While the job of being county mayor is a very rewarding one, it couldn’t be done without a great team and strong family support, says outgoing office holder, teacher Gillian Coughlan
GILLIAN Coughlan is looking forward to taking a break – just a small one mind – from her phone over the next week or two.
After an incredibly busy, and very successful, year as county mayor, the break is well deserved, but will be short-lived.
She returns to her secondary school teaching role in September and, as reported in last week’s Southern Star, she could potentially be gearing up to run as a candidate in Cork South West in the next election.
For now, though, she’s handed over the mayoral chains to Independent Cllr Danny Collins from Bantry and her advice to him is to ‘seize every opportunity’ the year will bring.
Among the highlights of her year was opening the library in her home town of Bandon.
She also travelled the road to Kanturk in North Cork quite a bit, to open their new fire station, a new road, and also a library.
‘I think they’re wondering about me in Kanturk … if I’m moving up!’ she joked.
But she pointed out that cutting the ribbon on services such as those was ‘the gratification of all of the meetings, all of the hours spent debating and trying to get budget for different things.’
‘On the day when you cut the ribbon on behalf of Cork County Council that’s a great day for the community. Those things will stand long in the service of the community wherever they may be,’ she said.
Going to Chicago to represent Cork for St Patrick’s Day was, she said, a ‘standout highlight of my life.’
‘The welcome, the regard for the chain, for Cork county, the warmth of the Irish diaspora, the nostalgia, the very real sense of collaboration and hope and ambition for that partnership is magnificent,’ she said.
A disappointment was when she got Covid, for the second time, which meant she couldn’t deliver the oration in Crossbarry.
‘I was honoured to have been asked to deliver the oration at Crossbarry, but when I came back from a mayoral visit to New York, I had Covid so couldn’t go. I was really disappointed. I would also have liked to have gone to the north to meet some public representatives and create some links there, but that didn’t happen with travel restrictions in spring,’ she said.
The FF member is quick to credit the ‘scrum’ who supported her during her year, and without whom she says she couldn’t have done it.
They included the mayor’s secretary Julie Mackessy.
‘Julie organised my diary and made things very easy for me. I’d also like to pay tribute to my drivers. I had the most magnificent, helpful and supportive drivers, who really added to the year,’ she said, adding that being centrally located in Bandon meant she was often able to drive herself.
Of course her family had a huge role to play.
‘My husband Don was an excellent support and the children took on extra responsibilities for themselves and that lightened the load. They looked out for each other more, gave me that chance. Some of the burdens were shared,’ she said.
Her eldest son Aidan (23) has just completed his chemistry degree and is taking first step into the labour market.
Maeve (17) is going into Leaving Cert, and Ronan (12) will start at second level in Hamilton High in September.
Her mother and mother-in-law also played star roles, she said.
‘It certainly would not have been a successful year without them, their practical and moral support was always available.
‘And my friends too. There were days of course when you just didn’t feel “it” – but there were always people saying “you have this, you’re well able,” and you do need that scrum behind you.’
Gillian will be back in the classroom in September.
She’s a history and English teacher in Coláiste an Phiarsaigh in Glanmire, and is looking forward to it, but says she honestly hadn’t a chance to miss the job.
As well as taking a break from her phone, she’s looking forward to a break from the high heels.
As a female, she admits, her wardrobe was another consideration of the job.
And after posing for thousands of photos during the year, she says she has a ‘new found respect’ for people whose job requires that of them.
‘I’ve done lot of miles in the heels alright, and am ready for the flip flops!’ she joked.
The family don’t have any immediate holiday plans. ‘I’m just looking forward to kicking back and having some time to myself – taking a break from the phone and giving my brain a chance to adjust.
‘Once we’re back into the autumn, I’m looking forward to getting back into some sort of a routine, as regards ordinary Council work and school work.
‘There’s been no routine in this job, that’s the one thing. Every day is different and lovely, but homes and family work best when there’s some sort of regularity, and I’m looking forward to re-establishing that somewhat at home, for everybody’s sake.’
As reported in last week’s Southern Star, Gillian is also using the next few weeks to decide if she’ll put herself forward for nomination to run in CSW in the next election – potentially more busy times ahead for this ambitious councillor.