In a few months’ time, Jim Holloway will depart the stage. Instead of contesting the local elections next May he will take his bow and draw the curtain down on his days as a county councillor.
He was, he says, “conflicted” about the decision - should he go or should he stay?. But he feels now is the time to move onto “the next phase.” He says there are aspects of being a full county councillor he will miss but yet he feels, after 19 years, the time is right.
When that 19 years is added to almost 32 years he spent as a VEC teacher in Navan it takes him to 51. “It's a long time to be working,” he says. From 1994 to '99 he also served on the Navan Town Council on a part-time basis.
“There are aspects of being a councillor I could just keep doing, planning for the public realm, all those public issues, big issues, it's the other part of it where people are coming to you from all directions with their needs and all that - and that's just part of it. You would want a team of people around you to actually manage that. That is something you can't do forever.
“I am not the only one, of course, everybody at local level gets that and, of course at national level, too, TDs, senators, they have to contend with that as well, of course it would be much greater but they have secretaries, a staff. Navan's a big town with 31,000 people.”
There is a sense that Cllr Holloway - who is also the Navan town mayor - feels that unless he can provide his constituents with a very high standard of service he would rather not do it at all.
“I've never ignored individuals or groups or residents assocations, I've tried to do that as best I can, so the day I can't do the level or work required I shouldn't be a public representative.”
The town mayor walked out of a bitterly cold Arctic wind and into the Meath Chronicle office one morning last week to talk about his life and times. He is a very familiar figure around town in his stylish hat - and clearly well regarded among the locals.
The late Cllr Joe O'Reilly, Cllrs Tommy Reilly and Jim Holloway and Mick Finnegan, Meath County Council Safety Officer at the Fair Green, Navan.
Since 1999, Holloway has been returned time and again, both to Meath Co Council and, in general, he enjoyed, continues to enjoy, his time in local government. The thing, you suspect, he liked most about it was that he has a chance to work with people - and for people. To empower them. "That's what I always wanted to see, if are you doing something, then you are motoring, you're feeling better, you are affirmed."
He readily agrees with the observation of Patrick Kavanagh that the “local is universal;” that while a councillor might not be grappling with the weighty affairs of state, he/she is nevertheless dealing with matters crucial to people.
He refers to his time after he retires from the council as “the third phase” of his working life - after teaching, and working as a councillor - and he's looking forward to seeing what it brings. He has his plans.
“I have a folder at home and in it is my reading list,” he says. “I have been reading the Greeks of late, Socrates, Aristotle. I dipped it that material before when I was in college. Another thing is world politics, the economy. I feel we are living through a unique time when the tectonic plates are shifting. World democracy too, is challenged, and that is of great interest. Why is this happening?”
Audrey Norris of Navan Area Council and Major Jim Holloway launch the Navan Treasure Hunt earlier this year.
It was in '68 that Jim Holloway first moved to Navan to take up his job as a teacher in the local VEC. He was brought up in Horseleap, Co Offaly, from a farming background. A number of his aunts and uncles followed the religious life including Msgr James Holloway, who was based in Navan and Kells.
Joining the clergy was something young Jim Holloway also thought about. He studied in Maynooth for three and a half years. He still has his faith. “It is an aspect of life I put a bit of effort into, studying it, reflecting on it. He was a remarkable man, Jesus Christ, and he was around, it's an historical fact. It's over simplified and needs to be demythologised but his psychology was spot on. It's still the way to live a good life.”
He became a teacher but admits he at times, found life in the classroom challenging. “I don't know what I'd give myself, maybe a C, I don't know. I'll leave that for others to judge,” he says.
“In most schools I would say there are children who are not in the right space and they cannot respond and really access education. They come from varying degrees of disadvantage - and it doesn't have to be financial. When you are interfacing with that every day it's extremely difficult. Then there is the other side when you end up learning from the students.”
