Gael TD Gerard Lynch

Tensions were high and Fianna Fáil supporters had turned up on the fringes of the gathering to fulfil that key role in any political arena – the heckler. The Kerryman correspondent observed the proceedings:

The main hecklers of the evening were some women Fianna Fáil supporters. One in particular was very vociferous and despite attempts to quiet her by the old trick of boxing her in – one of Gerard Lynch’s own tall sons stood in front of her at one stage – she just kept moving about and continuing her barrage. One youth who was letting everyone know he was backing Jack (Lynch) had a kick aimed at his ankle by a burly Fine Gael man and heated words ensued.

There was a fair bit of shoving at one stage and, following a “We want Jack” chant, one ardent supporter of Fine Gael got so hot under the collar as to threaten one of the hecklers (and that’s putting it more politely than he did!) with castration. However, some cooler heads nearby warned him to cool his ardour and a sort of calm returned.

The Cosgrave rally in Listowel during the 1977 election (The Kerryman)

But the rhetoric at election hustings sometimes spilled over into actual violence. During the 1969 general election, a Kerry deputy sustained a broken finger during a brawl at an after-Mass meeting.

Fianna Fáil’s John O’Leary was defending the seat he had won three years previously at a by-election and he took to the platform outside the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Currow. Surrounded on the platform by his supporters, O’Leary referred to his efforts to have a local private road taken into the control of Kerry County Council so that it could be resurfaced. Such a move required the unanimous support of residents which hadn’t been secured.

Fianna Fáil’s John O’Leary on the campaign trail

Two brothers from a family who weren’t keen on the project were at Mass on that Sunday and took umbrage to the deputy’s criticism of those preventing the road improvements, as O’Leary recalled:

I said I was trying to gets roads taken over by the county council and improved and tarred but unfortunately, I said, what can do, I can’t do every road because we still have the odd crank who won’t agree with his neighbours. Next thing the people started cheering and the lads behind me were saying “go on, go on, go on.”… There was now fierce commotion behind me and when I looked around I saw one of the brothers coming to me with the fist up. I whipped around and gave him one clip in the poll and broke my finger. He didn’t connect with me. They (the brothers) were evicted off the stage, thrown out on the road. I started off again and said: “Before I was rudely interrupted …”

Extract from ‘A Century of Politics in the Kingdom: A County Kerry Compendium’ by Owen O’Shea and Gordon Revington: A Century of Politics in the Kingdom: A County Kerry Compendium | Irish Academic Press

A century of politics in the kingdom

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