Ballinrobe Historical Society has scored another first with its ‘Women of Ballinrobe’, a multi-phased project that highlights the lives and times of the women of the town and its hinterland. The project aims to pay tribute to ‘women of everyday life, whose quiet, vital contribution would not otherwise have been acknowledged publicly’. It is then a chronicle of mainly everyday lives, except of course that there are no ‘ordinary’ lives, and each of the women highlighted has a unique story to tell, different and special unlike any other.
The first phase of the project has now been completed, and sees 34 display boards – each dedicated to the story of one of the local women – on display at the public library until Christmas. And already work is in hand to collect and record the next tranche of life stories for subsequent display.
The collection casts a wide net, but it is especially appropriate that one of those featured should be the late Bridie Mulloy, a lady who in many ways was the patron saint of local historians and folklorists. Bridie, who first became interested in folklore as a young girl in her native Sligo, came to Ballinrobe on her marriage to Achill-born Tony Mulloy, principal of Ballinrobe Vocational School. A woman of diverse interests and boundless energy, she was known throughout the country as a farm-guesthouse advisor with the Tourist Board, and as a columnist with the Farmers’ Journal and with Womens’ Way.
But the second string to her bow was as an archivist of the folklore and oral history of the Ballinrobe area, which led to the publication of her acclaimed ‘Itchy Feet and Thirsty Work’, a social history of the parish. In addition her meticulously researched history of the Augustinian Abbey was deservedly marked with a visit by President Robinson in 1994.
There are many stories too of old Ballinrobe stock, including Eliza McHugh, a remarkable publican and business woman who steered her family through the hardships of war and insurrection from her pub in Glebe Street, and her daughter Mina McHugh (Tierney) who inherited all of her mother’s gifts of resourcefulness and business acumen. And she also inherited what the display board refers to as her remarkable sense of humour, a trait that was to find its way down through her daughters and grandchildren.
Kathleen Ryder’s contribution to the town’s cultural and literary tradition is recorded, for it was she, together with Fr Ned Crosby, who created ‘The Bridge’, a magazine noted as much for the quality of its writing as for the depth of its content. And maybe less well known is how her persistence led to the repeal of the ban on women continuing their teaching careers after marriage and her reinstatement as a teacher at Ballinrobe Convent secondary school.
Also honoured on the ‘Women of Ballinrobe’ storyboards is the late lamented academic, Emer Colleran, National Chair of an Taisce, member of the Royal Irish Academy, and appointee to the Council of State by President Mary Robinson; Pulitzer Prize-winner and political columnist Maureen Dowd, who is linked to her Ballinrobe roots; the late Kathleen Kilbane of Achill, befriended by and immortalised in the writings of Brother Conway; the late Josie Murphy, without whom no Ballinrobe story would be complete, as with musician supreme, Sr Francis McMyler.
Nor, equally, would it be complete without the story of Maeve Kenny, niece of Percy French, whose beautiful and imposing residence of Ballinrobe House would ring to the sounds of grand opera when her son, Courtney Kenny, brought the annual chamber opera season from Glyndebourne to the town hall in the ’60s.