Students remember Joe Langan
Hundreds of tributes have deservedly been paid to the memory of the late Joe Langan – sportsman, teacher, educator, community man, husband and father. But most telling of all have been those paid by former students, people whose lives he touched and influenced, and who found inspiration at a young age in his support and positive encouragement.
Joe Langan (pictured) was a person who always sought the best for his students. His belief in the potential of his young charges and his burning desire to see them make the best of their talents was paramount. He found them jobs, he kept in touch with them, and long after they had left his school, he followed their careers with a fatherly pride.
Above all, Joe Langan was a great believer in the value of the vocational education system, which for years had been seen as the poor relation of second level. One past pupil recalls that he started in the old vocational school in Newtown in 1981. A year later came the transition to the span new, up-to-date modern Davitt College, destined to become under Joe Langan the flagship of the Mayo vocational education system.
“Joe was adamant that the new school would be called Davitt College,” he recalled, “he did not like the term ‘tech’ with its derogatory connotations. He had also introduced the school uniform, the first in any vocational school in Ireland, and which was an indication of things to come.”
Others who contributed to the Castlebar community website had similar stories to tell.
“I will never forget his pep talk to the first years on the September day I started in Davitt College,” said one. “He commanded our respect, and he got it because he was fair and just in his dealings with his students.”
Another wrote that, sitting at his desk in a Florida office, he still has the note which Joe Langan wrote to him on his first day in Davitt College in 1984. ‘Try your best’, his principal told him in conclusion, ‘it’s the best you can do’.
“I have kept that note for 22 years,” he said, “and it still rings as true today as when I first read it.”
And there were endless stories of good deeds done quietly, and without fuss, by a man who could see when things were difficult for people, and who set about putting things right.
“We moved to Castlebar from London in 1972, and I started in the old vocational school,” writes one. “My mother died the following year. My father was seriously ill. They were difficult times. Joe Langan got me a job for the whole summer, painting the classrooms, tidying the building and helping us get by.”
A helping hand, a listening ear, good advice and practical guidance were all part of Joe Langan’s repertoire. He would entertain the students with a lunchtime piano recital – ‘The Entertainer’ being one of his accomplishments – but would not hesitate to patrol the streets of the town to hunt down and march back a student or group which had gone absent without leave.
Small wonder that he should be remembered with such respect and admiration and affection by a succession of young people who, in turn, enjoyed Joe Langan’s trust and confidence. And if in time, as one suggested, the promised sports hall for Davitt College becomes a reality, then what more appropriate tribute would there be than to name the facility in his memory.
Castlebar shares Nimjegen sorrow
The Castlebar walking fraternity, fresh from the success of yet another annual festival in the town, was greatly taken aback last week at the tragedy which befell their old friends in Nimjegen in Holland, one of the world’s oldest and best-known walking events.
For the first time in 90 years, the Nimjegen organisers were forced to close down the walks when three people died and hundreds more collapsed from heat stroke under the blazing noonday sun.
Founded in 1904, the Nimjegen walks have never been interrupted except during the war years. Up to 48,000 walkers take part in the four-day event, starting off each morning at 4am to avoid traffic problems and many choosing to walk for up to ten hours a day.
On Tuesday afternoon last, as temperatures soared across Europe, the organisers were forced to close down the walks rather than run the risk of further fatalities.
The Nimjegen walks have a long and close association with Castlebar, and were the model on which the Castlebar Festival was launched over 40 years ago. The late Michael Joe Egan, then President of Castlebar Chamber of Commerce, had seen the success of walking as a leisure activity in Holland and persuaded a small committee in Castlebar to embark on a similar venture. To say that there were widespread doubts back then that thousands of people would travel across the world to walk the hills and roads of Mayo would be an understatement, but Mr Egan’s foresight proved accurate.
Castlebar’s great friends in those early days were the people of Nimjegen – as they have continued to be ever since. Ernie Sweeney recalls that a group of young boys and girls represented Ireland when the Castlebar Ramblers Club took part in the Nimjegen walks in the late sixties. Student exchanges took place with the Dutch walkers and, in Ernie Sweeney’s case, led to a lifetime commitment when his Dutch wife Susanna – and later, her family - moved to Castlebar.
