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10 March 2005 Edition

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Gone to the dogs? Far from it!

BY Paul O'Connor

Martin McGuinness presents the winning trophy to Aidan Barry from Cloyne after Castlemary Socks won the feature race at the Sinn Féin benefit night in Curraheen Park. Also pictured: Bill O'Riordan

Martin McGuinness presents the winning trophy to Aidan Barry from Cloyne after Castlemary Socks won the feature race at the Sinn Féin benefit night in Curraheen Park. Also pictured: Bill O'Riordan

Sinn Féin's centenary celebrations in Cork started with a bang on 24 February last as 2,500 people packed Curraheen Park Dog Track for a Gala Night at the Dogs.

The capacity crowd was the largest the stadium had ever seen on a Thursday night, and the second largest in its history. Republicans from across Cork city and county gathered to celebrate 100 years of struggle in numbers which testified to the growing strength of the party in the southern capital.

It was a long way from 1901, when five young men met in Marlboro Street in Cork to form the Celtic Literary Society with the idea of achieving 'the establishment of an Irish republic'. They were Terence McSwiney, Liam de Róiste, Bob Fitzgerald, Dan Tierny and Fred Cronin. Four years later, this organisation merged with Inghinidhe na hÉireann and the Cork Young Irelander Society to form the first Cork branch of the National Council of Sinn Féin.

One hundred years later, the party has just come out of its most successful election campaign in 80 years, doubling its representation on the city council, taking its first county council seat, and electing representatives to almost every town council in the county.

Martin McGuinness presented the trophy to the winner of the biggest race, and spoke briefly at the function which rounded the night off. Scenes more like a Westlife concert than a political event developed as the crowd pressed round him for autographs and pictures. Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew was also in attendance, along with all the 15 Sinn Féin councillors from Cork city and county.

The local media commented on the large proportion of the crowd in their late teens and early 20s, and on the "hundreds of young fans" who mobbed Martin McGuinness.

Coming at the end of a week when Cork was in the eye of the storm around allegations of republican involvement in money-laundering, the Race Night drew the largest crowd ever for a republican function in the city. It showed the party's support base has hardly been dented by the recent onslaught from the political establishment. Our momentum remains.

Watching the massive and enthusiastic crowd, I though back to some of the headlines of the previous week. "Sinn Féin in freefall"; "Sinn Féin in crisis"; "Is the party over?"

This did not look like a party in crisis. It looked like what it is — the youngest and most dynamic political movement on this island. No, I said to myself: the party isn't over: the party has only begun.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

Buy An Phoblacht magazine here

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