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The way we were

County View

John Healy

IT was back in the 1940s and the Irish Tourism Association, under the aegis of the government, decided to embark on the gathering of data, on a parish by parish basis, across the entire country, to help promote Irish tourism after the war. It was a huge undertaking.
Surveyors were despatched to the four corners to report back, in the most detailed fashion, on everything the country had to offer. Their reports ranged from the level and quality of accommodation to general amenities, public services, catering, sports and games, local customs and curiosities, car hire, libraries, garages and petrol stations, and much more besides.
In all, 54 parishes in Mayo were reported on by the surveyors and their reports, now all forgotten, offer a treasure trove of insights into the social and cultural life of towns and villages all those years ago. And while in the main they are impartial and detached, the surveyors’ personal asides and comments sometimes make for amusing reading.
A central preoccupation of the surveyors was the availability and quality of tourism accommodation, and it is a reflection of how the pendulum has swung in the intervening years that, back in 1945, Ballina greatly outshone Westport in the provision of accommodation. The Ballina surveyor, Conor O’Brien, reported well over 100 beds available between six hotels (the Imperial, Hurst’s, the Moy, Walshe’s, the Commercial and the Central), and another 40 under construction at the Downhill. In contrast, Mr Mulligan, the surveyor for Westport, could only find 51 hotel beds between the Railway, the West, the Central, Park View, the Boulevard and the Temperance, apart from a highly commended O’Donnell’s private hotel.
Mr O’Brien was well impressed by Ballina and its cultural and recreational amenities, including a public Carnegie Library, and five private lending libraries, (MJ McGrath, B Walkin, John Clarke, Mrs O’Reilly in O’Rahilly Street, and the Ballina Herald).
He was disappointed, however, with the quality of the water supply, retracting his earlier evaluation which, he said, had been based on false information. “I regret reporting earlier that the water supply was good,” he wrote “which I did on the word of several people, including urban councillors. I now find that the water is very bad, the tap water is undrinkable, and apparently unfiltered.”
In Westport, Mr Mulligan noted approvingly the Cosy Tea Rooms and Morans’ Licensed Cafe on the North Mall. There was dancing to be had at the Grand Central, under the proprietorship of MJ Hoban, and at the Octagon Hall. Sailing boats were available for hire from John Grady and J Lambert, and there were lending libraries at the Town Hall, PJ Clarke’s, Altamont Street, and Mrs J Ruddy on Shop Street.
The surveyor for Castlebar, Donal Faughnan, was generally rather forthright in his comments. Reporting on dancing facilities in the town, he noted that the Grand Plaza on Spencer Street was run by JJ Barrett and the Town Hall was in parochial hands. Neither, however, ‘was up to much’, in his view.
Asked to report on the town’s ‘curiosities’  he referred to the tombstone in the cemetery recording the death of James Faulkney, who died in 1826, aged 120. The other item of interest was the one-sided bridge at the lower end of Main Street, where a shop had been erected on piles sunk in the river bed and closing off completely one side of the bridge. The building was, he said, the subject of much litigation, but the owner ‘is credited with having conceived the idea of building over the river to avoid rates liability’.