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Old and new

County View
THE OLD AND THE NEW Rebecca Walsh, Michael Forkan, David Irving and Kayleigh Boynton view the art project produced by Swinford NS and Carracastle NS at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life. The museum is housed on the family estate of George Robert Fitzgerald, who is remembered in this year’s Castlebar Parish Magazine.  Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Castlebar in touch with itself

County View
John Healey

FOR Castlebar folk at home and abroad, no Christmas celebration would be complete without the annual parish magazine, a publication with a diversity of content that gives it a flavour and an attraction all its own.
Long-serving editor, Joe Redmond, once again calls in all the usual contributors, and laces the result with a selection of photographs which seem to come tumbling on to his desk, year after year. In fact, so devoted are the old stock to sharing those old black and white memories that a sizeable portion of those submitted never quite make it to the printing press.
This year’s parish magazine – already flying off the shelves – is a compendium of the facts and figures, births, marriages and deaths of the past year, leavened with news items, personal recollections, and historical themes from times past.
Seán Lyons, Seán Rice, Michael Mullen and Bernard Hughes all rally once more to the editor’s call. Mary Igoe Billings, long exiled in Britain, writer from the heart of growing up in Spencer Street. Columba McHale’s childhood story, ‘The Toboggan’, shares space with Eamonn Horkan’s account of the old travelling players, ‘The Fit Ups’, while Michael Feeney remembers John ‘Botha’ Roach, a decorated hero of the Great War. Alan King writes of the history of the old Castlebar Breweries, and Brian Hoban recounts the story of the old courthouse.
The colourful story of the legendary Fighting Fitzgerald of Turlough is the theme of Hubert Glynn’s well-researched article, fitting in all the missing pieces of a character we have all heart mention of. Born George Robert Fitzgerald in 1748, he turned out to be a strong, hot-blooded, quick-tempered youth. He entered Eton, served in the British Army, would fight at the drop of a hat, and involved himself in so many duels that the soubriquet ‘Fighting Fitzgerald’ was well deserved.
On his return to Turlough, he set up his own Turlough Volunteers, roaming the countryside at will – hunting, carousing and terrifying both tenants and gentry. He fought with his father, fell foul of Randal McDonnell, and finally came to the end when he was found guilty of murdering McDonnell. On June 12, 1786, he went to meet the hangman outside Castlebar jail. Twice he cheated fate when the rope failed to do its job. The third time he was not so lucky and Fighting Fitzgerald – whose family estate is now the Museum of Country Life – was given a violent end to a violent life.
The parish magazine also carries a first person account of an epic voyage across the Atlantic. It is hard to believe that all of 30 years has flown since James Cahill set to work at Rosmoney on building the Ricjak, the boat he was to sail to America, and home again. His is a stirring tale – part holiday, part adventure, part voyage into the unknown – of the double crossing with a crew of three women: his wife-to-be, Katherine, and her sisters, Carmel and Fionnuala Killalea.
From Westport through the Bay of Biscay, to Portugal and Madeira and on to La Palma, the departure point of the old world en route for the new, and across the great ocean to Barbados. The homeward journey from Boston saw Jarlath Cunnane join the crew for a dramatic finale as the Ricjak hit gale force winds 200 miles out from the Irish coast.
As fears grew at home about their safety, an upturned yacht found floating off Donegal caused further alarm. But at four in the morning, the Ricjak ghosted into Clew Bay. A startled Tommy Gibbons was awoken from his slumbers in Inishlyre to be asked to forward the good news. He did so with great joy. The Ricjak was safely home.