Ireland's heritage village

County View

Turlough ideal as Ireland’s Heritage Village 

WELL might Turlough be described as Ireland’s leading renewed village, the opening there of the Museum of Country Life providing the catalyst for the transformation of Turlough to what promises to be a heritage community.
Now, with over a hundred and fifty new houses built and occupied in the scenic village – and more to come – there has been a revival of the community spirit which had been nurtured for so long by a dedicated but diminishing band of local people.
Last week’s annual meeting of the Turlough Community Council gave the lie to the prevailing view that volunteerism is all but dead in rural Ireland, and demonstrated the readiness of newcomers to become involved in their adopted communities.
One of the interesting aspects of the group’s deliberations was the neglect, from a visitor point of view, of the attraction of the village Round Tower which is so closely associated with Turlough. One of the most unique monuments of its kind in the region, and almost within touching distance of the Museum itself across the River Hollow, it would seem to make sense that Museum visitors should also learn something of the Round Tower which has been there for 800 years.
Although not much is known of the monastic site at Turlough, given its proximity to Croagh Patrick, it was most likely a Patrician foundation. It is recorded in the archives as being of some importance in the 13th century, although by then no longer a monastic settlement. It had fallen into disrepair by the 18th century, but was restored when the cruciform church beside the Tower was built.
Although small by conventional round tower standards – it is about 70 feet – its location and shape give it a prominence on the landscape which is eye-catching.
However, the Round Tower for all its historical significance, does not form part of the National Museum package. The local community is strongly of the opinion that the Round Tower should become part of the entire Turlough experience, and deserves inclusion in the promotional material of the Museum. With that in mind, the Community Council is to embark on the task of extending the footpaths the short distance from the village to the Tower, providing a car park and toilet facilities, and generally highlighting this other aspect of Turlough’s heritage.
Increasingly, too, the interest being shown in Turlough’s old Church of Ireland building has added a third piece to the heritage mosaic. Although, now cut off from the village by the N5 roadway – motorists going to Dublin have an excellent view of the building on the right hand side – Turlough’s Church of Ireland edifice is so much a part of local history as to demand inclusion in any marketing explanation of how the village evolved and developed. Here again, the community looks to a number of catchments for the purpose of affirming the status and importance of the Church of Ireland links with Turlough’s past.
But Turlough’s Community Council is not content just to look to the past. Among its immediate concerns is the lack of broadband services in the village, a flaw which is hampering the commercial and cultural development of the area. Horkan’s Garden Centre, the flagship commercial entity of the village, is unable to make Internet contact with its various branches around the province. The Museum itself is still awaiting the benefits which broadband will bring to its development. Turlough looks ahead, without forgetting its past.


Another link in the Ben Bulben story
I am indebted to Judge Mary Devins who took the time to remind me of yet another interesting coincidence to last week’s story of the Civil War deaths of Brigadier Joe Ring (grand uncle of Michael Ring) and Brian McNeill (uncle of Justice Minister Michael McDowell).
McNeill was one of a group of anti-treaty fighters hunted down on the slopes of Ben Bulben and put to death by Free State forces, who were out to avenge the earlier killing of Brigadier Ring.
Leading the anti-Treaty group who, although surrendering their arms, were nonetheless summarily put to death, was Brigadier Seamus Devins. Seamus Devins was at that time an elected TD for the constituency of Sligo-Mayo East, having been returned as a Sinn Féin candidate both to the second Dáil of 1921-1922 and subsequently to the third Dáil Éireann. His death on that September day in 1922 meant the end of a political life but, more tragically, the death of the father of a young family.
Move the clock forward two generations, however, and the grandson of the executed Sinn Féin TD, Dr Jimmy Devins, is now Fianna Fáil TD for Sligo Leitrim in Dáil Éireann. Indeed, it was a connection alluded to by Minister McDowell at the official opening of Castlebar courthouse where Judge Mary Devins (right), wife of the Sligo TD presides.
Nor do the links with current political personalities stop there. Among the small, isolated safe houses which provided refuge for the anti-treaty forces was that of the grandmother of Seanad leader Mary O’Rourke, whose widowed cottage in the side of a Sligo mountain was the well spring of another political dynasty. That fascinating story was told in a gripping documentary delivered on RTÉ Radio by Mary O’Rourke some months ago, and which well merits a repeat transmission.
So we can reflect on just how close knit a people we are, and of how short is the connecting threat which links the seminal events of our history with the Ireland of today. Life paths cross and re-cross in strange ways, indeed.

