MOVING FORWARD Pictured at the launch of The Mayo News website in the County Library Castlebar from left: David Quinn, Callan Quinn, Cllr. Brendan Henaghan, Mayor of Castlebar, Dermot Berry, MD of The Mayo News and Pat Carroll.
Winning over the luddites
Westport came to Castlebar in a big way during the week when The Mayo News formally launched its new state-of-the-art website at Castlebar public library.
The choice of venue was an interesting one, and David Quinn - who created the new website - made the point that, far from competing with each other, the printed word and its electronic counterpart should be seen as enhancing one another.
The internet can never replace the written word, he reassured any assembled hacks who feared that the age of obsolescence was upon them. Rather was it a case of the website giving the newspaper a presence in what must be the most revolutionary communications tool of all time. How impressive is that presence could be gauged from the stream of browsers from all over the world who, in the few hours before the launch, had been visiting The Mayo News web page for an update of happenings on the west coast of Ireland.
Editor, Denise Horan, divulged that she herself was a late and reluctant convert to the world of the electronic media. She was, she said, a Luddite in matters of technology, an admission which came as some relief to those of us who have yet to fully master the computer keyboard, and whose long hand missives sorely test the patience and ingenuity of this newspaper’s type setters.
Finally, it’s a sign of the attractiveness of Castlebar as the capital of Connacht shopping that, despite being rejected the first time round, giant retailer, LIDL, has persisted with its plan to open up for business in the county town.
Initial local disappointment at LIDL’s plans being thrown out by the planning authority have turned to satisfaction that the German supermarket has returned to the scene and will, this time, get the clearance to go ahead.
Nóirín’s songs of the heart
Thanks to the vocal talent of an Achill woman, sufferers from one of the world’s most crippling diseases will have a happier Christmas.
Better known as a poet and writer, Nóirín Gannon decided earlier this year to do something for those suffering from Motor Neurone disease. It is a cause close to her heart since the incidence of Motor Neurone is more common than one might think.
The something she chose to do was to record a CD of six of her favourite songs, with the proceeds to go to the Motor Neurone funds. With the accompaniment of John Flatley, that CD is now ready to be launched and, with Christmas standards like ‘O Holy Night’ and ‘Silent Night’, is perfectly timed for the festive season.
But Nóirín Gannon is no stranger to the recording studio. Her voice was featured on a tourism programme about Ireland on the Sky Discovery Channel, when she sang ‘The Isle of Inishfree’, while locally she has been heard on Mid West Radio.
The new CD - appropriately titled “From the Heart” - will be launched in Patten’s Lounge in Derreens on November 25 by ‘You’re a Star’ entrant, James Kilbane. Also featured on the disc are timeless favourites like “The Water is Wide”, “The Sally Gardens”, “Red is the Rose” and “Will you Go, Lassie, Go”.
Meanwhile, however, the energetic Nóirín Gannon has other matters to attend to. Last Friday marked her graduation from NUIG Galway with her H Dip in Rural Development; this week sees her back to her duties at Kilkelly branch library.
Not bad going for a woman who, three years ago, was battling with serious illness, and who dared hardly look forward to a third level degree and a job where, as a writer, she could hardly be happier.
Denis O’Brien’s rush to the barricades to prevent the take-over of the state airline by his arch rival has prompted some cynical comments concerning Mr O’Brien’s own non-patriotic, tax exile status, among them.
“Did you hear the one about the tax exile whose fortune was made from the private sale of a state asset and who then tried to stop the public and open take-over of another state asset by a man who lives, pays tax and works in this country? An Irish joke?”
It was a phone call from a friend in Florida - long exiled from his native Charlestown - which first alerted me to literary news from that town.
“There’s a book coming out about Charlestown and all the people that left it over the years. Will you make sure you get a copy for me”, the request went.
Hurried enquiries yielded the information that a book so described would indeed be soon launched. Seamus Dunleavy’s new book “Finally meeting the Princess Maud” was unveiled at Charlestown Arts Centre last week to warm praise and a great welcome from friends far and near.
This book is the story of exile. Seamus Dunleavy’s experiences are those of thousands of other young men for whom the sea route to Britain on the Princess Maud was the only career path open to them. It’s a story of anticipation, loneliness, friendship, good times and bad, which is the story of every emigrant who ever left his home and parish, knowing only too well that the only future was far away from all he grew up with.
