In the pantheon of republican heroes, there are few to match the legendary icon, Ernie O’Malley.
Not only a war of independence hero, but a cultivated man of letters, an author, a historian, an art collector, he was one of the few Castlebar-born makers of Irish history.
All of which makes the stance of the city fathers of Castlebar all the more bizarre when the idea of naming a road in his honour came before the chamber last week. Civil war politics were raised from the grave as the Fine Gael members found themselves unable to stomach the idea of a republican road.
The Fianna Fáil councillors - either unaware of the history of Ernie O’Malley or else caught on the hop by the proposal from Cllr Noel Campbell of Sinn Féin - found themselves at odds with each other before eventually going along with the Fine Gael loophole and deciding to leave the naming to the general public.
To the credit of Cllr Johnny Mee, who seemed to be best briefed on the man in question, he outlined all the reasons why Ernie O’Malley was worthy of the road-naming honour.
He could also have added that O’Malley’s biographical works are the main inspiration behind the Ken Loach film success, “The Wind that Shakes the Barley”, the main character of which is based partly on Ernie O’Malley.
For the O’Malley family the Castlebar councillors’ rejection of their father’s claim to commemoration by way of a road named in his honour will represent another sorry episode in the relationship between family and home town.
The fountain on The Mall, donated by the family and disparagingly dismissed by the council, was originally placed there in O’Malley’s memory. The fountain carried the figure of Mannanan Mac Lir, ancient Celtic god of the sea, riding his chariots across the waters of the sculpture. Sadly, three years ago, and because of untrammelled vandalism, the water was drained off, the fountain filled with earth, and Mannanan was left high and dry to survey the Mall.
Ten years earlier, a generous offer by the O’Malley family to dedicate their father’s extensive collection of paintings and art work to the people of Mayo was the subject of an equally fractious stand-off between donors and intended recipient.
It is hard to know what O’Malley would have made of the current squabble over whether he was worth having a road called after him in his home town. He was a man well used to the swings and roundabouts of fate, and he had seen the best and worst of human nature in his lifetime. He was colourful, controversial, larger than life, and was truly a man of many parts.
His autobiography ‘On Another Man’s Wound’, together with ‘The Singing Flame’, has been re-published several times and is one of the landmark books of the War of Independence. Born into a respectable, middle class, almost establishment family in Castlebar, he had thrown his lot with the Republic when a medical student in Dublin at the Easter Rising. In 1918, while a full time organiser for the IRA, he went north to Tyrone and attended an Ulster volunteer Force meeting, lamenting later that men so dedicated did not share his own particular ideals. Seriously injured by Treaty troops in the Civil War, he only escaped execution because the authorities feared the consequences of killing such an icon.
He was one of the last Republicans to be released following the end of hostilities, and in 1928 he toured America with de Valera to raise funds for the establishment of The Irish Press. Later, he came to live in Burrishoole with his wife and family, in between touring Mexico and South America where he immersed himself in local culture and began to assemble the art collection which eventually ran to thousands of pieces.
He became a poet and a writer, a man of arts, and among his friends were the film director, John Ford, and the actor, John Wayne, advising them both during the filming of The Quiet Man.
When he died in 1957, Ernie O’Malley was given the honour of a state funeral, befitting his status as a celebrated figure of the Anglo Irish War.
Fifty years later, he could not get a road named in his honour in his home town.
Mayo scenes on weather chart
One of the most notable features of the RTÉ weather service is the stunning photography which acts as a seasonal backdrop to what the weather person has to tell us.
The RTÉ weather photo competition was introduced four years ago to encourage amateur photographers to combine their interests in both weather and photography by capturing images that reflect the various seasons and the weather conditions they bring. There are four competitions held each year, one for every season, with the winning photograph appearing as the backdrop to RTÉ TV weather forecasts. RTÉ’s 2007 calendar is a selection of some of the most stunning of the photos over the past year.
Regrettably, the only Mayo prize-winner, Derville Conroy, with a view of Clew Bay from Croagh Patrick, is not one of the twelve finally selected, but partial justice is done with two fine Mayo scenes which are a credit to the photographers involved.
One is a superb summer shot taken on the Atlantic Drive in Achill by Meath visitor, David McClean; the other is an almost mystical Camelot-like picture of Ashford Castle (thankfully located as being in County Mayo) taken by Mary Dooley of County Clare.