CLÁR money for all of Mayo
THE aforementioned Turlough will no doubt be greatly encouraged by the recent announcement that the village is among the areas to which the CLÁR funding system is to be extended.
Brainchild of Minister Eamon Ó Cuív, CLÁR is regarded as one of the most successful rural initiatives ever undertaken in the state. First launched six years ago, CLÁR is an investment programme targeted at rural areas which have suffered a population drop of over fifty per cent since the foundation of the state. Since 2000, more than €51m has been spent on projects under the CLÁR banner.
While the first programme covered a very large area of Mayo, the good news now is that – largely because of its proven record of success – CLÁR is being extended to other areas which did not quite qualify the first time round.
And so towns like Crossmolina, Ballinrobe, Claremorris and Balla, villages of Cong, Kilmaine, The Neale, Hollymount and Shrule, Turlough, Ballyheane and Mayo Abbey now are eligible for the substantial funding which CLÁR has to offer.
For those best prepared to submit their projects and promote their local development, the rewards will be substantial.

Riverdancing and Mayo
THE founders of Riverdance, John McColgan and Moya Doherty, have just spent €20m on a US holiday home in fashionable Martha’s Vineyard, on Cape Cod, we read.
The Riverdance phenomenon, which has been performed before 18 million people in 30 countries, comes from the seven-minute interval act danced by Michael Flatley and Jean Butler at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. But not to be forgotten is that the genesis of that production came courtesy of the Mayo 5000 Gala Concert orchestrated by Bill Whelan at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.
Obviously, McColgan and Doherty find inspiration in Mayo based themes. A new musical to be produced by them, ‘The Pirate Queen’, will open later this year in Chicago. Based on the legendary sea queen, Gránuaile, the production is being quietly tipped as a Riverdance Mark II for the golden duo – and, no doubt, in due course, a second holiday mansion!

The great survivors
CASTLEBAR Credit Union this week celebrates forty years of activity; what started from small beginnings has evolved into one of the most successful branches of the credit union movement in the country.
That success can be attributed to the commitment and dedication of hundreds of volunteers who have given of their time over the years. In particular, it is a tribute to that original group which in 1966 came together to form the first directors of Castlebar Credit Union. Several have passed to their eternal reward – Tom Byrne, John Cashin, Pádraig O’Toole, Joe Keane, Michael Carney, Liam Cronin and Pat Ward.
But still going strong – a testament to good health and longevity – are those which the passing years have failed to dent. Step forward, then, Jack Loftus, Larry McHale, Greg McDonnell, Frank Durcan, Jimmy McHugh and Denis Ludden.
And here’s to the next forty.

The battle for Castlebar
ANY doubts that the general election gong has been sounded were dispelled last week with the opening of not one, but two, political offices in Castlebar.
Frank Chambers beat his Fianna Fáil colleague, John Carty, to the punch by having Éamon Ó Cuív on hand to open his new office at Main Street. A day later, it was the turn of Minister Mary Coughlan to arrive on Market Square to do the honours for the Knock-based TD.
While each candidate showed utmost decorum – and each gracing the other’s celebration with a personal attendance – it can’t be long before the real rivalry of staking a claim on Castlebar gets into full swing.
Chambers would be regarded as having the better handle on the county town, not least because of his intensive canvassing there in previous electoral battles, and the shoulder-to-shoulder support at the opening of Town Mayor Blackie Gavin has not gone unnoticed by the Carty connections.
Carty, for long caught between a rock and a hard place where Castlebar is concerned, is already starting to make his presence felt as a TD in the county town. Some within the party criticise him – unfairly it must be said – for not having moved earlier to establish a base in Castlebar. His own view was that, given the fractious state of Fianna Fáil in Castlebar for over two years, any such move would have simply made a bad situation worse.
But that was then. For now, the battle is under way. Chambers and Carty may be wearing the same coloured jersey, but when the heat comes on, it’s every man for himself.