What started as a clear difference of opinion on matters of labour representation turned into an unlikely alliance of two free thinkers in the months and years leading up to the building of Knock Airport.
Castlebar trade unionist and now elected representative, Michael Kilcoyne, found common cause with the late Monsignor Horan when the Labour party - of which Kilcoyne was then a committed member - decided to pull the plug on the Monsignor’s fledgling project.
The early days had not been so harmonious. When work first started at the airport the main contractors, Harrington’s, was a non-union company which declined to negotiate with the trade unions who wanted representatives on the site. Kilcoyne, who viewed the amount of public money being invested in the project as justification for seeking a role for the ITGWU, insisted that the job be unionised. He wrote to Barry Desmond seeking and getting his support and, at the behest of the workers on the site, went to the Monsignor to press his case. Nothing if not pragmatic, James Horan proved himself to be a man with whom Kilcoyne could do business, and there duly came the confirmation that the Monsignor would have no objection to the men joining the union.
From that point on, the two became allies, as Terry Reilly (pictured) points out in his new book, On a Wing and a Prayer. Kilcoyne’s admiration for Monsignor Horan as a visionary, a leader and as a man who could get things done, was unbounded. And when the coalition government, on the insistence of Barry Desmond, pulled the plug in the middle of the airport project, one of the first to raise the voice of protest was Michael Kilcoyne.
He took the matter up with the Congress of Trade Unions, calling on it to influence the Government to restore its financial backing for the airport. It was scandalous, said Kilcoyne, that in an area with a 49% unemployment rate that hundreds of workers should lose their jobs at the stroke of a ministerial pen. His workers, he argued, were being penalised by the Labour Party which should be representing them.
The response from John Carroll, the ICTU secretary, was less then flattering. Kilcoyne’s letter, he said, should be thrown in the bin.
The Monsignor, however, was more appreciative of Kilcoyne’s intervention. He praised him for his support, saying that he had the courage to change his mind about the airport, and to say so publicly. And, he added, he admired him for standing up to the bigwigs in the Labour Party.
Kilcoyne, now an independent member of Castlebar Town Council, has lost none of his admiration for Monsignor Horan over the years. He was a man who cut through the red tape, he says, and it is a pity that we don’t have another like him - it would have made such a difference.
“He should really have been a politician,” says Kilcoyne, “and if he was, things would be a lot different in the west of Ireland today.”
But it is in one insightful comment that Kilcoyne comes closer than most in summing up the attitude and style which made Monsignor Horan so unique, and which ultimately ensured that Knock Airport would become a reality, no matter what obstacles were placed in the way.
“His philosophy was that it was better to ask for forgiveness than for permission,” says Kilcoyne. “In other words, go and do it. If it’s wrong, ask for forgiveness. But if you ask for permission in advance, you won’t get it. So go ahead and cut through the red tape - there will be time to worry about the consequences later.”
Not so Smart Telecom
One can only sympathise with the 50,000 or so customers of Smart Telecom who abruptly found themselves with the plug pulled and talking to themselves last week. It’s the old story of what looked like great value - cheap phone calls - suddenly going sour when the phone won’t work any more.
My own experience with the sellers of cheap phone rates - of which there now seems to be ten-a-penny - came with a provider called Silvertel, who promised to slash my phone bills and leave me with a substantial saving on what big bad Eircom was siphoning out of the wallet with practised ease.
It looked a great deal. It looked too good to be true, and that’s just what it turned out to be.
We were going nicely, Silvertel and me, with cheap calls and great value, until suddenly, one morning, I reached for the instrument only to find that the line was as dead as a doornail. No familiar dialling tone, no low hum of recognition, not even a bleep-bleep. Nothing.
Hurried enquiries from the payphone on the corner elicited the information from Eircom that the line had been disconnected. And the reason - my line rental had not been paid to the line provider (Eircom), and as a result service had been disconnected. My friend Silvertel, which should have been squaring my rental bill with Eircom, hadn’t been paying up; Eircom, not too reluctantly, had exercised its right in cutting me off, but would be happy to reconnect me (hee-hee) when I forked out the required fee.
It was the end of Silvertel and me. Sheepishly, I crept back to the Eircom fold where I have remained ever since. Every so often comes the unsolicited call from some seller of cheap services to explain how easy it is to slash the phone bill. There is great satisfaction in registering a curt ‘not interested’ before he has the first sentence out of his mouth.
