A great day in the history of Westport

De Facto

BLESSING Fr Charlie McDonnell performing the blessing of the newly unveiled plaques which are located at the MacBride statue on the Mall, part of the War of Independence commemoration ceremony which took place recently in Westport. Pic: Conor McKeown

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

It was a most pleasant evening where the past and present stood side by side, ensuring that the future is somewhat more secure. Even the weather stood to sunshine attention. The recent launch of ‘The Men of the West’ book, published by Westport Historical Society, attended by several hundred people, was a most memorable occasion, held on Westport’s South Mall in front of the Major John MacBride monument.
MC for the evening was Harry Hughes, one of the editors of the book, along with Seán Cadden, Vincent Keane and James Kelly.
Aughagower poet Ger Reidy got proceedings underway with his meadow poem on a dying volunteer, The Last Ambush. The poem is a powerhouse of feeling, emotion and memory. “Blood pulsing into the high grass / As the skylark flung notes like confetti / Into the long evening, too late now, / A time for memories, her embraces, / Family, mother, a sudden jolt of pain, / Writhing as the cuckoo and blackbird sang…”
A Tribute to Those Who Died 1916-1923 was beautifully read by Tomás O’Reilly, a poem written by his great-grandfather Edward O’Malley, a volunteer and author of Memories of a Mayo Man. Tomás’s delivery, tone and pitch were perfect and the poem read with great dignity. He was a joy to listen to.
Charlie Keating, Covie troubadour, delivered a pulsing rendition of Patrick’s Tunney’s song, The Carrowkennedy Ambush. Charlie has a wonderful repository of Tunney songs and is one of his best interpreters. Patrick Tunney’s songs and writings have been compiled into three volumes (available locally) by his grandson Liam Friel.
Memorabilia of volunteer Dr John Madden (1986-1954), presented to Patrick Breen, was in turn handed over to Mayo County Council through the Jackie Clarke Library. Dr Madden was first elected (by-election) in 1924 as a Sinn Féin TD. It was fitting that Rose Conway Walsh TD, the only Sinn Féin TD in Mayo since Dr Madden, was present.
Castlebar native, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett DSM, Chief of Staff, Óglaigh na hÉireann, then formally launched the book, The Men of the West. He paid tribute to the loyalty, dedication, commitment and sacrifice of those who fought in the past and those who defend the country today. He cited Emperor Maurice, “A nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.”
This was followed by the unveiling of two plaques (in Irish and English) listing all who took part in the fight for freedom. Descendants of the four battalions unveiled the plaques – Michael Ring TD, Orla Chambers, Judge Séamus Hughes and Eithne Kilroy. They also laid wreaths, as did Chief of Staff Mellett, John Mayock (Westport Historical Society) and Patrick, John and Karen Corrigan from Cleveland (Corrigan relatives in the volunteers). Families and friends of volunteers also laid wreaths.
Fr Charlie McDonnell was on hand to bless the plaques, praying also for our peacekeepers and those who work to keep us safe. It was fitting that the first ‘rain’ on the plaques was holy water! There was a sense of sanctity about the whole evening. The Last Post followed a minute’s silence.   
The resplendent Newport native, Commandant Kate Hanrahan, was on hand (as were her proud parents Antoinette and Bobby) with a Colour Party as the Irish National Flag was raised from half-mast to full mast. The Reveille sounded and Westport Town Band concluded proceedings with Amhrán na bhFiann.
It was a magnificent evening in the town’s history. The book is a tour de force, the launch evening was epic and there is also the www.westmayo.ie website. It is probably the most comprehensive website with information on local volunteers during the War of Independence. Historians, scholars, local history enthusiasts and the inquisitive will all find plenty to satisfy their needs.  
The West Mayo Centenary Commemoration Committee of Harry Hughes, Julie Connolly, Seán Cadden, Aiden Clarke, Séamus Hamilton, Edward Horkan, Brónach Joyce, Vincent Keane and James Kelly have done us all proud. Our parents and grandparents gone before us would be extremely happy with the work carried out by this selfless committee to ensure that the memory of our brave ancestors is not forgotten. What a legacy! Bail ó Dhia oraibh.