FIRST AMONG LOCALS Pictured at the Castlebar Town Council reception at which Johnny Mee was named a Freeman of Castlebar were, from left: Catríona Ruane, Northern Ireland Education Minister; Marie Crowley, Town Clerk; Johnny Mee, Cllr Kevin Guthrie, Mayor of Castlebar, and Seamus Granahan, Town Manager. Pic: Tom Campbell
Consummate community servant gets freedom of Castlebar
NOSTALGIA, poignancy, celebration, the hum of busy chat filled the room as a cross-party and community potpourri of people gathered in Castlebar on Thursday night last to honour Johnny Mee as the first Freeman of Castlebar.
Upbeat jazz music created a carnival atmosphere in the Fáilte Suite of the Welcome Inn as the colourful life of one of the county town’s most identifiable characters unfolded – in the background – in a sepia-imaged series of family photographs.
As formalities began, the former Labour Party mayor and town councillor, Johnny Mee – surrounded by his family – exuded a quiet humility as his legacy to his home town was extolled by the present Fine Gael Mayor, Kevin Guthrie.
Quoting ground-breaking American anthropologist, the late Margaret Mead, his opening remarks encapsulated the consummate community man: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Mayor Guthrie continued: “Tonight we are celebrating Johnny Mee, whose spirited inspiration, strength in the face of adversity and leadership abilities combined to make an indelible mark on his home town community.”
He also observed that in celebrating Johnny Mee ‘we are celebrating individual effort, community solidarity and committed unselfish action’.
Referring to his early days on Spencer Street, and his youth on McHale Road, he cited Mr Mee’s involvement with a plethora of organisations: Castlebar Celtic, Western Care, the St Patrick’s Day Parade committee and the Parish Magazine. He also mentioned his 56-year association with The Connaught Telegraph.
“Johnny represented Castlebar ably on both Castlebar Town Council and Mayo County Council, where his strong sense of social justice was evident in many a rousing speech and considered debate,” Mayor Guthrie also said.
Before presenting Mr Mee with his citation, he concluded: “It is rare for a community to come together to recognise the life work of one individual. The poet Robert Frost hit the nail on the head when he said ‘The world is full of willing people, some willing to work, the rest willing to let them’. We are privileged to be here tonight, as a Council and as a community, to salute the life achievements (so far) of a tireless worker … Johnny Mee.”
Responding with warmth and generosity to his fellow councillors and officials, Johnny Mee noted that it was 36 years since he was first elected to Castlebar Urban District Council.
“In that time Castlebar has changed dramatically from being a relatively small town to a large, bustling area, dare I say a small city,” Johnny Mee said.
“Our councillors have always worked assiduously for the progress and welfare of the people of Castlebar and the present council is a prime example of this, in my view the best council I have ever served with. And politics have always been left outside the door, as they should be,” he continued.
Before he wished the outgoing members the best of luck in the upcoming June elections, Mr Mee – with typical rhetorical flair – said that council business ‘is a serious matter’ but that there should always be room for ‘a certain amount of levity and good humour’.
“I will always remember the night when a young local man, after making a very constructive submission to the members of Castlebar Town Council, in true Shakespearean style, got down on bended knee, kissed the hand of one of the councillors, and uttered those famous words: ‘Goodnight, sweet prince’.”
Coincidentally, the former Cllr Mee was partial himself to Shakespearean interjections. While he desisted last Thursday night – and not withstanding Charles Haughey’s sullying of the Othello quote – it is true that he has ‘done the State some service, and they know it, no more of that’.
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