Killeenacoff, Westport formerly Knappagh, Westport
The people of Westport and its surrounding areas as well as people all over the county and province were greatly saddened to hear of the death of Jim (James) Staunton, a well known and respected member of the community on Saturday, May 4, 2019. Jim departed this life at his home in Killeenacoff surrounded by his family.
Jim was born on April 10, 1931 to John and Mary Staunton in the village of Knappagh, three miles from Westport on the Leenane Road. His only sibling, his sister Kathleen, was born five years later.
At the age of six Jim started school. For the next eight years he attended Knappagh National School (also known as Farnaught N.S.). Most of the subjects were taught through the Irish language which he loved and continued to use throughout his life, often using Irish words and phrases right up to the end of his life. Jim finished school at the age of fourteen having completed the 7th class. He always lauded the standard of primary education at that time and it served him well in life with many witnessing his ability to reckon lengthy bills in his head with amazing ease without having recourse to the till when he worked at his son, John’s shop in Knappagh. Jim received a prize for never missing a day in school. After completing hi schooling, Jim lived in Feenone, Louisburgh in order to take care of an elderly uncle for two years. From the age of sixteen he worked as an Agricultural Contractor for Tommie Rose (RIP) and his family.
In 1951, like many young men of his time, Jim left for England to work in the hay and other harvest fields of Lancashire and Yorkshire for the season, coming home for the Winter and repeating this cycle for a few years. Jim’s popularity with his employers at this time resulted in friendships that lasted ’til his death. Jim also worked at construction in Coventry City and later in Ford’s (motor) factory in Leamington Spa where his time in Great Britain ended and he returned home to help take care of his father who had become ill, a decision he never regretted. One of Jim’s first jobs on returning to Ireland was driving the mail van at Westport Post Office. After his father died in 1961 and to supplement the income from the farm, Jim worked part time for Jack and Patricia Gannon, Ashlawn, Newport Road, Westport, conveying the mail (as Gannons had the contract to do this) between Westport Post Office and Roonagh Point Post Office on a daily basis. At the same time Jim worked as a switch-board operator/telephonist at night and on Sundays at Westport Post Office. When Jack Gannon died suddenly in 1963, Jim started working full time with his wife Patricia and their three girls Mary, Celine and Patricia for almost sixteen years until the youngest daughter got married and her husband Liam Gibbons took over the management of Ashlawn (now Maxol) shop and filling station. The years spent at Ashlawn on the Newport Road were happy ones for Jim and he is remembered affectionately by those who recalled his good humour and courtesy on the forecourt of the petrol filling station, in the shop or just by those passing up and down the road. As Fr King in the homily of his funeral Mass said ‘It was more than providing a service at a busy spot. It was the ’word’ he had for people, service with a smile, the personal touch of his personality. The encouraging comment”. Many people may not have been aware that during these years and for a while afterwards it was Jim who delivered many of the Sunday newspapers to their local newsagent around the Westport area and even as far as Louisburgh. It was a very early morning job that Jim undertook consistently and reliably in all kinds of weather to ensure nobody would be deprived their favourite Sunday paper.
After Jim retired from the full time farming which he had taken up after working at Ashlawn, he returned to employment for seven and a half years when he went back behind the counter at ‘Knappagh Stores’ the shop, filling station, pub and Cafe which John opened in Knappagh. Jim mostly worked in the shop/filling station and a new era of customers were the recipients of his cheerful and courteous service.
In 1963 Jim married his beloved wife, Margaret (née Ludden) and they lived at his home place in Knappagh until 1989 when they moved to Margaret’s home place in Killeenacoff. Jim was a committed family man. He was a kind and considerate father. His wisdom and kindly advice offered respectfully to family and friends always proved invaluable. His only sibling, his sister Kathleen paid many tributes over the years to him as a brother who was kind and generous. He thoroughly enjoyed being a grandfather and took especial delight in seeing his grandchildren play Irish music and sing. Many were the evenings of impromptu music, song and dance sessions enjoyed by the extended family around Jim and Margaret’s fire when Jim would sing the old songs and tell the jokes he loved in his own inimitable style.
Jim Staunton was a community orientated person, always willing to give a helping hand where it was needed. Along with being a good neighbour he served his local community in many ways. As a Eucharistic Minister in St Mary’s Church, Westport Jim served his Church community for thirty years. He was deeply committed to his faith and found great comfort in it right to the end of his life. The school community also benefited from Jim’s service when he was a member of the Parents Council of the Sacred Heart School, Westport. A former principal of the school kindly paid tribute to his support of the secondary school his daughters attended. Jim was also greatly honoured to be asked by the Sisters of Mercy to ring the bell of the convent church in Westport for the last Mass to be held there. The wider community was also served by Jim when he worked as a member of the Meals on Wheels team for the Social Services and as an advisor at the Citizen’s Information Bureau. At Christmas he often paid a visit to the MacBride Home to sing for the residents there.
Jim had a deep love for the village in which he was born and Knappagh was the subject of a booklet he wrote which documents the houses and the people that lived in them during his childhood. His memory for people and places (probably because of his great interest in them) was razor sharp right to the end of his life. Writing was something Jim always enjoyed and his contributions to historical journals or music periodicals were always to the point and interesting.
No stranger to radio and the occasional appearance on local TV, Jim rose to the occasion with the ease of a natural performer. In the early 2000s his image on a 1950s John Hinde postcard caused Jim to feature on a TG4 television programme which recreated scenes from well known Irish postcards, and he received much acclaim for his appearance on this show. Jim was at ease on the stage too. He was always the ’go to guy’ when an M.C was needed for some show or other and he even had an opportunity to ‘tread the boards’ when he played a role in a local production of J.M Synge’s “The Shadow of the Glen”.
