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Mayos in Boston celebrate centenary

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Mayos celebrate century-long journey

One hundred years of Mayo activity in Boston was celebrated last week, with Killawalla priest, Fr Michael Tracey, honoured

Michael Duffy
in Boston

BOSTON’S reputation as the world’s most Irish city – outside of Ireland – was further enhanced last weekend as Mayo men and women from far and wide came together in celebratory mood to mark the 100th anniversary of the official chartering of the Mayo Men’s Benevolent Association.
Close on 700 people gathered in the well-appointed Moseley’s on the Charles venue in Dedham bedecked in red and green ties and rosettes to reminisce and acknowledge the hugely important role the association has played in the lives of Mayo people who crossed the Atlantic to start a new life.
After months of preparation and organisation, Evelyn Fennessy, a native of Roonith in Louisburgh, who has been President of the Association for the last decade, declared herself delighted with the function itself and the weekend of activities which followed.
“It was quite a gathering and we were delighted with the reaction received from the people of Boston and of course from the hundreds who travelled such long distances to be here to celebrate with us. Everyone [from Mayo] is proud of the way people from there have really stuck together. There seems to be a great bond and they’ve kept it together down through the last century,” said Evelyn, who was accompanied by her husband Noel and her sons on what was obviously a very proud night for the Roonith woman.
Saturday night’s function had an adept Master of Ceremonies in the shape of Thomas J Leetch, Chairman of the Dinner Committee, and a native of Kilkelly and it was he who introduced the special guests from the top table to the crowd – Éamon Ó Cuív, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; David Barry, Consul General of Ireland, who has been resident in Boston since 2005; Cllr Joe Mellett, Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council; Des Mahon, Mayo County Manager, and the chosen recipient as the Association’s Mayo Person of the Year for 2008, Fr Michael Tracey, a native of Killawalla whose work in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina has been heralded both in Ireland and the US.
Mr Leetch said he was extremely honoured and privileged to be chosen as Chairman for the anniversary banquet.
“I am also very proud to be a member of the County Mayo Association of Boston and I am  extremely proud to be a ‘narrowback’ from the county of Mayo,” added Mr Leetch, before allowing the special guests to address the function.
Minister Ó Cuív said he was honoured to be asked to attend the function as, in doing so, he was following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Eamon de Valera.
“He came here in 1919 as President of the Republic and, incidentally at that time – a fact that is often forgotten – he was a TD for East Mayo, elected in 1918. When he came here at that time he was looking for recognition of Irish independence and I think it shows how far we have all come that I can address you here tonight as a democratically-elected and appointed representative of a country recognised throughout the world. Mayo men were indeed very involved in that visit of 1919 and were very involved in collecting monies for the victory fund. He was accompanied here by Louisburgh native, Patrick F Hastings from the Mayo Association. Sixty-thousand people came to listen to de Valera in Fenway Park and I am sure the ancestors of many people here in this hall tonight were at that occasion,” said Minister Ó Cuív.
Mayo Person of the Year, Fr Michael Tracey, spoke at length about the trials and tribulations he experienced in his parish of Our Lady of the Gulf in Bay St Louis in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He also admitted to being ‘humbled’ by being chosen for the prestigious accolade.
“I have to say, this is one of my proudest moments since I was ordained, and it is indeed very humbling. I didn’t do anything dramatic, I didn’t do anything special, I did something everyone here would do if they were in my shoes. When we find ourselves in situations like this we have no choice but to move on, the cards that are dealt to us in life, we play. They are not of our choosing, it is up to us to play them the best we can.”
Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Joe Mellett, said he was proud of the fact that the contribution of Mayo men to the history of life in Boston had been a significant one.
“Emigration has touched the lives of nearly every family in County Mayo and for the majority this was caused through economic necessity. We have to acknowledge the huge role the US has played in the lives of these Mayo and Irish people and the knock-on economic benefit.”
John McGuire, Secretary of the County Mayo Association in Boston, welcomed all the associations who had travelled especially to attend the function: the Mayo Association of Dublin and its President Pearse Culkin; the Mayo Association of Galway and its President Seamus Murray; the Mayo Association of Toronto and its President, Claremorris native Kathleen Morley; the Mayo Association of Philadelphia and its President Maureen Brett Saxon; the Mayo Association of New York and its President, Bekan native Mike Regan, as well as representatives from other associations in Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon.
The following are the officers of the County Mayo Association in Boston: President, Evelyn Fennessy; Vice President, Maureen Stuart; Secretary, John McGuire; Treasurer, Joseph Heneghan; Assistant Treasurer, Eamon Gardiner; PRO, Áine Greaney; Historian, Joyce Cannon.
The Chairman of the Dinner Committee was Thomas J Leetch and Paddy O’Malley was in charge of reservations, while the following were on the committee which put together an extensive commemoration journal: Paul Cannon, Ann Cremins, Jimmy Cremins, Tommy Cremins, Mary Forde, Mary Frazier, Mary Gardiner, Mary Heneghan, Carmel Kerrigan, Vincent Kerrigan, Veronica Moore, Rory Moore, Mary Norton, Austin O’Malley, Peggy O’Malley and Mary Rohan.
With all the formalities out of the way, the large crowd settled down to enjoy the music of the Noel Henry Showband, which was ably assisted by the dulcet tones of Ballyhaunis man Kevin Prendergast and Westport’s John Staunton.
On Sunday morning, another large crowd turned up at the magnificent Irish Cultural Centre in Canton for a special commemorative Mass concelebrated by Fr Michael Tracey.