When he's asked whether he would prefer to be a teacher or a councillor he doesn't hesitate. “Councillor. You had much more scope to do things with people.”
He became a councillor more by accident than design. A friend asked if he would go forward for the Navan Town Council in '94 and he thought long and hard about it. Then, when he did get elected to the old Navan Town Council he found it fulfilling, even enjoyable.
At the launch of a 'Shop Local for Christmas' campaign in Navan (from left) were Paul McGlynn, Navan Chamber, Cllr Sinead Burke, the late Paddy Pryle, Alan Rogers Navan Town Council and Jim Holloway.
Yet if there is one thing Cllr Holloway dislikes intensely is to be put in a box, his real personality conveniently forgotten.
“Thing that annoyed me most was being misunderstood, misinterpreted, typecast. That annoyed me,” he says. “You're typecast as a councillor, some people have an image about what it is. Some people tend to have negative images about everything nowadays, everything is up for grabs. You might be canvassing and people would say: 'Are you Fine Gael or Fianna Fail?' I'd say I'm Jim Holloway.”
Only once did Cllr Holloway put his name forward for general election; that was in 1997. He didn't make the cut, although he didn't do too badly either. “John Bruton was Taoiseach, there was only one FG seat here in my constituency, five to be elected. John Farrelly was re-elected, that was part of the campaign, but the question was: was there enough space for me? There wasn't. I still got something close to 3,000 first preference votes which was creditable.”
He didn't go again instead throwing his support behind his Fine Gael colleague Damien English. “I didn't need it,” he adds, referring to the possibility of becoming a TD.
Over the years Cllr Holloway has been involved in many projects aimed at improving the life of the local community. One of the most recent, and most controversial, is the cycleway/walkway from Beechmount to the Convent Road in Athlumney. That has stirred something else that tends to get him irritated: people objecting to something they haven’t fully examined.
The route over the Boyne at Athlumney was recently opened but issues still surround the Convent Road part of the development. He feels not everyone is fully aware of the facts. “I got a lot of e-mails and I've seen submissions that were made objecting to the Convent Road being interferred with and they are not reading the same documents I'm reading. This is a big issue because I want to establish what is true and what is not true. Many of the submissions made are just totally wide of the mark.”
Another project he is very interested in is the planned development of Flower Hill. He would love to see the area blossom again; it's another project close to the heart of this councillor who is about to depart from public life.
He says he is fortunate. He has his health; and he had a chance to serve the community. His community.
JIM HOLLOWAY ON...
THE CHALLENGES FACING C0UNCILLORS
"They have to be informed about many aspects of the work of local government, they also need to know legislation. We are in a time of constant change and if you are not well informed you can't make good decisions. They also need to be aware that there are narratives based on untruths, you come across that everyday.
Another challenge is the urbanisation of Irish society, more and more people are living in big urban centres, like Navan, places where social conflict is experienced most acutely, if it happens at all. If you are living out the country you don't have to live side by side with your neighbours, you don't usually see the conflicts that occur in an urban setting, and that's something that's happening more and more. You have a resistance to change, in the most general way. Another challenge is that you have new ethnic groups and therefore we must do a lot to enable new communities to live side-by-side.
ADVICE HE WOULD GIVE TO COUNCILLORS
"We have a lot of training seminars and conferences. I spent Saturday on a tidy towns seminar. It wasn't about flowers it was about bio-diversity, sustainability and so on. Not alone that the councillors' organisation the AILG (the Association of Irish Local Government), their training seminars are held throughout the year. At these seminars councillors can, firstly, get briefings on the relevent issues. Secondly you will also meet other councillors who will share their experiences. I have always found those seminars both enjoyable and very helpful.
"You need to stay in contact with the people, know exactly their needs and at the very same time be informed about what the issues are and not just tell people what they want to hear, there's no currency in that; that's weak gruel as they say. I think it's an important business and it's more effective and enjoyable the better one is informed.