SERVING THE COMMUNITY Chairperson of Islandeady Community Council, John Cannon, (front centre); Liam Keaveney, Vice Chairperson, (back left), and Kathleen Feeney, Treasurer, (front right), pictured with some members of the first Islandeady Community Council. At back, from second left; Liam Sadler, Mike Ward, Paddy Maloney, Joe Roache and Tommie Francis Gibbons. Front, from left, Mary McGuire, Tommie O'Brien, Tommy Carroll, Pauline Rice and Sr Maureen Lally. Pic: John Moylette.
Like all rural communities Islandeady suffers from urban influences, but the formation of the Community Council has over the years forged an independence and pride of place among its people.
And this coming weekend the council have organised a festival, ‘Fáilte 40’ to celebrate their fortieth anniversary and their many achievements down the years.
In attendance will be many members of the inaugural council among them the chairman, Liam Sadler, who recalled the early growing pains of the council and how they wanted to co-ordinate the activities of the other existing bodies in the parish such as the GAA Club and the Gun Club.
Following some stirring sermons by Fr Micheal McGreil, deputising for the parish priest, which caused some annoyance among parishioners, Liam felt obliged to get involved.
Early progress was about roads and potholes. Everyone from their own area knew what they wanted.
One thing he did promise when he became chairman was that he would not allow the council to get into debt. He did not know where the money came from in the early stages to fund projects.
“But when Fr Anthony O’Toole came to the parish in 1980 he told us how to organise a sale of work. He was a mighty man to get things going and that was the first time we had financial stability,” said Liam.
Sister Maureen Lally said she was intrigued with the challenge of a community council. People in Cornanool, Graffymore and Derrycoosh went to Mass in the Cornanool school and that was a divide of sorts in the parish. So she was not familiar with all of those forming the Community Council.
“But there was a sense of purpose to the gathering, she said, a good sense of awareness to be gathered from working together. Eventually a lot of barriers were broken down. A group dynamic started to develop. Energy began to flow,” said Maureen.
Pauline Rice, PRO of the first council, remembered clearly having attended a meeting in Cloggernagh School. Fr John McHugh, never afraid to engage in manual work, had encouraged people to take part in that meeting. At it a steering committee was formed. Liam Sadler was elected chairman, with Michael Sweeney secretary, the treasurer was TJ Flaherty and she PRO.
“One man who had great enthusiasm and energy was the late TJ Flaherty. He played a big part in organising the water scheme for the parish and was a trustee of the organising committee,” added Pauline.
She was in the sacristy making out receipts for contributions to the scheme when an old man came in with a £100 note, which was a rarity at that time.
“It gave us a great shot in the arm to think that a man of his age should want to join the scheme and had such trust in the committee.”
She returned as secretary of the council’s Heritage Group and among their activities was the publication of ‘Through the Eye of the Bridge’ based on the 27 cut-stone bridges in the parish.
Liam Sadler said the scheme came some years after the founding of the community council. Before it was implemented a drought forced farmers in his area to go to Westport for water. There was no water in the schools in the parish, no flush toilets. Nor did he allow politics to be raised.
“We never asked any person’s politics, even though almost everyone knew how everyone voted. At times you had to read between the lines where certain political bias might be coming and I tried to quash that as quickly as I could,” added Liam
Another unifying feature of the council was the organisation of social get-togethers. The GAA was going through a successful period and had reached senior ranks and many of those in the GAA were also members of the Community Council.
Sister Maureen said she spent some time teaching in the US and when she returned she was amazed at how advanced the thinking had become among members of the council.
“There was great authenticity there, nothing artificial or sophisticated about it,” said added.
Liam Sadler paid tribute to the important part women have played in the council and in particular to the late Anne Carroll, Kitty Moran and many others.
Liam Keaveney has been involved for the last ten years and served a term as chairman. He singled out Kathleen Feeney, who has been treasurer since the death of Fr O’Toole, for special mention.
“The Community Council has to a certain degree made life for all involved now a lot easier. People have got behind us and the relationship with all the clubs is a bonus. A very successful initiative of the Community Futures is the Carers Action Group Wednesday Club which caters mainly for senior citizens,” he said.
Mike Ward represented Litir on the first two councils. Much of the work that time was about getting potholes filled and he loved being part of that success.
Tommy O’Brien represented the GAA for two terms and the two co-operated well. One incident he remembered was while he Tom Hopkins and John Feeney were knocking a wall during the renovations of the community centre and avalanche of dust fell on Fr McHugh standing nearby. In an instant the priest was totally covered in white dust.
Tommie Francis Gibbons, the only member with 40 years unbroken service, said he learned a lot from the older members of the council.
“I was more involved in the GAA side of things and they had a great relationship. We were trying to improve the community as best we could and it has come a mighty long way,” he said.
Tommy Carroll, who together with his late wife Anne, did much of the catering needs of the council, said they were all very quiet at the beginning.
“People were afraid to open our mouths. There were a few highly educated people among us and we let them do all the talking,” he added.
Paddy Maloney lived at the far end of the parish, nearer to Newport and to Castlebar than to the centre of Islandeady. The council involved the station areas and that brought them together.
For its first ten years Mary Barrett produced a monthly news sheet for the council, and sold it for 10p after Mass.
“It was very time consuming and there were occasions when I felt like walking away from it,” she said.
She and the late TJ Flaherty called to businesses in Castlebar for donations to the Sale of Work. And they were very good to them.
Joe Roache remembered attending the first few meetings where they listened, said nothing but took in a lot.
Current chairman John Cannon is a member for twenty-one years and felt it a bit daunting at the beginning because of the more experienced people around him. In his first stint as chairman he hesitantly took on the role halfway through the term of one council.
“Now that people have begun to use the centre more and more there may be some need for a change,” he said. He paid tribute to all those who worked on the council down the years and especially those who had passed away.
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