UNVEILING A plaque dedicated to Mná Acla unveiled along the Atlantic Drive in Achill last week
A PLAQUE dedicated to the women of Achill who reared their children and looked after their farms while their husbands worked in Britain was unveiled on the island last week.
Achill native Saoirse McHugh, who was a Green Party candidate in the European Elections in May, had the honour of unveiling the plaque entitled ‘Mná Acla’. Located along the Atlantic Drive in Cloughmore, the plaque is dedicated to ‘the Achill women who coped with loneliness and hardship in the absence of their menfolk who were forced to emigrate to provide for their families’.
Seasonal emigration became a way of life in Achill from the late 1800s when Achill people would work on farms in Britain but in the post-World War II era the majority of men worked in construction.
In many cases, married women remained in Achill to raise their children and look after the small holdings while their husbands worked months at a time without seeing their family.
Speaking at the unveiling Ms McHugh said she was honoured to unveil the plaque but also reluctant to do so because her generation’s life has been so easy compared to that of her grandparents.
“Our life has been so easy … I have had free secondary level education and State-subsidised third-level education and got to travel the world. My life has been so easy I can only just imagine the work that these women did.
“There was the physical work and the rearing of children but what compounded that was the loneliness. It was a loneliness of waiting for a letter and for someone to come home for two weeks or waiting for money. All of this was in living memory and it was all for use so their descendants can have a better life here on Achill,” she said.
A way of life
While the poverty of Achill has changed, Ms McHugh said that emigration was still a way of life for Achill people and it was up to the current generation to reverse that trend to ensure the sacrifices of their grandparents were not in vain.
The event was organised as part of the Féile Chill Damhnait festival on Achill Island and a large number of people attended the unveiling. Master of Ceremonies on the evening, local historian Vivian Ruddy commented that the sacrifices the previous generations made were to ensure that their children could have a better education and life.
He said they asked Saoirse McHugh to unveil the plaque after she commented on emigration from Achill in television debates before the European elections.
Vivian Ruddy said the idea for the plaque was conceived by Imelda Molloy and Breege O’Connor who later that evening launched their booklet also entitled ‘Mná Acla’. This looks at how women coped with the loneliness and hardship of life and Vivian thanked them for their research and to everyone who helped in anyway to honour the women of Achill.