WHEN, this coming June, the Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Gerry Coyle, sits down to reflect on his year of office, the March trip to Argentina will emerge as most significant.
The Mayo invasion of Argentina, which is taking place this week, has as its central point the World Convention of Mayo Associations, but behind the scenes much work will be undertaken to cement the ties between Argentina and the birth county of naval hero, Admiral William Brown.
Speaking at a reception at the civic headquarters of the Municipality Almirante Brown, Mr Coyle explained that one of his key objectives was the signing of a formal twinning agreement between Mayo and the Argentinian county named after William Brown.
He pointed out to his hosts that, while Argentina, as a young country, newly independent from the Spanish empire, was free to decide to name a geographical county after William Brown (founder of its navy and a hero of the country’s bid for freedom), Ireland did not have a similar advantage.
But Mayo’s admiration and pride in the achievements of Admiral William Brown are substantial, he said, reflected in the fact that he himself was the third Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council to have visited Municipality Almirante Brown in the past three years.
The obvious next step would be the formalisation of a twinning agreement between the two counties, with all the spin-off benefits that would mean in trade, tourism, commerce and education. Exchange visits, he said, would be facilitated for voluntary bodies, sporting clubs, cultural organisations and youth groups, all with the aim of fostering goodwill and mutual contacts.
The Argentina visit represents a triumph, especially for Foxford businessman, JJ O’Hara, the tireless campaigner for the idea of twinning, both as a cultural asset in its own right, but also as a recognition of the huge potential which exists in linking the people of Argentina with Brown’s birthplace of Foxford in Mayo.
Nobody can be in any doubt that, given the goodwill generated by the Irish invasion of last week, the question of ever closer contacts can now be taken for granted. Brown, the revered hero of the Argentine nation, 150 years after his death, is set to play the key role in the twinning, which is due to become a reality.
WESTPORT FAMILY’S ARTS SUPPORT
IT is entirely appropriate that the late Liam Walsh of Westport continues to be remembered by way of the generous arts award which will prove of practical benefit to its winners.
A practical man in every sense of the word, Liam Walsh was also imbued with a deep sense of community service, which he applied all through his life to the betterment of Westport. Like all busy people, he was the one to find the time to devote to voluntary and sporting activity – golf or rugby, junior chamber or development associations, chamber of commerce or tourism action.
In conjunction with Mayo County Council, his family have initiated the Liam Walsh arts awards, which this year sees €20,000 being presented to two Mayo artists.
Elaine Griffin, whose speciality is in glass-making and who opened her studio in Westport in 1995, is the beneficiary of €15,000, while Chris Doris, who lives in Lacken, gets €5,000. Chris is specially known for his many site specific art works, mainly his 40 days and 40 nights on Croagh Patrick, a theme which would be close to the heart of the man in whose name the awards have been initiated.
The Liam Walsh award is designed to support practising artists and is open to practitioners of all art forms living in, or native of, Co Mayo. Submissions are assessed by an independent external panel of experts.
The Walsh family are to be commended on their practical recognition of artistic endeavour, coupled with the realisation that artists do not live on fresh air. There seems to be a long held maxim that artists, to be successful, must struggle with poverty and insecurity before their true worth is finally recognised. Liam Walsh, a successful businessman in so many fields, would be the first to acknowledge that, even for artists, money makes the world go round.
CHORAL PREMIERE OF ‘CREDO’
THIS coming Friday marks a unique event in the Mayo choral calendar with the first performance in the west of an acclaimed new composition.
The choral piece, ‘Credo’, composed by Brent Parker to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, will be performed at Christ Church in Castlebar.
The New Zealand-born composer and musician, who has lived and worked in Ireland for more than 40 years, now lives in Achill Island. His piece will be performed by the parish choir of the Church of the Holy Rosary, Castlebar, under Sr Mary Johnson, joined by friends from the Mayo Male Voice Choir.
‘Credo’ will be the centrepiece of a choral evening which will also feature Rev Gary Hastings, Nollaig McAndrew, Paul Eustace and Eileen Grier Gavin.
CAN BALLINA WIN BACK ITS SEAT?
THE gloves are beginning to come off for an election battle in Mayo which promises to be the most fiercely contested in many years.
Key to the eventual outcome (and perhaps to the shape of the next Dáil ) will be whether Ballina is up to the task of winning back a Dáil seat for the town. That Ballina does not have a sitting TD is a matter of much frustration in the north Mayo capital, and in Michelle Mulherin of Fine Gael or Dara Calleary of Fianna Fáil, there is the opportunity to put things right.
