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A Mayo book for the ages

County View

County View
John Healy

It could be said that in the middle of a pandemic, with the entire country in lockdown, might not be the most propitious time to launch a new book. But then, as they say, there are books and books in it. And ‘We Are Mayo’, written by Tom Brett and Seán Rice, is a book which was never going to have a sell-by date.
There have been many Mayo books over the years, but there are few with such an overarching reach, such a broad sweep of Mayoness, as this lavish and beautifully presented publication.
Tom Brett is a Charlestown-born doctor, now living in Australia, who played with Mayo in Croke Park and who, one suspects, still wears a green and red shirt under his surgical gown in Fremantle. Seán Rice, of this parish, is a journalist whose status among his peers is a given, and who brings a wordsmith’s talent to a book which is as much a pleasure to read as it is to be captivated by the stunning photographs which adorn every page.
The tone of ‘We Are Mayo’ is set by the eloquent foreword of Sabina Higgins, in which the President’s wife evokes memories of a pastoral childhood growing up on a small farm in Mayo. She vividly recalls the details of that idyllic childhood, the rituals of home and church, the changing of the seasons, the meitheal and the kindness of neighbours, and the lovely anecdote of how her mother, having milked the cow, would dip her fingers in the warm milk before signing a cross on the animal’s flank in a gesture of blessing and gratitude.
‘We Are Mayo’ is presented in a number of sections, tracing our evolution from earliest times to the present. The section on geography, interspersed with panoramic shots of our sweeping landscapes, our mountains and rivers, islands and lakes, leads us into the section on infrastructure, from the Céide Fields to Knock Airport. Here the reader will find a welcome retrospect of the story of the Corrib Gas Field, a story often lost in the white noise of controversy, but which now in hindsight can be told with a more objective clarity.
Mayo’s history takes us from the Children of Lir, through Norman times, to our connection to the ill-fated Spanish Armada, whose warships foundered on our rocky, treacherous coast. The legacy of the Brownes, the Moores, the Blakes and the Fitzgeralds is covered in a chapter on the Big Houses, while the events of the French invasion, the Famine road to Delphi, and the Land League are a reminder of Mayo’s role in the march of a nation.
Our most famous sons and daughters merit a special section, and sport (how could it be otherwise) is given its due prominence.
But ‘We Are Mayo’ is not a book to be read and admired and then consigned to some dusty bookshelf. It is rather the Mayo Book of Wisdom, an heirloom to be passed on to generation after generation of children of Mayo parents, in far flung corners of the world, as a reminder of what it is that binds us together in that passionate pride in home.
Tom Brett and Sean Rice have done the county a signal service. This is the book which gives written expression to that primordial link which, especially on summer days in MacHale Park or Croker, sets Mayo hearts beating as one, releasing that tidal roar of passion from hundreds of thousands of our kinfolk all over the world, the catch in the throat and the tear in the eye of those of us lucky enough, and proud to be, of Mayo.