Home » OPINION – Vote No 1: The Ragman

OPINION – Vote No 1: The Ragman

by Jimmy Rhatigan

ONE wonders if politicians in the coming local elections will bring even a glimmer of the wonderful excitement of the era when the famous Ragman of the so-called good old days visited housing estates in our city.

It is very doubtful if the joy generated by the colourful character of yesteryear will go anywhere near the buzz of the ‘Toys for Rags’ character, usually a man of little means who eked out a living by offering a child a balloon or a small toy in exchange for granny’s old woolen cardigan.

Indeed in comparison with local elections of another time, present day battles for county council seats are about as interesting as watching paint dry.

But in a chat with my good friend, son of Newpark Frank Cody I discovered that the Ragman and the modern day politician just may have something in common.

Horse and Cart

Out of the blue Frank had plucked the Ragman as he re-incarnated the usually larger than life man of ingenuity and wit who in our young years in the Kilkenny of the 1950s and 1960s or thereabouts trundled into our city on a trusty horse and cart.

He would often be dressed in the colours of the rainbow, would greet the community by ringing his bell and calling out for all and sundry to hear his words of wisdom:

Toys for Rags would reverberate and the Ragman would send us scurrying in all directions, dashing to our homes to grab a jumper, socks, shawls, anything that came from a sheep in the hope of an exchange for a toy or balloon.

Believe it or not the balloon was the most sought after item in the Ragman’s collection and thereby lay the reason why Frank may have compared our politicians to Ragmen.

Run for his money

The Ragman would be delighted to part with a balloon in exchange for any woolen garment and on that score I believe that many politicians would give the Ragman a run for his money, he grinned.

Even though half a century or more has passed since the Ragman was among the great characters of Irish life he suggested that some politicians would still offer you a balloon in exchange for your good suit, perhaps with the bonus of a collection of political promises, sincere or otherwise.

Frank’s wonderful imagination really intrigued me as I longed for the time when we cheered the Ragman. 

In contrast I have no great reason to look forward to local elections that are really mundane nowadays in contrast to the hullaballoo and wonderful political witticisms that were exchanged by the energy and excitement that oozed from men and women of different political hues who swapped verbals without any insults.

I am thinking about the days when great personalities like Kieran Crotty, Mick McGuinness, Margaret Tynan, Seamus Pattison, Tommy Martin, Paddy Kinsella and John Holohan.

Eternal reward

Sadly, all have gone to their eternal reward but the wonderful debate and dialogue of our then City Fathers, members of the now defunct Kilkenny Corporation who met on most Monday evenings when the political exchanges were wise, wacky and often wonderfully witty.

Our political heroes of other times may be gone but they will never be forgotten, nor will the roguish exchanges that lit up City Hall.

While the councillors were devoted to their own political persuasions they soon became a strong team when joining forces as a unit to fight for the good of Kilkenny City.

So is there even a smidgen of hope of a bit of fun and games in the run up to election day, June 7, 2024?

Not a chance.

But I can only imagine the fun and games if the Rag and Bone merchants, aka the Ragmen were to come out of retirement.

That would be sensational, in marked contrast to the attitude of some families not bothering nowadays to answer their doors to some canvassing candidates.

Martin waffling

I would have no hesitation in giving my vote to the Ragman.

I am confident that Frank Cody, one of our city’s finest, would be with me on that one.

I listened to Micheál Martin waffling and talking through his posterior at the recent Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis.

He twisted and turned as he tried to put a respectable face on the contribution of FF to Irish politics over the years.

He played up a promise that more houses would be built and referred to his FF party’s contribution progress in Ireland when FF, and by inference FG, were in power.

Not a mention of the torment of homelessness.

Nothing has changed.

It reminds of the promises made by politicians when they introduced the Universal Social Charge to bolster finances when our economy was crashed.

We were then told it would be a ‘temporary charge only’.

Today, said charge is still one of the many taxes our people pay.

Enough said.

One doubts if the Ragman would ever stoop so low.

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