When one door closes, Brian Hoban is fond of saying, another always opens. And so it was that when the Castlebar shopkeeper and newsagent closed his door at Newtown for the last time, it did not take long for the next chapter to start. His shop was one of the four properties earmarked for demolition to make way for a new Castlebar roadway, but whatever lingering regrets he might have felt were short lived.
He was to discover an interest in local history that would become a passion, and which led him to travel a myriad of highways and byways, create a wide network of friends and kindred souls across the world, and provide him with an occupation that was more labour of love than it was career.
His first experience as a historian came with a two-year stint in Newport with Mayo Teic, under the auspices of Meitheal Mhaigheo, where he learned the skills of patient research, the ability to seek out reliable sources, and the realisation that oral history, however patchy it might be, could provide the building blocks of historical discourse. Soon he was submitting a series of articles to both print media and online, and was privileged to be recruited as an adviser to the joint BBC/RTÉ drama on the story of the Dempsey eviction of 1879.
That eviction came to be regarded as a turning point in the fight by impoverished tenants against oppressive and unfair rents. Anthony Dempsey and his five children had been threatened with eviction from his small holding in Loona, outside Balla, by Sir Robert Blosse, two weeks before Christmas. So great was the public outrage that Charles Stewart Parnell travelled to Balla to address a huge meeting in the town square, after which 600 determined men marched in formation to the site of the planned eviction.
Parnell’s appeal to the crowd for a peaceful, nonviolent protest was heeded, and although Anthony Dempsey was evicted that day, a national collection on his behalf by the Land League resulted in his reinstatement the day before Christmas.
By now, Brian Hoban had qualified as a Fáilte Ireland-approved Marine and Countryside Guide, a qualification that led him seven years ago to take up the dual role of guide and promoter at Clogher Heritage Centre.
Located three miles from Ballintubber Abbey and five from Moorehall, Clogher had been a hidden jewel of the Mayo countryside. Relishing the challenge and the opportunity, Brian and his team transformed the Clogher Heritage Complex. The old Staunton’s Forge was authentically rebuilt, restoring it to what it was a hundred years earlier. The Clogher Bog Walk was developed, offering locals and visitors an introduction to hedgerows, woodland, fenland and blanket bog, with all its wonderful biodiversity. The site of the early Patrician church was cleared, as were the remains of a caiseal – once a resting place for pilgrims on the Tóchar walk to Croagh Patrick.
Last week, as part of the nation’s heritage celebrations, there was held a reenactment of a day on the bog, where dozens of visitors – some from as far away as Australia – spent the day cutting turf and saving the peat harvest on a glorious mid-Mayo day.
That event marked the end of Brian Hoban’s tenure at Clogher; official retiring age had come to the door. But true to his philosophy, this was to be only the start of the next chapter. And that chapter got underway at Christ Church in Castlebar on Wednesday last, when over 50 people turned up for the guided Hoban tour of that landmark building, and went away looking forward to more to come.