IT was the morning after the night before in Jemma Dolan’s family home in Belleek.
Fermanagh-south Tyrone’s newest MLA was fast asleep upstairs after an exhausting six week election campaign. As the 26 year old snoozed in the home she shares with her parents, her mother Margaret was busy answering congratulatory phone calls, the first from a man in County Carlow, and making tea for everyone who called at their door.
“Well, you don’t leave our house without a cup of tea,” Margaret told The Impartial Reporter. “But I’ve never seen anything like it, it never stopped the whole day from morning to night.”
Neighbours came from all over the village and across the Border in nearby Donegal to wish her youngest daughter well on an election win that saw her secure over 7,000 votes.
“It was 7,767 votes exactly,” said Gerry, Jemma’s father. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that number. I might get it on the number plate.
“There were people calling to the house to see her that had never set foot in the place before,” said the farmer who was up from the crack of dawn, brimming from ear to ear.
“I woke up at six o’clock, I was on a high, I wasn’t fit to get back to sleep,” he said.
“Sure, the day before I fed the cattle at five o’clock in the morning and didn’t see them again until half eleven that night. We went to do grocery shopping on the Saturday and were delayed three quarters of an hour there too, everyone stopping to talk to us,” said Gerry.
“I decided I wasn’t going to cook dinner that Sunday,” said Margaret.
“We went to the Black Cat Cove for lunch and we were just in the door when Jemma was asked to speak to a magazine from London about Brexit. We had to delay our lunch over the head of her.”
Within hours Jemma received three bouquets of flowers at her home, plus congratulatory cards, hugs, handshakes and even had her first constituent to sort out.
“He asked me to help him with something,” explained Jemma. “Then I was in Asda last night and a woman followed me around the shop. The whole thing is mad.”
Speaking to The Impartial Reporter at The Lemon Tree in Belleek the interview was interrupted every few minutes as locals passed on their best wishes to Jemma.
“Nobody had heard of you six weeks ago, now they can’t get enough of you,” said Gerry.
“The novelty will wear off,” laughed Jemma.
Standing for election wasn’t an easy decision for the young woman who had worked behind the scenes in Sinn Fein for a few years, including as press officer for the party in Fermanagh and then for MEP Martin Anderson in Brussels. But as always she consulted her family first, including her three sisters; Lorraine, Leann and Antionette.
“Do you remember I phoned you, mummy?” asked Jemma.
“You did,” said Margaret. “She told me she wanted to stand and I said do not. I said you are going to listen to all kinds; everything is going to be thrown at you. But Gerry said go for it.”
“I knew that anything she put her mind to she’d put her heart and soul into it,” he said.
Educated at St. Davog’s Primary School, St. Mary’s High School and Mount Lourdes Grammar School, Jemma went on to the University of Ulster where she studied media studies.
She volunteered for RSPB and Habitat for Humanity International and while at university was shortlisted for a mental health campaign of the year, student leader of the year and welfare campaign of the year and came third in Soroptimist International public speaking awards.
“She was good at homework and that, attention to detail,” said Gerry.
“She doesn’t help on the farm, that’s for sure,” he smiled.
“She would stand in a gap if she had to,” said Margaret.
“I do own a pair of wellies but I don’t wear them, they are pink,” laughed Jemma.
And as for cooking, she still relies on her mother’s home cooking.
“I can barely make beans and toast,” she said.
“There could be mornings the dinner would be thrown to the dog because she wasn’t home the night before to eat it,” said Gerry.
As a child, Jemma was “obsessed” with playing with Barbie dolls and listening to the Spice Girls.
“I liked Baby Spice. I thought because I was mummy and daddy’s baby I was Baby Spice,” she said.
“We’d have to tell her to turn it down all the time. Margaret and myself are country fans so the Spice Girls didn’t fit in at all,” said Gerry.
“Westlife was another one,” said Jemma. “I’ve been to the 11 of the 12 concerts. Favourite song? That’s like having to pick your favourite child.”
“She was into the soaps, we used to watch them together,” added Margaret.
“Margaret got a bit of peace to watch her soaps when we were out canvassing,” said Gerry.
“I did not, any time I sat down to watch them the doorbell rang,” said Margaret.
Not only did Jemma like listening to music she enjoyed going out with her friends, particularly when she was at university.
“What about the ironing board?” said Margaret.
“Och, don’t be saying anything about that!” protested Jemma.
“I got a phone call one morning,” explained Margaret.
“It was this one telling me that I was going to have to pick her up from Coleraine.
“The doll had a couple of drinks and took to coming down the stairs... on an ironing board and hurt herself. The leg was in plaster,” she said.
“She was surfing,” laughed Gerry.
“I hit the cupboard at the bottom of the stairs, I was only about 20,” replied Jemma.
“You were old enough to have wit,” scolded Margaret.
As Jemma embarks on a political career she has pledged to do all that she can for her constituency but the transition from public relations to politics will take a bit of getting used to.
“I don’t want to be called a politician because people think that you are lying, that you’ll not do anything but that’s not me. I want to help people,” she said.
“She’ll be a good MLA, I don’t think she’ll get carried away,” said Gerry.
“We’ll not let her,” smiled Margaret.