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Louisburgh’s periodical lights a light on past

On the Edge

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

THE battle for rural Ireland is a constant one these days as one stealthy closure after another changes the streetscapes of small towns and villages. Shutters have come down, cross-generational names have disappeared, small shops that symbolised the narrative of entire communities have become extinct, as boutique chains and garage forecourts become the corridors for communication.
But pare back the transformations and changes and you will find community groups throughout the county ensuring ‘a sense of place’ continues and is recorded through local journals for posterity.
Periodicals like Louisburgh’s ‘An Choinneal’ reveal stories and realities from a past that was – in so many ways – even more challenging for communities than any of the contemporary issues causing economic exoduses and emigration. (This theme was explored also in columnist Liamy MacNally’s De Facto musings in last week’s edition of The Mayo News on the subject of another new local history, ‘Remember Us – The People’s War, Newport Area, Mayo 1914-1924’. It was compiled and published by the Tiernaur Oral History Group.)
The latest edition of ‘An Choineall, Louisburgh 2019’, marks the legacy of its late founding editor, Fr Leo Morahan (An tAthair Leon Ó Morcháin), who passed away in 2016. Writing in the inaugural An Choinneal during Christmas 1959, Fr Morahan wrote: “The title is intended to symbolise, especially, the faith of Louisbuirgh – the faith of our Christmas windows; the faith of praying fingers at a candleabra; and that stronger faith, the faith in sorrow, which brings a lighted candle from a sick room to meet Christ coming down our boreen.”
The present editor John Lyons recalls how as a young boy he served Mass for him, was taught by him at boarding school and then in much later years replaced him as the editor of the periodical.
In this edition, Dominic McGreal’s research tells the tale of The Killary Lodge Farm and how its story draws a parallel with the wider history of this period during the seismic times of the Great Famine and the land wars. An essay on ‘The Colony’, by Michael Lyons .unfurls the complex impact of souperism and its evangelised converts, known as ‘jumpers’, which, again like the Killary Lodge Farm, was caught up in the vast lands beyond Louisburgh once owned by Lord Sligo of Westport House.
One excerpt explains how the Colony, or mission, was separated by the Bunlahinch river thus leading to the building of the famous Clapper Bridge, still there to this day.
“Local Catholics refused to cooperate with the workings of the farm, quietly engaging in an unofficial boycott. The Mission had become a victim of its own aggressive proselytising. The Catholic Church was no stranger to the practise of proactive conversion of the poor but this particular venture by the Protestants in Bunlahinch was regarded as unacceptable opportunism.”  
The focus on defining moments in the farming story of Louisburgh and its environs continues with Seán Cadden’s essay entitled, ‘Impact of the 1923 Division of the Dhulough Farm on the parish of Louisburgh’. By 1919, the Congested Districts Board had possession of almost 23,500 acres in the Louisburgh area. Significantly, it was CDB policy to only give land to those ‘who were already farming a small acreage, were herds, or were the descendants of those who had been evicted’. They were also given rights to commonage lands.

AS the debate continues about the relevance and importance of history as a subject, journals like An Choinneal prove their centrality in understanding our past and how it shapes and informs both the present and future.
In the words of former US First Lady, Michelle Obama: “You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that change can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”

 ‘An Choinneal: Louisburgh 2019’ is on sale in Books@One and The Bookshop, Westport, as well as other local outlets.