FAMILY TIES Mayo captain Cillian O'Connor introduces his younger brother Diarmuid to President Michael D Higgins before the 2016 All-Ireland Final. The O'Connors have an intriguing link to the famous Boycott campaign in south Mayo during the Land War. Pic: Sportsfile
This Mayo team is part of all of us, and some of its members have connections to famous episodes in our history
If you follow the green and red, you are probably regularly subjected to questions from outsiders. What is it about Mayo? How is it ye seem to have that Mayo thing? Will ye ever go away? Do ye do anything else there besides kick football? And so on…
So, what is it about Mayo? What makes a people what they are, a team what it is, a culture, a movement, a hard-to-put-your-finger-on-it thing? But ’tis us, though. You are never more aware of it till our annual pilgrimage to the capital to give someone or other their annual lesson in football and some would say, in how to carry yourself, how to be a true hero, a real leader and have that admirable, likeability thing…in victory or defeat. Why do 31 counties regularly want us to win? Hard to describe!
On May 30, 1892, Fr John O’Malley died. He was buried under the alter in his church of St John the Baptist, The Neale on Thursday, June 2. The church that he part-built with the help and the pennies of the local people was only a few years old and, surely, his pride and joy. The foundation stone was blessed in May 1875 in the company of Archbishop MacHale who addressed the congregation in Irish. The site on which the Church still stands today was donated by John Browne, better known as Lord Kilmaine. The Browne family first arrived in The Neale in 1580. Browne reputedly also donated £50 cash towards the £2,000 cost of the church. Significantly, Blake of Garacloon donated the site for the church at Cross, in the same parish around the same time. Why is any of this significant? Landlords and the Catholic Church, friends or foe?
In the previous several years, the South Mayo area was the ‘field trial’ for the Land League to end ‘Landlordism’ . Charles Stewart Parnell on September 19, 1880 in his famous speech in Ennis urged people to ‘shun them in the streets’, ie how to react to ‘land grabbers’, the people who would ‘grab’ land made vacant by the eviction of a tenant.
Only four years later, Michael Cusack founded the GAA in Thurles. When you see the O’Connors of Ballintubber and Tommy Conroy of The Neale, among many, take the field, deploy their skills, you somehow think Cusack must have a smile on his face now. “Didn’t I tell ye lads” he might be saying.
The great Michael Davitt was in regular cahoots with Fr O’Malley in taking this non-violent tactic to the door of Lord Erne and his agent at Lough Mask House, the infamous Captain Charles Boycott. They were standing up to the bully, the Goliath. A whole half parish of labourers and servants withdrew their services from Boycott. The story of the ‘black leg’ army mustered from Cavan and Monaghan (maybe even Tyrone!) and the £10,000 of British Parliament funding to provide military security to rescue Boycott’s crops etc is now well told. Holding the line across a whole community was largely attributed to the leadership of Fr John O’Malley. Remarkably, no one threw a stone! No one broke the strike!
‘We’ll boycott them’
After Boycott was defeated and absconded to Suffolk in 1886 to continue his noble career, O’Malley and Davitt and company were in ‘review’ mode, presumably. You can imagine the burning questions: What had been achieved? Where to now?
It is believed both of them could take a tipple or two and discussions went on late into the night at O’Malley’s abode. They were joined by one James Redpath, a journalist from the New York Tribune, who was covering the Land War in the west of Ireland. He became friendly with O’Malley and it appears O’Malley, a clever man, knew how to use the opportunity to tell the world the ‘other version’ of what was going on in Ireland. This was pre-Facebook, you see.
Newspapers, even in Germany, were publishing stories from The Neale! Redpath wanted a shorter term for this campaign of ‘social ostracization, withdrawal of labour and shunning people’ and so it happened.
“We’ll do a Boycott job on more of them, we’ll Boycott them,” said O’Malley, and the new and most powerful ‘verb’ was born, a practice later copied by Ghandi, Luther-King and now the universal term for the defeat of oppression by peaceful means.
Small wonder the landlords started to ‘befriend’ the RC Church, donate sites etc!