After his family, probably Jim’s most lasting legacy and one he was deeply proud of because of his love for Irish music and culture, is that he was a founder member of the Westport branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann which is still a thriving part of the Westport community to this day. Along with being president of the Westport branch of Comhaltas for many years even to the time of his death, Jim was also president of the County Board and of the Connaught Council. He held every post in the organisation over the years. He also helped organise many successful ceilís, cabarets and set dancing events in Westport along with Mayo and Connaught Fleadhanna over the years. He contributed greatly to the revival of Irish music and culture in this county. In recognition of this, Jim was the recipient of a national award from Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann in appreciation of service and dedication to the organisation and the promotion of Ireland’s native culture. The high esteem in which he was held by his colleagues in C.C.E was borne out by the large group of members and former members that formed a guard of honour which accompanied Jim on his final trip through his beloved Westport as far as The Octagon after his funeral Mass. The many people from all over Mayo and Connaught that he met at C.C.E events over the years and that came to pay their respects over the four days of his wake and funeral were also a testament to Jim’s popularity in traditional music circles . So many young musicians and singers (including those who went on to be All Ireland winners) spoke of how Jim encouraged them all the way. The Jim Staunton Memorial Shield is a prize awarded to the winner of the concertina competition in the twelve to fifteen age category at the Mayo Fleadh in recent years. However, Jim’s area of special interest was in Irish traditional ballad singing and in his seventies he recorded his favourite songs and ballads on a CD entitled ‘The Cottage on the Hill’.
Jim’s wake took place at his son’s home in Knappagh on Monday, May 6. It was a traditional wake that would have appealed to Jim’s respect for tradition and lived up to his high standards of hospitality with people staying on to have a chat and a cup of tea served by good neighbours, friends and family. The family was impressed but not surprised by the large crowd that came to pay their respects. The heartfelt tributes paid to Jim by the many friends, young and old he had made over the years were a great comfort to the family. The comment that was made over and over again as people offered their sympathy was that Jim was a gentleman (some even mentioned the words icon and legend! ) and said that his passing was the end of an era. That he was a gentleman was a sentiment re-iterated by his son, John in the eulogy delivered at his funeral Mass and by Fr King in his homily when he mentioned Jim’s ‘gentle manliness’. Along with prayers said earlier in the evening by Fr King, the family was honoured by the presence at the wake of an t-athair Micheál MacGréil who later in the evening along with family and friends recited the rosary, punctuated by insightful meditations on the resurrection which Jim would have appreciated as the rosary was his favourite prayer and one he said daily. Kindly neighbours and friends stayed up all night to accompany Jim on his final night in his beloved village and in the morning Fr Quirke joined family and friends for prayers before Jim left Knappagh to go to the church.
A large crowd gathered in St Mary’s church, Westport on Tuesday May 7, for the funeral Mass at noon. As the crowd paid their respects to the family current and past members of C.C.E. played the music Jim loved. The funeral Mass was celebrated by Fr Tony King as requested by Jim himself. Fr Tony’s homily was a lovely tribute to the man he had known for many years. The Mass was concelebrated by Fr Gerard Quirke who visited Jim at his home during his illness and showed kindness and concern for his family in their bereavement. An t-athair Micheál MacGréil again honoured Jim’s memory and the family by joining Fr King and Fr Quirke in concelebrating the funeral Mass.
Many of the gifted Westport traditional musicians and the talented Heneghan and Healy families from Castlebar provided the music to accompany Jim’s favourite hymns.
The all-Ireland winning traditional singer, Nollaig NicAindriu, a favourite singer of Jim’s made the trip from Galway to sing a beautiful psalm in Irish and another favourite, All-Ireland winning Sean Nós singer, 17 year old Paddy Heneghan sang the “Our Father” as gaeilge. Symbols representing Jim’s dedication to his faith, family, native place and music were brought to the altar. His granddaughters, son-in-law, nieces, neighbours and friends did the readings and prayers of the faithful and all his granddaughters sang his favourite hymns. There was a special tribute paid to Jim at the end of Mass when the well known and loved singer Sean Keane sang a beautiful and moving rendition of “The home I left behind” a song often sung by Jim himself as the coffin was led out of the church. Jim’s family are very grateful to Seán for making the trip to Westport to sing for him. The family was touched by the lovely Westport tradition of showing respect for the deceased by shutting their businesses and standing on the street for the duration of the cortege. After the prayers led by Fr Quirke and Fr Micheál MacGréil in Aughavale cemetery Seán Keane and Paddy Heneghan appropriately sang that haunting melody “The May Morning Dew”as Jim’s coffin was lowered on that fine May day.
Probably more than his many accomplishments Jim is best known for his many acts of kindness, hospitality and encouragement to people from all walks of life over the years which were recounted by so many people to the family over the days of his wake and funeral.
Jim leaves behind him the friends and family who all agree that Jim Staunton was a man of honesty, integrity and courtesy and as Fr King said in his homily “decency carries so much which we associate and cherish in the Irish character. Jim was all that - a decent man.”
Jim will be sadly missed by his wife Margaret, son John, daughters Catherina, Claire and Olivia, sister Kathleen Lyons in Chicago, daughter-in-law Evelyn, sons-in-law Albert Randall, Pat Garavan and John Thornton, grandchildren: Jamie and Emma Staunton, Lee and Alanna Randall, Ava and Chloe Garavan and Faye and Hannah Thornton. Jim will also be sadly missed by his nieces and nephew in America: Mary, Richard, Anne, Sheila and Bernadette Lyons, by his brother-in-law, Jim Mitchell and nieces-in-law as well as by his many friends.
Ní fheicimid a leitheid arís agus ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dhilís.