An East Galway woman, who was the last female T.D in the Dail from Ballinasloe, says she remembers the tremendous amount of work that was needed in canvassing. Eighty-seven-year-old Brigid Hogan O’ Higgins was elected as a Fine Gael TD for the then Galway-South constituency in 1957. She is the daughter of Patrick Hogan who served as a TD from 1921 until he died in 1936. He also had a solicitor’s office at Main Street in Loughrea. “I remember days and days and days of canvassing, it was a tremendous amount of work”, she told Fine Gael Roscommon- Galway election candidate, Councillor Aisling Dolan on a recent visit. “There were no radio interviews back then and you’d be lucky if you got a few lines in a newspaper. We put up posters and people often took down candidates’ posters” Brigid jokingly remembers.
Brigid spent 20 years in the Oireachtas as a T.D and says she was interested in politics from a very young age because she could read and particularly liked to read about politics in the newspaper. When sitting T.D Brendan Glynn fell ill in the 1950s, the Fine Gael party approached Brigid Hogan O’ Higgins to run as an election candidate in the 1957 general election with a view to keeping a T.D in the Ballinasloe area. It was a strategy that worked, and Brigid was returned to the Dail in four subsequent elections.
When speaking about life in 1950s rural Ireland Brigid says “free education is the thing that took this country out of poverty. We have a great country now, but the young expect everything immediately. We all worked for what we got and what we wanted but nowadays everyone wants it immediately.” She mentions that more than half the country made their living from farming in those days and her father was also involved in setting up the sugar factories.
Brigid’s own family was connected to the Land League as her mother, who was married twice, first wed the son of Michael Davitt, “he was a doctor in the Regional hospital in Galway. He was in college with my mother but died young in his late 30s. He got tetanus but there were no antibiotics in those days.” Brigid’s mother then went on to marry Patrick Hogan who was a government minister for ten years, “I have a vague memory of my father, but I was so young when he died.” Brigid, and her sister Monica, went to boarding school at Taylor’s Hill in Galway city and then attended a Dominican College in Wicklow.
Brigid’s path into politics in the 1950s came somewhat as a surprise to her, “it was practically impossible to be a woman in politics back then. There were 147 TDs and only four of us were women. We used to joke that we were
expected to be seen and not heard. My maiden speech on education got a good response though, everyone came to listen and there wasn’t a sound in the house” she says. Brigid explains that many topics of discussion back then in the Dail remain the same today, “healthcare…it was hard to get people a bed in the hospital back then, especially in the west of Ireland. There was always an annual debate too on the draining of the Shannon!”
Brigid had nine children and says she came back west from Dublin every Friday evening and travelled back up to Dublin every Monday morning and she got help with the children to keep the household going while she remained in politics. We were a marvellous country to pull ourselves out of the Rising but the killing of Michael Collins was so sad, he had so much potential. We [Fine Gael] always had the farmers vote, but things are tougher now. Fine Gael always gets a wallop when things are going well. I do hope Aisling does well and Fine Gael comes out to support her,” says Brigid.
Galway County Council is reviewing access to a polling station in Ballinasloe town amid concerns about accessibility. Councillor Aisling Dolan, who is the Fine Gael election candidate for Roscommon – Galway has raised the matter with staff working in the Municipal District offices in Ballinasloe.