Almost 50 years after John Healy wrote the seminal Death of an Irish Town, his brother Gerard Healy sees little change in their native Charlestown
Charlestown is birthplace of the late John Healy, author of Death of an Irish Town, first published in 1968 and republished in 1988 under the title 'No One Shouted Stop'.
The book, now a collector’s item and no longer available for purchase, will ever be synonymous with the town and its hinterland.
His brother Gerard (pictured above) lives in Charlestown and Healy’s masterpiece was inspired by conversations the brothers shared when John visited his native place.
Gerard Healy spoke to the Mayo News sharing his memory of the time and how a townspeople reacted to Healy’s tome.
“I suppose it was here he got the idea to write it. This was half-way house on his way from Dublin to Achill. He’d stay overnight and conversation usually turned to happenings around. He’d ask about people he grew up with only to discover ninety per cent of them had emigrated because there was nothing here for them. He was disappointed to hear things like that and he decided to write about it. That was 1968 and he could see the change coming. We’re now in 2015 and it hasn’t improved a lot.
“There was a lot of local resentment to the book. I used to go for a pint an odd night and I was nearly afraid to because I got a fair bit of hassle over it. They were annoyed and some said the cheek of him writing it. A friend of long standing fell out with me and didn’t speak to me for nearly ten years afterwards.
“But it was only telling the truth. All they had to do was walk around and see for themselves. The railway station was the busiest place in Charlestown and, as he wrote in the book, they were waving tear stained handkerchiefs out the window and they emigrating. And a lot of them never returned because there was nothing to come back to. People were in denial but it eventually dawned on them five or six years later that he was right all along.”
John Healy wasn’t just the messenger. He was also instrumental in making things happen. The airport is a shining beacon in the Charlestown skyline. Gerard Healy says his brother was actively involved in securing that asset.
“He worked along with Monsignor Horan in getting it sanctioned for the region. It’s the first time I’ve ever said that publicly. They envisaged that it would attract industry to the region as all airports do.
“That didn’t happen but at least it’s there providing much needed employment. There are 165 employed there. And people commute weekly from there to London and Manchester and other places to work. They can come home weekends now but if it wasn’t for the airport they’d be gone for longer periods. But the sad thing is it still hasn’t brought the bigger spinoff they hoped it would. It’s not getting financial investment from the government either. Michael Noonan got a €100 million write off at Shannon.”
While No One Shouted Stop was written about Charlestown it was the story of any other west of Ireland town at the time. It was John Healy doing what he always did, telling it as it was. But Gerard Healy remembers a brother who was a proud Charlestown and Mayo man.
“Of all the recognition he ever got for his work, Jacobs television awards and the lot the one thing he was proudest of was being selected as Mayo Man of the Year. And having the N5 bypass passing through a rood of the Nineteen Acres he also wrote about named after him is something he’d be immensely proud of. He always said when your own people honour you then you’ve achieved something.
“He wanted to see Charlestown and the west of Ireland thrive and that was his main motivation. And since he passed on there is nobody in the Dublin media now to express the views of the west of Ireland. There’s no one to tell our story anymore.
“The government have neglected us too. I’m very disappointed in Enda Kenny. I’m a lifelong supporter of Fine Gael and all the family was. I canvassed and worked with his father Henry and the late Hugh Colleran. My wife was a die-hard Fianna Fail supporter and I got her to vote for Enda in the last election because it was a great opportunity to elect the first ever Taoiseach from the west of Ireland.
“I thought like most other people did that when he was elected Taoiseach we’d definitely get something substantial in the line of jobs in Mayo but so far we haven’t. And if John was around he’d support him but I can assure you he’d give him stick too for not doing something for the west.”
Were the same conversations that influenced a book almost a half century to take place in a Charlestown kitchen today would the conversation be different? “I doubt it” is Gerard Healy’s considered reply.
“The future doesn’t look too promising. Like everyone else I’d love to see things thriving. And it’s not just Charlestown but surrounding towns too.
“The economy in any area can be measured by the number of wage packets there at the end of the week. A few hundred jobs would be a huge boost and a regular income would generate a bit of spending. But as it is half the shops in most of those places are closed including the centre of Castlebar because the money isn’t there. There’s all this talk of a recovery and maybe it’s happening in Dublin and the bigger cities but there’s not much sign of it around here.”
Charlestown and the acres beyond is ever the place Gerard Healy’s wants the best for. Just as his brother John did all those years ago when he penned a masterpiece so as one voice might be heard shouting stop.
It still echoes in the western air.