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The two famous hands of Cong

South of the border

Willie McHugh

THEY do things differently in Cong. While they adhere to official formalities when carrying out any community functions, they don’t place too much emphasis on pomp and ceremony. It’s the better for it too.
Once again Cong donned itself in all its finery and put its best foot forward on Sunday morning. The members of Cong Festival Committee and Cong Community Council were out and about as the first shaft of sunlight splayed in from Lough Corrib.
In Lydon’s Lodge they hosted invited guests to partake of a hearty breakfast served up by Olga and Stephen Lydon. A plethora of public representatives were on hand to welcome Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh, and television presenter, Ryan Tubridy, to Cong.
There was good reason Ryan and Maria were in Cong on the pulse of morning. In 2014 Ryan Tubridy was chosen as recipient of Cong’s ‘Hands of Fame’ award.
Sculptor Mark Rhodes took an imprint of Tubridy’s hands and sculpted them. Ryan was to attend the unveiling last October, but it was cancelled at short notice. In Cong nothing is ever more important than life or death.
Helena Byrne is one of the hard-working people on a committee who make good things happen in Cong. So when Helena and the Byrne family suffered a sudden bereavement, the other committee members had no hesitation in cancelling the event.
So Ryan Tubridy’s hands were put back in his pocket.
But there were other happenings too that needed honouring.
In August last year Shrule girl, Maria Walsh, was crowned Rose of Tralee so a few weeks back Mark Rhodes was summoned back to Cong again. As with Tubridy, they couldn’t have chosen a more worthy person.
The head the tiara was placed on rests on strong shoulders. Maria’s catapulting to fame and the limelight was never going to change that. She one of Mayo’s greatest boasts and a girl this region is, and will be, eternally proud of.
There’s no pretence or falseness to the girl from Largan and that’s why Maria winning the Rose of Tralee and her homecoming was celebrated locally like Mayo had won the All-Ireland. But to see Mayo winning Sam Maguire is among her biggest dreams.
“Mayo for Sam” is Maria’s parting shot in any gathering.
Maria was chosen as Cong’s 2015 ‘Hands of Fame’ and the committee were anxious to present it to her during her reign. On Sunday morning last she was in Cong to accept her accolade.
As well as presenting them with their bronze and silver sculptures they unveiled imprints of their hands on a stone wall erected near the statue of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.
As the gathering assembled near the walls of Cong’s 12th century Abbey, Stephen Murphy sang ‘The Isle of Inishfree’ and a few more songs. Elizabeth Cribbin and and Maeve Bowens came from Castlebar because they won a prize of lunch in Danagher’s on Mid West Radio.
Maria Walsh arrived by horse-drawn carriage and Ryan Tubridy cycled from Lydon’s.  Paddy Rock and Ray McHugh were Masters of Ceremonies. This duo never stick to a prepared script. Theirs is a ‘never know what will happen’ or ‘be said next’ routine. Pat Luskin, Chairperson of Cong Festival Committee, spoke as only Patrick can about Cong and its history.
Ryan Tubridy didn’t need to reference any script when he spoke about Cong and its sense of community spirit. And neither was he trying to court public favour when taking a ‘Mayo for Sam’ poster from a young kid standing nearby.  He too understands fully this county’s greatest living desire. Mayor of Cong, John Joe McGrath, bestowed the freedom of Cong on Ryan and Maria. They can now walk their ducks around the village.
Afterwards Ryan and Maria took a spin around the village on two High Nelly bicycles. Its better they keep doing things in Cong. They continually cast the village in a positive light. You have to hand them that much always.