• Morgan Fagg

Candidates need more Name Recognition

Updated: Apr 17

As the posters fly away in the wind and the leaflets accumulate at your door, who will you choose to occupy the big white house in Phoenix Park?

Every candidate needs a certain amount of name recognition, their face on a poster or even a clever slogan. I imagine this is very important as celebrity candidates and reality stars start to enter politics and any fan of Dragons’ Den will already be familiar with half of the cast.

Name recognition is important, Trump was a brand before becoming a president and George W Bush followed the coat tails of his father George H.W. Bush. In fact, the American president’s Trump card was his name recognition which attracted added media attention other candidates could only dream of and I wonder if Trump could have won in 2016 if the Drumpf family never changed their surname?

Sounding like an American president’s name with the unusual usage of a middle initial. I guess the D stands for difference as opposed to his middle name Daniel and Michael Higgins became the recognisable and familiar Michael D we know today.

With a very colourful career and even caricatures on radio and in print media, Michael D Higgins was a household name. I first heard about him when Mel Gibson started filming a Scottish film in Ireland and some soldiers from Custom Barracks started growing beards.

With decades of experience fighting local and international issues alike, Michael D had established a poetic and political brand and I remember well when his campaign came to canvas Athlone in 2011, in fact I remember when an empty campaign bus first pulled off from Merrion Square with Michael D, the bus driver Tony Joyce, myself and three others.

Within a fortnight the bus was full of young volunteers and they arrived in Athlone to canvas Golden Island Shopping Centre.

Michael D certainly had a Midas' touch in the shopping centre especially when compared to Martin McGuinness’ earlier encounter with David Kelly where the son of a murdered soldier arrived with a framed picture of his father and confronted the Sinn Féin candidate in Golden Island Shopping Centre.

With a warmer welcome, Michael D was greeted by family and friends at the automatic doors of Golden Island’s cupola entrance.

Michael D was rushed around the shopping centre as ladies from Boots posed for pictures and children came out out of Pennies to shake hands with the smiling candidate.

The campaign bus pulled off and Sabina Higgins and her husband said goodbye to their old friend Niall O’Shea who runs The Mill bar.

The Irish president is no stranger to Athlone or to knocking on Niall O’Shea´s window when he used to pass through Athlone on the old Tuam Road.

I took several photographs and caught up with my friend Sarah Kiernan afterwards who had popped into the Shopping Centre when she heard the campaign trail had come to Athlone.

“Welcome to Athlone,” she told the candidate who simply responded, “Thank you Sarah”

We were both quite surprised that he recognised her and Sarah was quite taken back and wondered how he could possibly have known or remembered her name when they had only met once before, in Galway. Who had whispered her name in his ear? No one from Dublin had ever met her so we wondering if it was Mayor Henson who was there at the time.

She had strolled straight up to the campaign and greeted the candidate who after decades in the political limelight, was a well known name.

With a bus parked outside the building with his name and picture on it, it was hard to miss the candidate’s familiar face but Sarah could not possibly imagine that he had remembered her name from a quick introduction at a campaign launch in Galway during the 2007 General Election.

It made quite the impression on us, the Galway West candidate offered her a glass of wine in 2007 and the presidential candidate remembered her in 2011 when he came to her town looking for her vote.

Sarah Kiernan with the president's son Michael E Higgins

All politicians need more name recognition and the personal approach outweighs the poster on a pole. We know who you are when you run for Áras an Uactaráin but do you know your audience?

A few months later, President Higgins invited us to his new home to show him photographs from the campaign trail, from the empty bus on the first day to a full bus arriving in Golden Island and all the people he met along the way.

Welcome to Athlone presidential candidates, please enjoy your stay.

L-R: Brian Fagg, Sabina Higgins, President Higgins, Morgan Fagg, Sarah Kieran and Mary Fagg in Áras an Uactaráin

Daniel, top of the polls

BUS STOP The campaign bus by Christ Church Catherdral.

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