It’s many years since your scribe first went to work in the offices of Mayo County Council, then located at Castlebar Courthouse. The County Council was then a tighter run operation, and the pace was leisurely. The work got done, but there was still time to peruse the daily paper or study racing form.
There was also, at that time, a small coterie whose time was spent devising practical jokes to be visited on unsuspecting innocents.
Many were routine japes. But some were more elaborate, one of which has passed into Castlebar folklore. The incident in question centred on the staging of the annual Stephen Garvey opera at the Town Hall, one of the social and cultural highlights of the year. Produced and directed by the legendary band leader himself, his opera was acknowledged far and wide as a lavish affair, with a cast and chorus drawn from the abundance of musical talent of which Castlebar could boast.
Indeed, so much talent was there at Stephen’s disposal that very often, the leading female parts would alternate between the two leading sopranos of the town. And so, for ‘The Belle of New York’ the town’s two equally talented ladies were persuaded – perhaps a tad reluctantly – to share the limelight, with three performances each.
News of this arrangement reached the ears of the pranksters in the Courthouse, who decided that here was potential for creating mischief.
And so it was that, on the Monday morning, the father of Singer A took a phone call at his business premises on Main Street. The caller, identifying himself as His Grace, the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Joseph Walsh, explained to Mr A that he had heard wonderful reports of the talents of his daughter. He himself would be attending the Friday night performance and looked forward eagerly to hearing the young lady in person.
Not content with the placing of this social landmine, the caller went on to tell Mr A, “Before I finish, I would like to impart my blessing to you and your staff, if you would ask them to assemble and kneel down.” Upon which the staff were beckoned to their knees while the caller intoned some barely decipherable message, ending with a flourish of ‘Dominus Vobiscum’.
While the conversation was somewhat plausible, insofar as it was customary for His Grace to attend a performance of the annual Opera, the problem (as the perpetrators well knew) was that Friday night had been allocated to Miss B, a fact which Mr A, in his excitement, failed to bring to the notice of the ‘Archbishop’.
In any event, and in great haste, Mr A hurried to the Garvey home in Castle Street, to apprise Stephen of the signal honour bestowed on his daughter, and urging that the director had no choice but to reverse the allocation of roles between the Friday and Sunday nights, lest the Archbishop be disappointed. Meanwhile, an emissary from Mr A who travelled to the home of Miss B, alerting her to a probable change in arrangements, received a frosty reception.
Sensing that there was mischief afoot, the worldly wise Stephen consulted the Parish Priest who , in turn, contacted the Bishop’s palace in Tuam. It was quickly established that the whole thing was a ruse. Dr Walsh would, as always, attend the final Sunday night of the opera at which, happily, Miss A had been engaged to perform in any case.
And so honour was maintained. Miss A sang beautifully and was warmly complimented by the distinguished visitor. Stephen Garvey and his cast were showered with accolades. And the imposter Archbishop went back to his desk in the County Council office.