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23 May 2022

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Remembering Mickey Agnew

• Mickey Agnew with Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald in 2015

On Friday 13 May 2022 Mickey Agnew (Ballymena) slipped away from this world - and escaped from a prolonged period of ill-health in recent years. Mickey was a loving husband to Joan, father to Tracey, Paul, Ryan and Catriona; a father-in-law, grandfather and great grandfather. 

When news reaches us of someone’s passing - the flood of memories of the deceased person naturally come to the fore our minds. Mickey was a good friend who I had the pleasure of knowing for over 20 years. In many ways the final episode of ‘Derry Girls’ this week was both timely and appropriate with the focus on the Good Friday Agreement era. 

From an Irish Republican perspective, the Good Friday Agreement represented a new era and phase of struggle. After being released under the GFA, I looked forward to playing whatever part I could in this exciting new era - of hope, optimism and opportunity - all underpinned by strategy to build political strength.

One of my first roles was to help organise Sinn Féin in North Antrim - which in 1999 / 2000 was effectively a blank canvass. At that time Sinn Féin had just one single councillor in all of North Antrim - and a few life-long stalwarts like Paddy Hogan who sold an amazing number of An Phoblachts around Dunloy every week. 

Work commenced in February 2000 and the first step was to hold a series of public meetings in Dunloy, Ballycastle, Loughgiel and Cushendall. Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly addressed these gatherings - some of which were held in packed out halls. From these public meetings, local people stepped forward to join Sinn Féin and new cumainn were structured in all the abovementioned places.

Next on the agenda was Ballymena - a much more challenging environment to say the least. At the time, I had no such thing as a text book as how to organise Sinn Féin. Even if there was such a ‘manual’ - applying it to reality and context of Ballymena would be a different matter altogether!  

As part of a plan to make a start in Ballymena, I decided to organise a function in Glenravel - within the Borough Council area - and close enough to the town for people to travel. Tickets were then randomly sold door-to-door around the north of Ballymena - and whoever happen to buy/turn up at the function became part of the first network of contacts and support for Sinn Féin. 

It was via this function in Glenravel that I first got to know Mickey Agnew - described to me as the ‘Yellow Man’ from The Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle. His cousins Liam and Paddy made the initial introductions - and before long we had a working group - a team of willing people who were really up for playing a part in getting Sinn Féin up and running, in Ballymena, and across North Antrim generally.

From this point onwards, Mickey Agnew became fully immersed in the Sinn Féin organisation. During the autumn of the year 2000, the inaugural meeting of the North Antrim Comhairle Ceantair took place in Dunloy. Mickey became part of this committee, and remained on the CC fulfilling various roles over the next two decades including chairperson. 

In 2001, Mickey was my Director of Elections when I was a local government candidate in Ballymena. He accompanied me when the nomination papers were handed in at council HQ in Galgorm, on the canvass trail around the doors, and at the election count in Ballymena Town Hall. And all this around his day job - employing several people in a clothing recycling business. 

Mickey loved organising trips to Bodenstown and the annual North Antrim Sinn Féin dinner-dances. He was always the minibus driver - the person in charge - and he had a great sense of humour that kept us passengers well entertained along the road to Dublin. He brought a big group from North Antrim to the Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa funeral re-enactment on Saturday 1st August 2015, and again during the 1916 Centenary events in 2016. 

However, when it came to dinner dances - Mickey was in his element - front and centre of everything. He’d the ‘gift of the gab’ - perhaps a skill developed over many years street trading - selling ‘Yellow Man’ at Ballycastle with a unique recipe that’s been passed down through his family - a closely guarded secret within the clann.

When it came to a raffle and auction Mickey had all the ‘one liners’ that had the audience laughing - and loosened the arms of those willing to raise their hands and make generous bids for various items on display. The attached photo was on one such occasion - taken in 2015 at the Wild Duck Inn, Portglenone, with Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald. 

On 5 May2022 Philip McGuigan was re-elected MLA for North Antrim with a record breaking high Sinn Féin vote of 9,348 - maintaining continuous elected assembly representation for the constituency since 2003 - now 19 years. From a single solitary councillor at the time of the Good Friday Agreement - we now have local elected representation throughout North Antrim. And more will come in the time ahead. 

Around all of this - Mickey Agnew played a massive part. He laid the foundations to create what we have today - and the opportunities for the future - the Ireland in which his great grandchildren will grow up in - a much changed and improved place for everyone. 

Mickey Agnew will be fondly remembered by all of us who knew him. His pain/suffering/ill health of recent years is now over. Mickey was a good man, to his family, friends and community. RIP.

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