COLUMN: Remembering Charlie Hopkins - the miner and the politician

John Lynch

Reporter:

John Lynch

Leitrim Observer Snapshots: An iconic picture of an Arigna miner

The iconic image of Charlie Hopkins, who worked at a miner at Arigna Mines. Charlie was to the fore in the fight to keep the mines open and went on to be a county councillor in Roscommon

Political representation can be in different forms, TDs, MEPs and of course it starts at council level.
In Leitrim most areas would have a local sitting councillor not too far away, in other areas this is not always the case.
Take Roscommon for instance and the Boyle Municipal District which spans from Ballaghaderreen to Tarmonbarry.
When it comes to electing a councillor it’s a huge help to all candidates that they come from an area that has a large population base.
A quick look at the list of councillors in the Boyle Municipal will back up this argument at present.
Arigna to the best of my knowledge has produced only a handful of prominent politicians over the years.
Peter Tim Lynch was a Fianna Fail senator in the 1940s, and his brother, Ted Lynch was a nationalist senator in the North of Ireland.
Joining that exclusive circle in more recent years was Charlie Hopkins.
Charlie recently passed away and with all the restrictions that are currently in place it was disappointing that he did not get the send-off he deserved.
Social media however did provide a snapshot into the esteem he was held in not alone locally but from right across the North West and by politicians from various parties.
Charlie Hopkins was elected to Roscommon Council in 1991 and served on the Council until 2009. He also contested elections in 1985 and 2009 where he narrowly lost out on being elected.
Charlie was able to attract a vote as a candidate rather than just for the party.
Back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s you backed the party at all times whether you were Fianna Fáii, Fine Gael or Sin Fein.
It was different to now where there is a large floating vote that swings and is influenced the personality of the candidate. Charlie had those qualities necessary to attract votes.
Charlie was a strong union and hugely respected union official for the miners in Arigna so politics was always a natural progression.
I can remember the build up to the 1991 election Padraig Lynch drove around with a speaker on the roof of the car and Sean Christie manned the mic preaching the Gospel on behalf of Charlie and the message Sean delivered worked as Charlie was successful in the election of that year.
A former political colleague of Charlie's told me round the time of his death that in one particular year 80% of the roads allocation found its way to Arigna, the local Councillor had the deal done before the meeting to sign off on the allocation had even got under way.
The ability to communicate with people was his big plus in making him a successful councillor.
He was great company and many conversations we had in Flynn’s and McRann’s about GAA and politics and of course local radio.
Charlie featured on many interviews and I know he always enjoyed the debates with Seamus Duke on several local issues.
I also remember one night in McRanns he started explaining the importance of having a pension. I was only in my twenties at the time but ended up taking up with him by the end of the night!
That was Charlie he had the skills of a good sales man as well.
I have no doubt the loss of Charlie as a Councillor has impacted the area over the area over the past decade, along with Arigna areas like Keadue, Ballyfarnon, Cooethall Knockvicar, Kilmore, and kilglass are in a similar positions the larger population bases will be more likely to return a Councillor.
I thought of Charlie before the local elections last year when close to where I live there is a popular walking way at the site of where the Rockhill coalmine used to operate.
It was the a couple days before voting was due to take place and an election hopeful in our electoral area - Sajjad Hussain and his canvass team took a wrong turn and ended up at the site.
Like any good politician Sajjad took to chance to pitch for a vote and then admitted to being lost. Sajjad may well be successful in future elections, Ballaghaderreen is his base nowadays and who knows what will happen if he decides to run again.
He was unsuccessful in 2019. I remember thinking at the time that Charlie Hopkins would be very unlikely to get lost on the canvas trail as he knew every road and lane in the county. Deepest sympathy to Joan and his family and friends.
May he rest in peace.