At Labre Park, a Surprise Homecoming for a Newly Elected Senator

At 7.30pm on Monday, Labre Park in Ballyfermot was quiet.

Pockets of people waited outside their front doors.

A little boy at the entrance of the estate sipped from a plastic carton of milk, pouring some on the ground for his two dogs.

Around the corner on Kylemore Grove, Josie O’Brien, pulled up in a car and rolled down her window. “I’m delighted for her, for all she’s achieved, but she’ll go higher,” she says.

Word on the street is that Eileen Flynn – who earlier that day had become the first woman from the Irish Travelling community to be appointed to Seanad Éireann – would taxi back here, to her childhood home at 8pm.

And all day, her friends, family, and fellow activists had prepped for the moment.

At Home

Through the entrance of Labre Park, right down the road, past a few houses to the middle of the street, sits Elizabeth Flynn’s home, where well-wishers knock every few minutes, and mobile phones buzz and ring.

“Good luck” read three silver banners pinned to the kitchen door.

“Congratulations Eilean We Are All So Proud Of You” reads the icing on the huge cream cake with chocolate sprinkles and yellow and red stars that sits on the kitchen table.

All day, congratulations have been pouring in for Eileen, says Elizabeth. From the butchers down the road. From the two girls behind the deli at the local shop.

Elizabeth is Eileen’s sister.

She took in Eileen and her twin sister Sally after their mother died when they were 10 years old. Their father later passed away in Harold’s Cross Hospice seven years ago.

(Today, Eileen lives with her husband and nine-month-old baby in Donegal.)

“I took care of the twins and the rest of the family,” says Elizabeth, sitting on a chair in the kitchen with her legs crossed.

She kept them going to school, she says. She shepherded them through the Leaving Cert, and through Maynooth University too.

She made sure they didn’t follow anyone else’s rules. “I don’t believe in that,” she says.

Sally Flynn, Eileen’s twin sister, is straightening the ends of hair in another room.

She calls into the kitchen: Eileen is on the BBC, she says.

Hard Work

Eileen was always her own person, says Elizabeth, as she makes a round of tea for more incoming guests.

“She always said she’d do things her own way,” she says.

She worked so hard to get here, says Elizabeth. “She said she wanted to be a senator when she was still in school at a very young age.”

Giving back has been central to her life, says Elizabeth.

Three days after her mother died, Eileen was in a serious road traffic accident. She broke her two thighs and her ankle.

Afterwards, she volunteered for work in Crumlin Hospital. “Because she wanted to help, they were so good to her. She knew there was more to life,” says Elizabeth.

The senate nomination means so much for Travellers, says Elizabeth. They’re not usually heard from, she says.

She’d heard a woman on the radio just last week, she says. “Saying terrible things about the community.”

“I say, ‘Don’t judge me if you don’t know me,’ ” she says. There’s different people in all communities, she says. Some bad apples, some good.

By the kitchen table, Mary Flynn, 11, sits on her sister Sally’s lap, dressed in pink from her a neat bandana on top of her head to her pink fluffy sandals.

“It’s good she always wanted it. So good for her, she did hard work for it,” says Mary.

She’s headed into 6th class at her primary school this year. Then, she plans to move on to St Dominic’s Secondary School – just like her aunties, Eileen and Sally.

To Equality

At the entrance to Labre Park, a crowd begins to gather.

Large matte gold balloons wave from the railings of a small green. Two horses nibble on a bale of hay.

“CONGRATULATIONS SENATOR EILEEN FLYNN,” reads the blue block lettering on a paper sign, sellotaped to the side of a while Ford transit van.

It’s 8pm. Eileen is expected any minute now.

“It’s overwhelming in terms of the enormity of it,” says Lorraine McMahon, who worked with Eileen for nine years at the Ballyfermot Travellers Action Project (BTAP).

A phenomenal achievement, she says. But “it’s sad how it’s taken a hundred years to get a member of the Traveller community into the house of the Oireachtas”.

A taxi appears. A huge roar and clapping erupts. It’s a false alarm. Some in the crowd start to sing, “Come On Eileen”.

“I’m very excited, she made history for Travellers. Travellers will have power, they’ll have rights,” says Mary Berry, a local resident and member of the board of BTAP.

Says Leanne Ryan: “As Eileen said today, her job is to fight for the very lowest and vulnerable in society.” Knowing Eileen, that’s what she’ll do, says Ryan.

At 8.30pm, a silver Toyota pulls into the estate. From the passenger’s seat, Senator Eileen Flynn looks around the crowd, as they cheer and clap, and she wipes her eyes.

She’s so happy to be the first person to get into Seanad Éireann from the Traveller community, she tells the crowd, once she’s out of the car.

“And most importantly to come back and see my family,” she says. “It’s sad not to have my mammy and daddy for such a proud moment. It’s tough, but I’m delighted.”

“Here’s to equality,” she says. And she raises her arms in the air to applause.

Sign up to get our free Dublin Inquirer email newsletter each Wednesday, with headlines from the week’s online edition, updates from inside the newsroom, and more. It’s a little reminder when we have a new edition out, and a way for you to stay in touch with what we’re up to.

Filed under:

Author:

Stephanie Costello: Stephanie Costello is the managing editor and general reporter at Dublin Inquirer. To get in contact with her, you can email her on [email protected]

Reader responses

Log in to write a response.

Understand your city

We do in-depth, shoe-leather reporting about the issues that shape Dublin. We're not funded by advertisers. We're funded by readers like you.

We use first-party cookies to allow visitors to log in to our website and read our articles.