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Remembering Mayo’s war dead 100 years on

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REFLECTINGPat Quinn, Governor of Chicago, Illinois, USA laying a wreath at the Mayo Peace Park in 2017 at the memorial for Mayo natives who served and died with US Forces, the majority of whom perished in World War I. Pic: Ken Wright

Edwin McGreal


Services of remembrance will take place all over Mayo this weekend to mark the centenary of the Armistice to mark the end of World War I.
Almost 1,200 Mayo people were killed in The Great War enlisted with British, American, Canadian and Australian forces.
There are services planned all over the county including in Ballina, Belmullet, Castlebar, Foxford, Killala and Louisburgh.
At 10.30am on Sunday next, November 11, at Mayo Peace Park in Castlebar there will be a service with song, poetry and prayer followed by the sounding of The Last Post at 11am. All over Europe and the world church bells will ring to mark the centenary of the Armistice.
Bells will also ring at Mayo Peace Park to mark the anniversary of the Armistice which was signed in France between the Allies of World War I and Germany for the cessation of fighting on the Western Front. It took effect at 11am – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
The 20th annual Mayo Remembrance Mass will take place then at 11.30am in Louisburgh. The annual service has been held in both Church of Ireland and Catholic churches throughout the county. In Louisburgh the names of those from the area who were killed in World War I will be read out during the Mass.
Regarded at the time as ‘the war to end all wars’, the involvement of Irish people in the war was not always celebrated in the 100 years since the end of World War I due to Ireland’s complex political situation at the time.
“It’s an incredible number that 1,190 people from Mayo were killed in World War I and there was nothing about them for years and years. They were written out of history,” Michael Feeney, the driving force behind Mayo Peace Park, told The Mayo News.
“We had a funny political situation. De Valera went over after World War II and signed a book of condolences on the death of Hitler. It showed the confused state we were in. We were in a state of denial about world wars. I didn’t learn about them in school. It is different now, people are more educated and enlightened,” said Feeney, who was honoured with an MBE by Queen Elizabeth in 2010 for services to UK-Ireland relations.

Exhaustive research
It’s the work of people like Michael Feeney and his team at Mayo Peace Park which has not only honoured Mayo people killed in various wars on foreign fields but also established and verified hundreds of people from the county killed in such wars.
Mayo Peace Park was established ten years ago and, at that time, there were only 670 people registered from Mayo as having being killed in World War I.
The exhaustive research by Michael Feeney and Co has seen that number swell to 1,190 and counting.
“Every name we get has to be verified before we confirm it. They would have been fighting with the British, with America, Canada and Australia. A lot of them had emigrated but they were all born and reared in Mayo. In reality it is an untold number.
“The number will go over 1,200 in the coming weeks at this rate. It is always rising. Add in civilians who died in bombings etc and it would be well over 1,200 by now. There was someone from every town and village in Mayo killed in World War I. It was the same in World War II, there was a huge number of Mayo people who died in World War II,” said Feeney.
“The bulk of Mayo people who died fought for the British but there would have been a lot who died for the US, Canada and Australia. Take Louisburgh for instance, over half of the people from Louisburgh who were killed in both world wars fought for America. It varies in different places.”
It must be pointed out that the figures do not include people who fought in such wars, but only people killed in them.
“Then there’s a lot of people who died years after the war as a result of the war. I know of one family in Castlebar where a man was dying for years as a result of suffering from gas. War dead would be limited though to people who died during the war or in the immediate aftermath from their injuries.
“They say that generally eight to ten people served for every one person who died so that will give you an idea of the amount of Mayo people who served in World War I,” said Michael Feeney.
Feeney has a personal tie to World War I. His grandfather was killed on the Western Front.
“My own grandfather, Patrick Feeney, was killed in World War I and he is buried in France. When he was 16 there was no work and so he joined the local militia, the reserves. Like a lot of locals, he fought in The Boer War. He survived and he left the army in 1911. He was married with six children but when you leave the army you are still on the reserve list and he was called up immediately when war broke out. He was ready to go to the front immediately because of his experience and he died a year later. This happened all over the country,” said Feeney.
The number of Mayo people killed in the war currently sits at 1,190 and includes one woman. Swinford native Henrietta Mellett was attached to the Canadian Nursing Service.

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