IT’S a sign of the continuing growth of Mayo General Hospital that, every year, the hospital’s in-house staff magazine New Era gets bigger and bigger.
It is a tribute to co-editors, John Walsh and Audrey Gallagher, that they can manage to pack so much hospital news from so many departments between the covers of New Era.
Now in its 27th year of publication, New Era performs a key role in writing the common interests of a staff of now well over 1,200 people, many of whom may not really meet each other in person from one year to the next.
One of the downsides of such rapid growth in Mayo General is that, outside of one’s own discipline or role, there is less opportunity for social interaction. That is where things like the social committee – again kept in shape by the timeless John Walsh – and the staff magazine are of such importance.
While New Era is primarily a magazine for staff, by staff, there is much to interest the hospital outsider, not least to put a face on those diligent experts in white coats who run the health service as far as Mayo is concerned.
There are excellent tributes to all who retired during the year, not least Dr John Murphy, whose 30 years of service as consultant in geriatrics came to an end last October. Quite apart from the role he had played as one of Mayo’s most respected and well-liked consultants, John Murphy had been one of that dedicated team which, through the 1980s, led the lobbying to obtain approval and funding for the flagship hospital which is there today.
Even for the non-staff reader, there is plenty of meat in the article titled ‘Tempus Fugit’, in which Stephen McLoughlin reflects on the many changes in Castlebar since he first arrived here from Dublin just 40 years ago. Stephen’s stroll down memory lane leaves few stones unturned as he charts the changes which have turned Ireland inside out in those four decades. But, as he concludes, we may all be better off, but at what cost.
“The community spirit that was once evident in towns like Castlebar is gone,” he remarks, not without regrets. “Today most towns seem to be surrounded by soulless housing estates, when no one knows anyone and cares less. We have gained a lot over the last decade, but at what price?”
Paul Eustace dips into his travel memories, this time for a visit to Dresden and the famed Frauenkirche. This Cathedral with its distinctive dome was redused to rubble in 1945 when the Allied bombers carried out devastating aerial attacks on the city. In 1992, a decision was made to re-build the church with allied help and funding. The work took nine years and the church was formally dedicated in October 2006. Symbolically, the cross on the dome of the church came as a gift from the city of Coventry, which itself had been extensively damaged in the same war. Returning there for a visit last year, Paul Eustace found a church which has once again become the focal point for the people of Dresden.
New Era continues to be well produced, generously illustrated with hospital photographs, and full with background detail of the hospital and the people who work within its walls.
It may not be getting any easier to hunt down contributions or articles and reports from busy colleagues, but John Walsh and Audrey Gallagher know it is a job well done.
DOWNEY DAY IN THE US
IT’S not every Irish local councillor who can boast of an American parade named in his honour, but the affable PJ Downey of Ballina is one.
Now retired from active politics, former Fianna Fáil member of Ballina Council, PJ Downey, is so fondly remembered in Scranton, Pennsylvania, that the St Patrick’s Day celebrations there are to be known as Downey Day.
When present members of the Council unanimously agreed to send Mr Downey to Scranton to officially represent the town this year, they paid glowing tributes to him for all he had done at a time when councillor trips to far flung places were not as fashionable as they are today.
Those acquainted with the affable PJ Downey will agree that the Scranton recognition is an honour well deserved.
MICKIE BERRY’S POSTAL MEMORIES
WITH question marks hanging over the future of the post office network, and with recurring charges that the postal delivery service is getting worse rather than better, it was interesting to leaf through an account of how things used to be 50 years ago.
Written by Mickie Berry for the Cathair na Mart Journal of two years ago, the piece about the running of the Westport Post Office in the 1950s is a dip back into the pages of yesteryear.
With a wonderful recall of detail, right down to train times, delivery routes and the precise methodology which got mail from point A to point B reliably on time, Mickie Berry’s account is of a complex system of logistics which, in the hands of experienced men and women, was down to a fine art.
In his own case, he became the temporary postman for the Derrygorman duty in 1946, at the weekly wage of two pounds, 12 shillings and six pence. But it is his recall of that network of manoeuvres which brought the mail to every part of Ireland from the central sorting office in Dublin that stirs the memory.
All mails were carried to and from Dublin by train, in special vans attached to the main passenger trains and known as TPOS, or Travelling Post Office Sorting vans.
As they sped up and down to the capital twice a day each way, experienced and skilled staff, working in the vans sorted the letters for the various post offices en route.