The French are marching
This column, as you will have noticed, has been giving much prominence of late to the life and times of General Humbert so that after today, I pledge to give him and the Franco-Irish rebellions a rest.
The main reason for this week’s reference to Humbert is because of a follow-on to the story of the campaign to have the general’s reputation rehabilitated in his native France.
All of this comes from the initiative of John Cooney of the Humbert Summer School who, rather ambitiously, has called for the recognition by the French Government and military authorities of the Irish campaign led by Humbert in 1798.
Cooney makes the point that if all the French military victories which are engraved in gold, on the walls of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, a glaring omission is the French defeat of the British in Castlebar. Described as on of the most ignominious episodes in British history, Cooney is now leading the call on Jacques Chirac to see that the battle of Castlebar is given its rightful place on the Parisian roll on honour.
Already, the idea has won the support of the association ‘Le Souvenir Francais’, which is working to raise the profile of that short but heroic invasion of Mayo and all its high hopes of ultimately smashing British rule in Ireland.
The team has been working quietly for the past year with the military archives in Vincennes, researching the background and ultimate fate of the French soldiers who sailed to Ireland with Humbert in 1798.
Now, they have resolved to throw their weight behind the petition to Jacques Chirac that Humbert, Killala and Castlebar be given their rightful place on France’s most famous and triumphant monument.
In Bertie’s shoes
A word to Michael O’Donnell - it might be wise to retain a copy of the receipt you issued for that pair of Prime Ministerial shoes. You’d never know when the tribunals might come knocking.
And to Enda Kenny, who availed of that telling phrase ‘a hen that lays out once will lay out again’, in the Dáil when darkly warning of more revelations to come. But I seem to think that the saying was that of a mutual acquaintance, of another political persuasion, when he would ruminate on the questionable loyalties of some who were suspected of changing sides as the occasion required.
Mayo authors on top
It is a tribute to Mayo’s literary heritage that two Mayo authors - out of only three shortlisted - are in the running for the Oireachtas na Gaeilge Irish Language Book of the Year.
Colman Ó Raghallaigh and Tadhg MacDhonnagain are authors of young people’s books which have been nominated for the award in that category. Already an accomplished and successful author, Ó Raghallaigh’s book is An Táin, a contemporary version of one of the best-known heroic epics in Irish culture.
The MacDhonnagain book is Gugalaí Gug, a joint venture with John Ryan, an illustrated collection of Irish traditional rhymes for children of all ages.
It may surprise many to know what a healthy, thriving market is Irish Language publishing. About 200 new titles are printed in Irish every year, with annual sales worth €1.3m. The Oireachtas competition has gone a long way in promoting and encouraging writing in Irish. This year, there are 40 books entered for the five prizes on offer in the adult section, with 16 competing for the three prizes in the children’s section.
It is no small achievement that two of that number come out of Mayo.
Fine tributes in Claremorris
By the time we go to print, the first every Cleary/Coyne traditional music weekend in Claremorris will be over, but there is little doubt that it will have been the success it deserved.
Held to honour the memory of two great servants of Irish traditional music - Johnny Cleary and Mattie Coyne - the weekend confirms the reputation of Claremorris as a centre for talented musicians and as a nurturing place for young performers. Organised by the Claremorris branch of CCE, one feels that the two men in whose honour it was named would be very pleased, not so much for themselves - since neither had the least interest in promoting themselves - but for the platform it provided for so many up and coming youngsters.
Those of us old enough to remember the days of the Western Ceilí group, we who had the privilege of knowing Mattie Coyne or Johnny Cleary personally, will be hopeful that last weekend’s musical tribute will be the first of many for years to come.
Belfast Mayor comes west
It’s hard to believe that it is all of 25 years since Kevin Bourke of Rehab initiated the idea of cross-border projects for people with disabilities.
During that time, the ties between Mayo and the North have grown strong with reciprocal visits warmly welcomed and looked forward to on both sides. Guests such as the late Gordon Wilson have added their support over the years, while Church, civic and community leaders have lauded Rehab on what it has helped achieve.
In December, to mark the 25th year of the project, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Belfast, Pat and Angela McCarthy, will visit Mayo. A builder by trade, Pat McCarthy was first elected in 2001 and became Lord Mayor of Belfast on June 1 of this year.