These late night meetings took place in Fr O’Malley’s abode, an extension to the cottage nearest the land parcel leased by the Diocese where a thatched church stood and where The Neale primary school is now.
On the completion of the building of the new church in the village circa 1880, Fr O’Malley would walk the mass path from his abode to the back of the church, climbing over stiles, still there today. The leaseholder, on the cottage, Margaret Concannon, was also the priest’s housekeeper. She had inherited the lease from her father, William.
Her sister, Jane had emigrated to New York after the famine and married a John Morrison. One of their children, Margaret (named after her aunt) returned to The Neale when she was around 16 or 17 and never returned. Her aunt, Margaret, married Stiofán ‘Rua’ Heskin, who had been elected Treasurer of the Land League branch established in The Neale on Sunday, May 9, 1880. Surprise, surprise, Fr O’Malley had been elected President on the same day! Aunt Margaret went to live with her husband, Stiofán ‘Rua’, in Loughnaganky, Ballyrourke on Heskin land and her niece, Margaret Morrison, became the next ‘leaseholder’ and housekeeper to Fr O’Malley and his visitors, Davitt, Redpath etc, until his death in 1892.
Margaret Morrison’s status had rapidly changed on February 21, 1882 when she married Pat Daly from Tralee. He was an RIC officer, ten years her senior and stationed in Cong. She was just 18 years old. Daly moved into the cottage which had, ironically, become the HQ of the campaign to dismantle ‘landlordism’. They had six children, the youngest, Frances, born in 1896, later married John Donovan on August 19, 1919.
John was also an RIC officer from West Cork, stationed in Cross. He moved in too and the cottage and seven acres was soon to change to ‘freehold’. One of eleven in that family, Teresa was born on January 26, 1925 in the Fr O’Malley house, the same year as Lord Kilmaine left The Neale for good!
Teresa married Patrick O’Connor of Cranmore, Ballintubber. A great patron of Ballitubber Abbey, Teresa had tremendous faith. She passed away on December 21, 2015 and, appropriately, she was laid to rest on Christmas morning, at her beloved Ballintubber Abbey. Patrick and Teresa had seven children, the oldest of whom, Anthony (Tony), has worn the green and red and now chairs the great Ballintubber GAA club. He and his wife, Mary Preston of Crossmolina, have four sons, Pádraic, Ruairí, Cillian and Diarmaid, all born and reared in Cranmore.
Maybe you have heard of them?
The Conroy connection
There’s more! Cusack will be slapping his knee yet.
Appropriately, in this centenary year of the Tourmakeady Ambush, avid historians may have noticed two Michael Morans involved in the ‘scouting’ of Keel Bridge, below Ballinrobe to allow the South Mayo Flying Column to get to Tourmakeady unnoticed by Crown forces, at the end of April, 1921, a few nights before the ambush.
One, Mick ‘Jim’ Moran was from Kildun, The Neale and the other Michael Moran was from Ballytrasna, a townland between Ballinrobe and Kilmaine and in the parish of The Neale. Both Micheal Morans survived the ambush and aftermath and had stories to tell on their important role in the Tan War, including imprisonment in the Curragh with others including Mick J Conroy of Crevagh, Cong.
Michael Moran, of Ballytrasna, was to later marry Bridie Ruane of Ballynew. They had a daughter, Mary, who later married James Conroy of Ballytrasna. Among their family is a son, Colm. Colm has two sons, one of whom is Tommy Conroy.
Maybe you have heard of him too?
So there you go… that Mayo thing; mix your metaphors and similes at your leisure. It’s allowed now, but it surely includes standing up to big bullies, lasting the pace, being tenacious, true to a noble cause, self-sacrifice for the greater good, unassuming disposition, undeniable ability, never defeated, disregarding the odds, having a clear vision of what victory looks like and fearlessly going after it to the death.
Sure that’s not learned off Google, is it?
I’d say the pipes will be filled early in Heaven on Saturday evening as Davitt, O’Malley, and the two Morans get the best seats at the telly. I wouldn’t be surprised if Redpath has the notebookeen out too! “Hon Mayo, we’ve never lost it…”