Like many other Nenagh people I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Sally Gardiner, former Labour Party Councillor and Cathoirleach of Nenagh Town Council.
Born and reared in St. Patrick’s Terrace, Sally was a remarkable woman of honesty and integrity, and someone who truly exemplified the term ‘public servant’.
Apart from her many years as a Town Councillor, Sally served the public in her career as a nurse and as the matron of St Conlan’s Home on Church Road.
I first came across Sally in 1984. For an 11-year-old, like many other youngsters at that time, Election Day provided a carnival atmosphere.
Political parties handed literature at polling booth gates, and we flocked to the colourful posters, badges and leaflets.
I went with some friends to Nenagh CBS in Summerhill, where Fianna Fail and Fine Gael were out in force with huge numbers of volunteers and paraphernalia on the occasion of the elections to the European Parliament.
Whilst most flocked to the colour and fanfare of ‘the big two’, I was instinctively drawn to helping the woman who was sitting alone, handing out cheap looking black and white leaflets promoting the candidature of Eileen Desmond.
That was when I first met Sally Gardiner, and when I first became Labour.
Sally and I reminisced about this day many years later, and she suggested that I helped her and Eileen that day because, like her and many on the left, even as an 11-year-old, I was instinctively drawn to the underdog.
Sally was definitely a feminist. She probably wouldn’t have called herself that, but she believed that whatever a man could do a woman could do just as well.
(I suspect that privately she felt they could often do it better.)
She was hugely supportive to other women in the Labour Party, and was instrumental in paving the way for Kathleen O’Meara to be the Labour standard bearer in North Tipperary for more than a decade.
I know she was a great mentor to Town and County Councillor Virginia O’Dowd, the third Labour woman and only fourth woman overall, to sit in the chair of Nenagh Town Council.
Sally also worked side by side with one of Nenagh’s other remarkable public servants – former Labour Party Councillor, the late Dr Maureen Carmody.
Sally was dedicated to helping others wide and far.
She was one of the founding members of the Young Nenagh Project, and a very active member of Amnesty International – her commitment to humanity stretched from her beloved Nenagh to every corner of the globe.
She was a hugely loyal person, and this stretched to her commitment to the Labour Party in good times and bad.
She was a trusted servant to her neighbour, former TD John Ryan, and to former Senator Kathleen O’Meara.
She remained active in the early years of Alan Kelly’s career, and would have been so proud that the party in North Tipperary achieved ministerial rank.
Her loyalty however didn’t stop her from having quite diverse views, and not always toeing the party line.
She was somewhat skeptical about the European Union, and was Director of Elections for many of the Anti-EU Referendum campaigns.
Also, her personal Catholic faith often didn’t align with many of the party’s socially liberal policies, and she was steadfast in her belief that the party had a responsibility to reach out to rural Ireland, as well as young and urban liberal voters.
Above all, I will remember Sally as a woman of huge honesty and integrity.
She played tough, but always fair in politics – and her involvement was of course rooted in her desire to help those who were less fortunate in life.
At a time when respect for politics is at an all-time low, we would do well to remember that politics gave Nenagh Sally Gardiner.
May she rest in peace.
- Dermot Ryan, formerly of Summerhill, Nenagh. Dermot lives in Sydney Australia. He is the Chief of Staff of the Transport Workers’ Union of Australia, and a member of both the Irish Labour Party and the Australian Labor Party.