Lack of formal education has never been a barrier to countless Mayo emigrants who have gone on to achieve great success in their chosen fields in the countries of their adoption. Less favoured as they might have been in terms of academic opportunity, they nonetheless excelled themselves through innate talent and a thirst for knowledge.
And so it was for Michael Walsh, who left his home in Ballyvary, Castlebar, at the age of 18, and arrived in the US in 1947 when he was 23. After his army service, he attended night school in New York and qualified as a master machinist. He moved to Texas where he was employed for many years by Thomas Instruments on aircraft technology.
On his retirement, Michael Walsh decided to set up his own manufacturing business, using new state of the art technology to make high quality, precision aircraft accessories. As a Master Machinist, he was engaged by NASA and the programme’s contractors to manufacture satellite parts for the emerging space exploration programme. It was work which required the ultimate in precision engineering and the highest standards of skill and expertise, and it is to the credit of the Mayoman that he was entrusted with tasks which demanded such a high degree of accuracy in even the smallest detail.
His contribution to aviation and the development of space travel remains largely unknown today, and would still be so only for the account of the life of this remarkable Mayo man as told by his cousin, Patrick Brady, in a recent issue of ‘Ireland’s Own’. The biographer is brother of retired Ballyvary postman, Eamon Brady, with whom he shares the family traits of affability and genuine good humour.
Unsurprisingly, given the industry in which he was involved, Mike Walsh had a keen interest in aviation. He had obtained his pilot’s licence at a young age, which gave him the freedom in retirement to fly the Texan skies in his favoured Piper Cherokee, which he flew up to shortly before his death a few years ago. It was a hobby which he shared with his cousin Patrick, who is also a flying enthusiast of the solo school.
And maybe there is something in the Mayo gene which predisposes us to the freedom of the sky. At the same time as Mike Walsh was taking his pilot’s licence, his Achill born compatriot Nancy Corrigan, up north in Cleveland, was making her name as the most successful aviation pioneer in US history. And the trail blazing Corrigan was also to cross paths with the her famed namesake, Douglas ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan, whose exploits in flying from New York to Ireland are the stuff of legend.
I am indebted to Kevin Bourke, former Mayoman of the Year and proud neighbour of Michael Walsh, for bringing the story of his fellow Ballyvary man to my attention. Kevin, as many people know, is now well on the road to recovery following a health setback some two months ago, but then, to a man of such a positive outlook on life, such misfortunes are but minor annoyances to be swept aside.
Kevin is particularly grateful to all who supported his gala concert in Westport in September, in aid of the Christina Noble Foundation, a cause very close to Kevin’s heart. The event raised a record €5,000 for the Foundation — an impressive return for a concert organised while Kevin lay on the broad of his back in a hospital bed. But so much for minor obstacles!