Europe

The grandson of Mayo and Tipp emigrants who holds the keys to No 10 Downing Street

The village of Bohola in Co Mayo has reputedly created more millionaires per head of population than anywhere else in the country.

Well, in so far as any of these “facts” can be proven. It can largely be attributed to the mass emigration from the county over the centuries.

Among the locals who made their fortune in the UK in construction were Bill Durkan, also a well-known racehorse owner, and Tommy McNicholas whose ‘Green Nicks’ green vans were recognised across England.

Famous sons also made their mark in sport and politics.

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Martin Sheridan was a famous Olympic athlete and William O’Dwyer was a Mayor of New York.

Moving on a few generations and Bohola might soon boast another descendant putting the village of the map.

Stuart Brady describes himself as “three-quarters Irish, half from Mayo, the other quarter from Tipperary”.

With reddish-brown hair and freckles, the west of Ireland genes are still there.

The 37-year-old says he didn’t grow up in a particularly Irish household, but he’s aware of his family’s background.

His mother’s parents were Kellys and McNicholas from Bohola. He went back to Mayo for The Gathering of the McNicholas from across the world in 2013. His father’s people were from Tipperary, where the Brady comes from.

His grandfather told a tale about playing bagpipes at a Fianna Fáil rally which turned into a skirmish with Fine Gael supporters.

He finds Irish political allegiances confusing compared to British politics.

A former England junior rugby international, a career with Saracens was cut short by injury. During his time working in the European Parliament, he coached a rugby team which included future Fine Gael Senator Neale Richmond.

The barrister has been on the pitch as a general election candidate for the Labour Party for almost two years.

His constituency of Loughborough in the East Midlands plays a crucial role in this election. It is one of a dozen bellwether seats which have backed the winning side in every election since 1979.

“As an Irish migrant of sorts, it’s great to be running for a place of such diversity. It’s one of the strengths of our seats, the diverse communities,” he says.

Based on the 40-year-old trend, a win for the Tories puts Boris Johnson back into No 10 Downing Street. A win for Brady signals Jeremy Corbyn will become the prime minister.

The seat is very much in play as the sitting MP, Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan, is not running. She is quitting politics citing the abuse she has received over Brexit and the impact on her family.

The constituency breaks 50:50 on Leave and Remain in the EU. Brady’s outlook on Brexit is influenced by his own experiences, not necessarily his Irish roots.

“I’ve worked on trade policy so I know how bloody difficult it is to negotiate these agreements. I travel a lot, I’ve got international connections. I just understand the way things work.

“I think that has expanded my horizons, having international family in every corner. It shapes you,” he says.

Brady says the bellwether factor doesn’t add to the pressure on him.

“You step forward to be a candidate because you feel you’ve got something to bring to the game. You just want to do the best job possible, irrespective of whether it is a bellwether or not.

“I feel the pressure of doing a good job and delivering for the party, so to speak,” he says.

“As a sportsman, you focus on the process, don’t you? That’s quite an Irish rugby thing to say: ‘Sure we’re just thinking about the process and the game plan’,” he laughs.

Unpredictable

The Tories are defending a majority of just over 4,000 from the 2017 general election. Brady has the unpredictable trump card of the student vote from the university and college based in Loughborough. It puts 10,000 ballots on the table from younger voters who are responding better to the Labour message on tuition fees, climate change, mental health and Brexit.

He just needs a 4pc swing. Constituency polling figures by YouGov put the Tories ahead by 47pc to 40pc for Labour. Tactical voting by Lib Dem and Green supporters would make the seat winnable for Labour and Brady.

Tactical voting is a key element of the election.

Big Phil Hogan asked for a “loan” of Fianna Fáil votes in our own post-meltdown election in 2011. Parties on both sides of the Brexit divide in the UK are appealing to traditional supporters of candidates with no chance of winning their constituency to use their vote wisely to block an opponent.

The Tory replacement is local councillor and Morgan’s constituency assistant Jane Hunt. She has run unsuccessfully in the last two elections in a nearby constituency.

The parties are rolling out the big guns for the fight.

Corbyn was at the university for a rally three weeks ago and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry campaigned with Brady last weekend.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid was also in town.

Whatever happens, there will be a new MP for Loughborough. Chances are they will be on the winning side in Westminster too.

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