McDonald defiant over Sinn Fein's prospects in Republic despite heavy losses at polls
Sinn Fein's president insisted the party was "not simply about winning elections" as she vowed to learn the lessons of bruising poll results in the south.
Mary Lou McDonald said the party would rise again after suffering heavy losses at council level in the Republic.
It is also facing the prospect of losing seats in the European election.
Ms McDonald was pressed on the poor performance as she arrived at the Northern Ireland count centre, where Martina Anderson was returned as MEP, having topped the poll, albeit with a 3% fall in vote share.
"It has been a challenging weekend for us," Ms McDonald said. "But you see the thing about Sinn Fein is we will meet challenges, we will even get speed bumps on the road, and we will rise to that and we will overcome that because Sinn Fein isn't just about a single election, in fact we are not simply about winning elections.
"Sinn Fein is an ideal. Sinn Fein is about social justice, it's about Irish unity, we serve a cause we believe in and whatever challenges and difficulties we encounter we will always rise to them and meet them."
She added: "As the leader of the party I want to make it clear that whatever lessons are to be learned from these elections, and there are many, that we will learn them and that we will make absolutely sure that we can rise to the occasion and the next time round when these seats are up for grabs again we will field candidates again and I hope we will win them all back and then some more."
Ms McDonald denied the party's support had plateaued in the Republic: "Absolutely not, we are only beginning, we have plenty more room for growth."
Asked what the prospects of an Irish general election were, she replied: "Very real and have been for some time. But I would be speculating, I don't know - ask (Taoiseach) Leo (Varadkar)."
Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill said one of the factors behind the party's bad showing in the Republic was that working class voters did not come out.
"Clearly we are disappointed with those results and we will have to have a full analysis of all of that. We will do that throughout the course of time," she said.
"I think it's a combination of reasons you could point to very quickly, not least the surge of the Greens and I think the fact in working class areas the vote didn't come out."
Six former Sinn Fein councillors who had disputes with the party were re-elected as Independents.
The party struggled to deal with a string of internal rows in the last five years and more than 15 councillors and other public representatives had either quit or been expelled in the south.
One ex-Sinn Fein councillor, Noeleen Reilly, got more than 1,700 votes in Dublin City Council's Ballymun-Finglas ward and said she was "delighted" to be re-elected.
She resigned from Sinn Fein last year after being suspended by the party which claimed she had orchestrated a social media bullying campaign against the party. Ms Reilly rejected this and alleged she was bullied within the party and that Sinn Fein ignored her complaints.
Last night she said: "The last five years were very challenging but I've put it all to bed."
Re-elected Tipperary councillor Seamus Morris quit the party in November 2017 amid claims he was subjected to "unfounded and untruthful allegations".
He said he was "practically destroyed" by his alleged experience in Sinn Fein and "it took me a long time to pick myself up". He said he was not surprised by the party's poor local election claiming "they're drifting". He added: "I'm surprised at how Mary Lou McDonald hasn't been able to turn the ship around."
Senior Sinn Fein figures including Ms McDonald have repeatedly denied there was a culture of bullying in the party.