In the past, of the two festivals, Castlebar has been the one that has had to cope with the vagaries of the weather – wind or rain, cold and heat, mist and shine. Now, it seems that global warming and climate change is about to wreak its own tragic havoc on the world’s oldest walking event.
Stall traders under fire
The sudden emergence of trading stalls in the refurbished plaza of Market Square is causing concern to Castlebar business people to the extent that the Town Council is to have a meeting in September to discuss the issue. Street trading in this area was given a new lease of life three years ago with the arrival of the colourful and well-ordered French Markets, whose weekend stint in the town received a warm welcome from the public. Follow-up visits, however, have not been as successful, with shoppers complaining of exorbitant prices, business people accusing the French traders of duplicating what is already available in local shops, and raised eyebrows at the ease with which stall holders can sell foodstuffs which would normally be subject to stringent health and hygiene regulations.
The Mayor of Castlebar, Brendan Henaghan, has branded the French Market – nice in the beginning, he said - as ‘tacky’, a comment which does not augur well for the future of stall holders when the City Fathers come to deliberate on the question in September.
Not that the street traders are without their supporters, it should be said. Councillor Michael Kilcoyne, who champions consumer rights in his role as chairman of the Consumers’ Association, suggests that it is simply a question of Castlebar business people not liking competition. If that’s the case, he says, it is not the job of the Town Council to eliminate it.
No win for An Taisce
Who, in their right mind, would want to be an officer of An Taisce? Or, put another way, is there a more reviled, unpopular, misunderstood organisation in the country than that which since 1963 has enjoyed an unique position as a player in the statutory planning process?
Independent member of Mayo County Council, Harry Walsh of Kilmaine, has been on the attack over the fairly innocuous question of the An Taisce role in the awarding of Blue Flag status to the country’s beaches. Some other way should be found, he said, of accrediting beaches other than through an organisation which ‘impugns the democratic process’.
But that was mild compared to what Harry Walsh’s colleagues on Clare County Council have been saying about An Taisce. One member of the Council had equated An Taisce to Al Qaeda or the CIA; another had said that it was the only secret society in Ireland which receives State recognition and a third said it was a body which had harassed and made life miserable for the ordinary people of Clare.
On the other hand, it could be said that An Taisce in Clare is the author of much of its own misfortune. It was forced to withdraw an objection to a house extension for the journalist Fintan O’Toole, labelling the plan ‘criminal’ and akin to an infection on the Clare coast.
Little wonder then that the chairman of An Taisce in Clare has offered to resign his post if there is anybody else in the county willing to take his place. So far, there has been no rush of officials to succeed him.
Fianna Fáil limbers up
With a neat sense of timing – and a sure indicator of when the nation will next go to the polls – Fianna Fáil is to hold not one, but two, ardfheiseanna within the space of a couple of months.
This year’s ard fheis will be in November and next year’s will be in March, giving the party maximum TV and media coverage in the run-in to the general election. RTÉ has already declared its reluctance to give coverage to party events too close to a general election; a March ard fheis would just about do the business for Fianna Fáil in time to go to the country in May or June.
Earlier than that, however, comes the annual party think-tank which takes place in Westport in September. The entire Cabinet, a hierarchy of advisors and strategists, and dozens of lower ranking members of the Oireachtas will converge on Westport for an event which commanded huge media coverage when held last year at Inchydoney in Cork.
Among the spin-off benefits will be a huge publicity boost for the party here in Mayo, the better to copper-fasten the Fianna Fáil campaign to regain its dominance in the county. There is little doubting the determination to put the divisiveness of the past to rest, and to present a cohesive front to the voting public this time around.
There was further evidence of that determination with the appointment of Denis Gallagher as constituency organiser for Fianna Fáil in Mayo. A retired garda officer – himself a candidate for nomination on the party ticket earlier on – is surely the ideal choice to move things forward. A man of exceptional organisational and people skills, he is well qualified to smooth out any rough patches which may still exist inside the Fianna Fáil camp.
And while many might take with a pinch of salt his stated ambition to secure three Fianna Fáil seats in Mayo, there is nothing wrong with setting the bar high where ambition is concerned.