Seamus Dunleavy’s life was lived out in Birmingham but, in common with all the others, he never forgot where he came from or where he could call home. His book is dedicated to the countless number of emigrants who had to leave home and parents and family because of economic necessity.
The book comes in a long line of writings from Charlestown whose recurring theme is the ravage of emigration and its consequences for the fabric of social life in the west. “Finally meeting the Princess Maud” follows in the tradition of John Healy’s “Nineteen Acres” and John Murphy’s “The Country Boy”, and is sure to be read over and over again, with both smiles and tears, wherever Charlestown folk are gathered.
Keeping a distance
It is often said that one of the strategic strengths of the Fianna Fáil party is its ability to appear not to be part of Government at all when it suits the situation.
Thus, Bertie Ahern can sit down and write letters of representation on behalf of supplicants at his local clinic to various government offices, as though he was not the man who actually runs the government himself.
The same ploy has been perfected by local Fianna Fáil politicians who, without blinking an eye, can publicly call on the Minister or the Department to do this, that or the other for the locality.
It’s a neat trick to distance oneself from actions taken - or actions not taken - by Ministers of one’s very own political party. But it’s one practised with such ease and such apparent innocence that even the public seems to fall for it every time.
The little dog checkers
Bertie Ahern’s plea to the people will, in years to come, be seen as one of the great moments in Irish public life. Faced with what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle, he went for broke. Going over the head of parliament and orthodox debate, he reached out to the people, and the people did not let him down.
There was hardly a dry eye in the country as the dewy-eyed Taoiseach recalled the pain of separation and the struggle of an honest man to provide for his daughters in a time of need. Nobody seemed to notice that the first to mention Bertie’s marital misfortunes was not ‘Big Bad Enda’ or ‘Big Bad Rabbitte’ - who never said a word about it - but Bertie himself. Only the most clinical of the audience noted that, although the gifted €16,500 arose allegedly from his separation agreement, that agreement had been done and dusted a year earlier.
But it all worked a treat, just as it did for Richard Nixon all those years ago. It was back in 1952 that Nixon, by then the nominee for vice-president of America on the ticket headed by Eisenhower, came under intense attack when charges were laid that he was funding himself from private donations. Eisenhower, on the point of dropping Nixon from the ticket, was persuaded by the latter to give him one last chance to prove himself to the American people.
So Nixon went on national television and told the country of his simple lifestyle and of how his wife Pat, unlike others, did not own a mink coat. But he did admit accepting one particular gift. It was the little cocker spaniel, “Checkers”, the joy of the household.
The manly face grew soft, and the tears welled up in the Nixon eyes as he emotionally told his interviewer that “he was not going to give Checkers back because his little daughters loved that dog”.
The rest is history. The broadcast ended with Nixon appealing to the public to write in to the Republican Party to say if they supported him. Within hours, a deluge of mail had confirmed that Nixon had passed the test, and he was on his way to the White House.
As it happened, the past caught up with Nixon years later and in 1974 he became the only American president to resign the office, as the threat of impeachment over the Watergate affair closed in on him.
But his Checkers speech, fifty years later, is still talked about with awe as one of the great turning points of public life. And probably the greatest, at least until a month ago.
J J's battle is won
After so many years battling against local and national indifference, the persistence of the Admiral Browne Society - and more particularly of its founder, J J O’Hara of Foxford - seems finally to have reaped its reward.
The unveiling by the Taoiseach of the statue of the Argentinean hero on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay in Dublin, the naming of the Admiral Browne Walk at the same location, and the launch of a biography - all on the same day - all marked the “arrival” of the Browne legacy as part of the country’s heritage.
It was too a memorable occasion for the crew of the L E Eithne which had sailed the Irish flagship to Argentina two years ago as a mark of honour to the memory of the Foxford born admiral who is revered in Argentina as founder of that country’s navy. among those who renewed acquaintance with naval friends from South America were Castlebar natives, Commander Mark Mellett of the Eithne and Niall Carney, who serves on the ship.
The high profile evening was the high water mark so far of a decade of unremitting promotion of the Admiral Browne cause by J J O’Hara, whose dream of a fitting memorial Centre in Foxford is now that much nearer to reality.