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Guiding the Peace Park visitor

County View

Guiding the Peace Park visitor


County View
John Healy

A recurring complaint from visitors to many of our local landmarks is the lack of any type of background information to explain the significance of what is being visited. In Mayo, our many ruined abbeys, round towers and old castles are of great attraction to visitors, yet the paucity of information by way of plaques or information stands is a serious drawback.
Such, however, will not be the case at the Mayo Peace Park in Castlebar, thanks to the generosity of an exiled son of the county town. Dermot Neely, a native of Gallows Hill but now long time resident in the UK, with his wife Margaret, has donated a fine memorial stone right inside the Peace Park’s main entrance, which provides visitors with a concise summary of the origins, aims and layout of the park, which is attracting visitors in their hundreds on a daily and weekly basis.
Although it is four decades since Dermot Neely, a member of an old and highly respected Castlebar family, departed for England, his links with his home place have never dimmed. He is a regular visitor home to renew acquaintances with old friends and to spend time with his sister, Frances, herself returned from Manchester to live in Pound Road. A great community volunteer, Dermot is deeply involved in theLions Club movement in Lytham St Anne’s, where he lives, and some years ago was honoured to be elected District Governor of the organisation.
His special connection with the Peace Park stems from the fact that his uncle, Capt. Daniel Neely, was among the Mayo soldiers to die in he first World War, and whose name is inscribed on the imposing memorial wall which forms the backdrop to the Peace Park.
Since it was formally opened in 2008 by then President, Mary McAleese, the Mayo Peace Park has proved to be a major attraction for visitors from home and abroad. Thousands have visited either as members of Regimental Groups or Veterans’ Associations, or as interested individuals or small family groups, coming to honour a loved one lost in battle long ago. It is often the latter which provide the most poignant reminder of the loss and horror of war, and it is a common sight to see aged visitors, accompanied by younger family members, lay a wreath in memory of a long dead victim of war. Each day these small groups can be seen gathered in silent reflection of a loved one. For so many, the Mayo Peace Park provides the only tangible link to those who left home as young men, and whose remains now lie in war graves, far from home, in the foreign fields of Belgium and France.
Michael Feeney, founder and Chairman of the Peace Park, has recently referred to the difficulty, due to lack of numbers, of meeting all such visitors on a personal basis. And despite the almost daily presence of Flag Officer, Ernie Sweeney, who often doubles as guide to the Park, it is inevitable that many visitors fend for themselves in their quest for information.
It is here that the new information panel, in the form of the Dermot Neely memorial stone, will be of particular benefit. It is both a reference point and a condensed account of the origins of the Peace Park, first mooted by Michael Feeney over a decade ago, which took shape over five years of dedication and tenacity by his small group, and which today is an admired and treasured feature of the Castlebar landscape.