With the wind to our backs
Fine Gael’s Ballina-based general election candidate, Michelle Mulherin, has quite properly drawn attention to the benefits of wind power as a source of energy, and for the need for a cohesive wind policy to be included in the Mayo County Development Plan.
Not only does wind power help to cut costs for both business and domestic users, it also reduces our dependence on the volatile international oil markets.
Significantly, landowners are turning to wind farms as a viable alternative to farming, and Mulherin was specially supportive of a pilot project in Killala, where local landowners have taken the initiative by setting up a community-based investment model.
Michelle Mulherin is firmly of the view that wind power must be put centre stage as a viable alternative, and that this should be recognised in the County Plan.
Interestingly, her comments came at a time when many homeowners are complaining that the resistance in official quarters to small domestic wind turbines is considerable.
There is a strong perception that, in spite of the lip service being paid to sustainable alternative energy, the official attitude to domestic turbines here is far less benign than it is in mainland Europe.
Given that it is claimed that the average household can recover its initial outlay in the space of three years, thanks to reduced energy charges, perhaps it is time that the mandarins of government adopt a more positive approach.
The Knockranny touch
A colleague of mine, recently retired from the services sector and whose constant moan is the lack of any concept of customer relations in Irish businesses, has had his griping softened at last.
Having spent a few days at Knockranny House Hotel, where he declared the level of customer service to have been impeccable, the icing on his cake came two days after he returned home.
In the door popped a hand-written postcard expressing the hope that he had enjoyed his stay, and looking forward to his return visit in the not too distant future.
Good PR, an art in itself.
Enda - father of the house
When, as is widely expected, Enda Kenny (pictured below) returns to Dáil Éireann after the next election he may well become Mayo’s first Taoiseach.
But, at the very least, the popular Kenny will become Father of the House - the longest serving deputy in the Dáil. With over 30 years service, he is at the moment second only to Seamus Pattison in the list of longest serving TDs in the Dáil. With the Labour man due to retire at the next election, Kenny will become the undisputed Father of the House.
Time flies. It hardly seems all that long since 1975 when, as a fresh faced young teacher of 24, he was elected to fill the seat of his late lamented father, Henry. Although much of his time in Leinster House has been in the opposition benches, he has served both as Minister of State and, between 1994 and 1997, as Minister for Tourism and Trade. His was a most successful tenure of office, bringing him to national prominence, and moving him into place as tenth leader of Fine Gael and successor to Michael Noonan.
Being Father of the House does not sit easily with the image of such an energetic, hard-working deputy as Kenny, a man who could climb Kilimanjaro at the drop of a hat if put to the test.
It is an honour which he would readily pass up in favour of the ultimate goal which he is relentlessly pursuing.
The Christians fight back
Michael Commins’ spirited verbal assault in these pages - and indeed echoing the sentiments of Michael Ring - on the removal of the Christmas crib from the foyer of Mayo General Hospital, has struck a responsive chord with the public.
Their outrage at the apparent watering down of long-held religious and cultural customs lest they in some way might offend some unspecified minority has been taken up in several quarters.
British Christians, it is reported, weary of turning the other cheek and seeking to accommodate all views except their own, are hitting back. Recent statements have shown a welcome move away from half-apologetic times to a more robust claim for a recognition of Christian heritage.
The Archbishop of York - a native of Uganda - has led the charge with an impassioned attack on the removal of Christian symbols from public places in the name of political correctness. The rot started, he said, a few years ago when the city fathers of Birmingham decided to remove the Christian holiday as “winterval”. In comparison with the docile Christian churches which, he says, have allowed themselves to be pushed around by the twin challenges of secularism and rival faiths, the Muslim population has demanded - and been given - the sort of concessions which it was never entitled to.
The Archbishop went on to deplore what he claimed was the systematic deletion of Christian content in greeting cards from Government offices, where, by decree, the “Happy Christmas” has been replaced by “Season’s Greetings”.
Could this become a major political issue? You bet Prime Minister, Tony Blair, with a finely attuned ear to what does or does not make for good publicity, went public to proclaim that Christmas cards from Downing Street always make reference to the Nativity.