Every so often we get clear reminders of who we are and where we come from. Our past is presented in a clear documentary manner, evidence based, historically accurate and wonderfully portrayed.
The new book, ‘The Men of the West’, published by Westport Historical Society, is such a reminder. Edited by Seán Cadden, Harry Hughes, Vincent Keane and James Kelly, the book joins the rank of another classic book on local history Remember Us, published by the Tiernaur Oral History Group.
‘The Men of the West’ focuses on the West Mayo Brigade during the War of Independence 1919-1921. A picture, taken in 1922, spread over the book’s inside title pages, shows hundreds of West Mayo Brigade Volunteers gathered after the reinterment of Volunteer Jim Duffy who was accidently killed in April 1921. It gives some indication of the numbers of families directly affected by the happenings of the day.
The Mayo Brigade was formed in 1917 under Joseph MacBride as OC. In September 1920 it was divided into four Brigades - north, south, east and west. The West Mayo Brigade had four battalions, each with its own Active Service Unit. Tom Derrig was the first OC. Following his arrest in 1921 Michael Kilroy took over as OC. The Active Service Units were later amalgamated to form one single flying column of about 60 Volunteers, average age 22 years old. Michael Kilroy, OC, was the eldest at 36 and Thomas Heavey the youngest at 16.
The book is beautifully laid out, starting with a timeline of events in the West Mayo Brigade area. This context is duly served by the text, from the Foreword by Vice-Admiral Mark Mellett, the Preface by Harry Hughes (Chair, Centenary Committee) through articles by Seán Cadden, Vincent Keane, James Kelly, Capt Patrick E Maye, Dr Myles Mac Evilly, Jarlath Duffy, Edward Horkan, Peadar Ó Flanagáin, Peggy Cadden, Seán Connolly, Piaras Ó Raghallaigh, John McCormack, Anthony J Jordan, Carmel Hughes, Western People, John Joyce, Patrick Tunney, Richard Joyce, Fr Vincent Kelly, Peter McLoughlin, Anthony Leonard, Michael Farrell, Anthony Moran, Harry Hughes, Michael Moran, Margaret Lynch and Patrick Corrigan.
The book is also graced with historical and personal snapshots of Volunteers, photographs of recent centenary events, poems, songs and generous reference notes for each chapter. This allows further study for interested parties. It has features on some of the great local names like Thomas Derrig, Michael Kilroy, Joe Ring, John Madden, Joe MacBride and Jim Moran (The Newport Volunteer), among others.
Like most people I searched for relations – Willie and Seán Malone from High Street, my grandmother’s brothers. Grandmother, Mary (Malone) Hastings also featured as a member of Cumann na mBan. My late uncle, Seán Hastings, proudly boasted on his final visit home from Worcester, Boston as we drove up High Street that Tom Derrig was his Godfather.
There are 46 chapters in the book; all interlinked yet each one can stand on its own, bringing a unique colour to the overall tapestry of history that is being weaved between the covers. The stories and history are complemented by the companion websites www.westmayo.ie and www.westport1916.com. Ongoing articles in this paper, under the excellent stewardship of Edwin McGreal, also act to bring more colour, information and understanding to that period of our past.
The great joy of this book is that we neither have to hide nor be ashamed of our history. There was a period when any reference to a Republican past was sneered at. This book, (and others like ‘Remember Us – The People’s War’, Newport Area, Mayo 1914-1924), is a timely reminder that after hundreds of years of repression our Irish forefathers (and foremothers) formed a state that radiates peace.
In the Foreword, Mark Mellett states: “Today we are privileged to live in an Irish State that is in the top seven per cent of most peaceful countries in the world.” That’s some legacy from our troubled past. We owe an incalculable debt to those who fought for our freedom, men and women who let truth be their guiding star.
The editorial board and committee deserve our heartfelt thanks for their dedication, work and professionalism. Míle buíochas. ‘The Men of the West – West Mayo Brigade’ is available in all local bookshops for €25.