The golden rule was that all correspondence was guaranteed next day delivery. That commitment went back to colonial rule, when the British rulers in Dublin were insistent that any instructions to the forces down the country had to be delivered next day, and any report from the provinces had to be received back in Dublin the next day.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Post Office was king. In the 12 days before Christmas, it would be normal practice at Westport Post Office to work from 4am to 10pm each day, to deal with the volume of mail. Up to 300 sacks of parcels would be sent daily through Westport for the week before Christmas.
Mickie Berry recalls that the upper weight limit on parcels was 11 pounds, something which would cause problems for people sending turkeys to England.
“Most of the fowl sent to England would not be edible when it arrived at its destination,” he recalled, “but the recipient would never tell that to the sender, as offence could be taken.”
Once the Christmas rush was over, however, there was no long holiday. Normal dispatch of mail was resumed on St Stephen’s Day – unless that happened to be a Sunday.
“If it was, that would be a free day,” Mickie wryly concluded.
CLOSING THE FOXFORD LOOP
WHEN the Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Gerry Coyle, leads a deputation to Argentina for ceremonies next week, it will represent the most significant step forward yet in a project which is only now gaining full momentum.
The Mayo deputation will be attending ceremonies to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Foxford-born Admiral William Brown, founder of the Argentine Navy, and a revered hero in that country’s history.
The visit, it is hoped, will culminate in a formal twinning ceremony between Mayo and the county of Allmirante Brown, called after the Irishman. The result will be a huge expansion in cultural, educational and commercial ties between the two countries.
The development marks a milestone in the long campaign by the Brown committee in Foxford (headed by JJ O’Hara) to establish links with Argentina which would reflect the importance of the Brown connection.
TAKING THE MICK AND THE INNER SELF
THERE is a mini industry out there which thrives on self-help books, and a myriad of newspaper columnists who can waffle endlessly about self-help advice.
There are lifestyle gurus who can happily go on for hours about the need to release your inner child, to get in touch with your inner self, to harness the power of the cosmos, to challenge your own limits, to go outside yourself, to get to know yourself.
There are little books of calm, little books of wisdom, the little book of self-discovery, the little book of you.
If you feel that you’ve taken as much as you can take of the spiritual shortcuts, take hope, A new little book by a writer called Alistair Beaton bursts the bubble of the gurus.
The Little Book of Complete B...CKS is a hilarious send-up of all the distilled, airy fairy admonitions of the lifestyle experts, written in the same vague, ethereal style of the true devotee.
Your mind – Your mind is like the surface of a lake. It is calm and smooth, until anxious thoughts start ruffling the surface. Drain the lake. Empty your mind. Where there is no water, there can be no surface. Where there is no mind, there can be no anxiety. The empty mind is the beginning of wisdom.
Never Too Late – Does it feel too late to change your life? If so, put all the clocks in the house back by at least three hours. Now, use those extra hours to change your life.
Appearances – You don’t really need make-up. Celebrate your authentic face by frightening people in the street.
Trust – Trust your feelings. Give them space to express themselves. Let them go out to the shops on their own. (But tell them not to take sweets from strangers).
FINE GAEL ON A MAYO ROLL
WITH increased hopes within Fine Gael that the party will capture three of the five Dáil seats in Mayo in the coming election, there is more pressure than ever on Fianna Fáil to do better than the one seat it holds at the moment.
Those who dismiss Fine Gael’s three-out-of-five hopes would do well not to forget that, ten years ago, that was exactly the story, when Enda Kenny, (pictured left), Michael Ring and Jim Higgins gave the party a huge psychological advantage over its old rivals.
If indeed Enda Kenny can reproduce the magic once again, then there is one almighty scramble in the offing, with John Carty, Frank Chambers and Dara Calleary of Fianna Fáil, Beverley Flynn and Jerry Cowley all battling for the remaining two.
For Fianna Fáil, this is really a battle to the wire. Re-electing John Carty will simply not be enough. Counting on Beverley Flynn as the fourth, unofficial Fianna Fáil nominee – Fianna Fáil in everything but name, as local activists like to say – is a dubious enough proposition.
The real battle will be whether Dara Calleary, very much the favoured son of FF headquarters, or the dogged, grassroots Frank Chambers can swing the day.
Chambers is his own man and when the Dublin ‘suits’ tried to stop his progress at convention level, they were taught a sore lesson. Whether they have learned anything is quite another matter, and there is an undoubted belief that the Newport man is still being given the cold shoulder treatment by the top brass. Time will tell whether Chambers will surprise them all once again.