Calleary hit the ground running, made the headlines and quickly established a profile as a man who knew all the right buttons to push with Fianna Fáil ministers and senior party strategists. But pundits would be foolish to write off the more solid track record and the political base which Michelle Mulherin has built for herself. Any candidate who has won elections to both Ballina Town Council and Mayo County Council is a force to be reckoned with. Expect the Mulherin star to continually rise over the next few months.
Ballina’s lack of political representation is in sharp contrast to Castlebar, where it is now almost an article of faith that the town always makes sure to return its two TDs every time. The Kenny-Flynn axis has, election after election, guaranteed Castlebar a say at national level no matter who is in power, much to the grudging envy of other equally large centres of population.
Beverley Flynn must be mightily relieved at the strange decision of Fianna Fáil not to run a party candidate in the county town, especially when there was no shortage of takers. And while the conspiracy theorists might insist that it is all part of the bigger plot to ease her way back with Fianna Fáil when the dust settles, others hold that it’s all back down to another example of Fianna Fáil’s fumbling when it comes to putting some sort of shape on its organisation in Mayo.
This time, and with Enda Kenny wearing the blazer of the alternative Taoiseach, Flynn will be more anxious than every that the old Castlebar loyalty to its hometown TDs will do the business for her.
KILLALA’S TELFORD MASTERPIECE
AMONG the lesser known treasures of Mayo is a magnificent 200 year old Telford organ, which is housed in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Killala. It is probably the last remaining example of what have been considered masterpieces of design and construction, and which were once more common throughout the country.
Author, Steve Dunford, in his A Stroll Through Old Killala, devotes space to the history of the Telford organ, as well as making a timely plea for its restoration to its former glory.
It was in the early part of the 19th century, under the episcopacy of Bishop James Verschoyle, that the clergy of Killala began a subscription list for the building of an organ for the cathedral. As a result of their appeal, the then substantial sum of almost €136 was collected and ‘Master Organ Builder’ Mr William Telford of Dublin was commissioned to build the instrument. A full list of those who subscribed may still be seen in the cathedral.
According to Steve Dunford, although there are numerous examples of Telford’s work to be found throughout the country in various states of repair and preservation, very few are in their original condition, and many have been altered beyond recognition. It is, therefore, of particular historical interest and significance that the Killala organ is considered to be one of the last remaining examples of the work of William Telford, in its original form, to be found in Ireland.
Although now in poor shape, with leaking bellows, the ‘Killala Telford’ is certainly not beyond repair. Bearing in mind what we know of it, adds Dunford, ‘this wonderful distinctive and priceless instrument not only deserves to be restored to its full glory – it demands it’.
The cathedral itself, built on the site of a fifth century chapel on lands reputedly donated to Muredach, a disciple of St Patrick, has had a long and chequered history. Renovated in 1398 by Bishop Thomas Orwell, it was subject to further repairs by Bishop Thomas Barrett in 1410, Bishop Owen O’Connor in 1591 and Bishop Myles McGrath in 1607.
In 1645, Bishop Francis Kirwan embarked on an ambitious fund-raising campaign towards a major restoration, only to fall victim of the conflict and unrest which had gripped the country. His funds ran out, he was exiled to France, the cathedral was despoiled and fell into disrepair.
But better times were to follow. When Thomas Otaway was consecrated Bishop of Killala in 1671, he resolved to restore the cathedral, undertaking the re-building of the ruin from its foundations. The cathedral came safely through the turbulence of 1798 to survive and become the historic landmark which it is today.
THE LONG ROADS OF MAYO
THOSE pre-election promises of major road plans for Mayo were blown sky high at a meeting between the Western Roads Action Committee and the National Roads Authority last week.
In what can only be described as the bleakest of bleak pictures, the men from the west were baldly told that there would be no road progress in the west until 2010. All the fanciful talk of the completion of the N26 Ballina to Foxford and the execution of the N5 from Castlebar to Westport was sunk in a sea of reality, dished out by the NRA.
The N26 will not be started (let alone finished) until 2010, and the N5 has a starting date even later again. In other words, having been hoodwinked out of €500 million on roads alone in the last National Development Plan, we will be two-thirds of the way through the new NDP before a real penny in roads infrastructure will be spent on Mayo’s top priority road schemes.
Priority will be given to the five main national routes commencing in Dublin, which will not be completed until 2010. After that, it might be Mayo’s turn, just in time for another general election.