No phone, no internet… but Cork Councilor Noel was a voting machine and a man of the people


WE live in an age of mass communication, and politicians are at the heart of it.

Donald Trump had 88 million Twitter followers before he was kicked off the platform. Here in Ireland, Sinn Féin has had 19 million views on YouTube.

It’s a great way for politicians to sell their message without getting grilled by pesky reporters – although you’ll need a strong stomach to see some of the commentary under those slogans, promises and sales pitches.

Take a smart phone away from a TD or Advisor today, and it’s like taking one of their limbs away.

So when the death of Cork Councilor Noel Collins was announced this week, it truly felt like we were saying goodbye to the last of an extinct breed.

Noel was a vote-winning machine in his hometown of Midleton. He was first elected in the summer of 1967, and at the time of his death at the age of 86 was the country’s longest-serving politician and nicknamed ‘the father of Cork County Council “.

In one election, he received so many votes that it took six more counts before the person in second place was elected!

What’s remarkable about Noel is that he never had a phone, never used a computer, and shunned social media in all its forms.

How did he stay so popular and keep getting elected without any of the social media gadgets and smartphones that were available to his opponents?

He did it by always being available, he did it through hard work, and he did it by caring deeply about his constituents and their issues.

Old fashioned stuff, you know?

As editor of The Echo, I was a regular recipient of Noel’s preferred — indeed, unique — form of communication.

He was a relentless and continuous letter-writer, pounding missives on a range of local and national issues on his trusty old Brother manual typewriter, bought in 1967 – the year he was first elected to Midleton City Council ; he was elected to Cork County Council seven years later.

This is how he let off steam, lobbied governments and organizations, and let his constituents know what he was doing and thinking.

He said he could easily send 40 letters a week to various organizations.

As the years passed and the internet spread to all areas of public and private life, Christmas letters were an increasingly charming and quaint way for a politician to do his business, but he was not to turn.

In 2004 he said, “I have no real interest in modern technology. I can do all my work with my old typewriter and pen. It works for me, so why change it? »

However, he admitted, “I’m struggling to find ribbons and parts for my typewriter.

In 2009, the local authority offered all its councilors the free use of a sophisticated laptop to carry out their activities. Noel refused, explaining shamelessly: I type everything on my typewriter. I use carbon paper for press releases or sending letters, although I find it increasingly difficult to get carbon paper these days.

“I am too old to change. I will continue for as long as the people of East Cork want.

Noel never had a car and always used public transport – a fact that only brought him closer to voters, helping him better understand their needs and wants.

Noel has written for the Echo – and the Examiner and other newspapers – on every subject under the sun since the beginning of his political career.

You will find his signature on a letter from the Echo of May 30, 1967, where he shows himself ahead of his time by evoking the problem of drunk driving.

“Current laws on this are not effective,” he wrote. “Yet I heard that a man was convicted of drunkenness because it was discovered during interrogation that he did not master the spelling of the word ‘constitution’. Would it be true?

“I’m usually sober, in case you think otherwise.” Noel signed the “constitutionally yours” letter!

A few months later, he showed he cared about new technology by writing to the Echo about the failed phone service.

Always entertaining, he wrote: “Many years ago in the London music hall a comedian asked, ‘What are the three quickest ways to spread the word?’ And providing the answer himself, replied: “Telephone, telegram, tell a woman”. We do not know the effectiveness of these last two methods, but we can strongly affirm that, for this country, the telephone as an instrument for the rapid dissemination of information is a total loss.

“Recently I tried to make a call to Dublin. Each time I was told there would be a 30 minute delay. After trying unsuccessfully until 11pm I gave up at reluctantly and resorted to pen and paper.

“Why do they keep connecting new subscribers when they can’t keep up with the demands of existing subscribers is a complete puzzle to me.

“Subscribers to the public coffers of the Republic do not demand a ‘hot’ line, but they expect at least a lukewarm line and not a dead line, the only one they have known for a long time.” He signed, “Yours pending.”

Noel championed Midleton’s interests in the Letters Pages.

In November 1968 he came under fire for criticizing a plan to take over a local in the city by a Cork City wholesaler for retail.

“The question of installing a wholesaler in the retail trade called for protest,” he wrote.

“In the interest of the shopkeepers of Midleton, I have made my protest which I believe to be entirely justified. After all, what has happened in other places we do not wish to see happen in Midleton.

A few weeks later, he was railing about the lack of bus shelters in the city, and his harassment led the CIE to agree to provide one.

His frequent and well-written letters made Noel a legend on the pages of newspaper letters. In 2017, when councilors and staff hailed him on his 50 years in local government, Councilor Des O’Grady said he felt he knew Noel long before he met him because of his constant correspondence in the pages of the local press.

Noel put his eloquence and pen to good use as a debater in London’s famous Hyde Park Corner. His time in this city sparked a deep commitment to social justice and helping those who had gone through difficult times.

He said: “I was once considered a radical, but like Midleton’s whiskey I have matured over the years.”

Noel never married and once said, “I never had time to have a wife. I don’t think a woman can keep up with my busy schedule.

My favorite story about him came in 2020, when scammers sent emails claiming to be from various advisors, including Noel. Recipients immediately knew it was fake!

Poignantly, he said in 2014 that he would help those in need “until the day I die”. That day arrived on Tuesday.

Rest in peace, Noel, you’ve done the state – and the newspapers – a tremendous service.

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