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Unlocking Ardkill’s past


QUESTIONS ANSWERED  Gerry Keane, author of ‘Did They Mention Ardkill? A Land and Social History of a South Mayo Townland’.

Curious-mind Gerry Keane on publishing the history of a Kilmaine townland

Cory Kilbane

When speaking to Kilmaine native Gerry Keane, his curiosity about and love for his homeland in Ardkill, Kilmaine, are obvious particularly when it comes to its history. And it’s this inquisitive nature and this passion for the townland that inspired him to  recently publish a book entitled ‘Did They Mention Ardkill? A Land and Social History of a South Mayo Townland’.
His desire to know more about Ardkill’s past began at a young age, but it wasn’t until his retirement seven years ago that Gerry finally decided it was time to get the answers to the questions in his head.
“I left Ardkill when I was 18. I was always curious about simple things; why houses were built the same and why we all had the same amount of land and so on,” he tells The Mayo News.
“Nothing compelling or significant happened to make me do it. It was a combination of curiosity and opportunity.
“When I retired I needed something to keep me busy, and I started researching. I didn’t intend on writing a book, but when I had a good lot of material combined I thought, if I don’t write this down, someone else might have to come along in 50 years’ time, and they’ll have to do all the research.”
Now living in Leixlip, Co Kildare, Gerry made use of the resources close to him in Dublin to conduct his investigation into the past.
“I’m within striking distance of Dublin, so the National Archives, the National Library, the Valuation Office, the Registry of Deeds, everything I needed, was within striking distance,” Gerry explains.
“I must also give credit to Ivor Hamrock from the Mayo County Library. He sent me cuttings from papers in Mayo that are no longer in existence, which also helped clarify the picture,” he says.

The book deals with various topics in the town of Ardkill, ranging from what Gerry calls, the Ardkill Land War between tenants and landlords, to the sale of the townland during the Famine, to deeds and wills.
“I think the most intriguing part was something I knew nothing about. My father died when I was 13, so the normal sort of discussions that might take place between a father and a son about times gone by never happened.
“There was a standoff, which I have called the Ardkill Land War, that lasted 14 years (1920-1934) in which the tenants first took on the landlords.
“My father was centrally involved in it because he was a tenant, but he also happened to be the landlord’s herald, so he was a piggy in the middle … It was what fascinated me most,” he reveals.
He also revealed that the hardest part of the book was researching the sale of the townland. The historical evidence about the sale was conflicting, and as a result, Gerry found it hard to sequence some of the events around that time. “Too much information is lacking,” he explained.

Knitting it together
The book itself contains 258 pages of historical information about the townland, and for Gerry, pulling it all together was a long and steady process.
“It was a matter of years. When I started out I didn’t intend on writing a book, so I wasn’t going at it in any systematic way. You could say it’s been seven years.
“Basically, the main content was laying there the last three years with little added because I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, but I had to do something with it or it would all be lost and forgotten.
“I enjoyed making sense of the information and trying to knit it all together,” he says, though he also confides that he found one aspect of the publishing project a bit of a chore: “The business of trying to tidy it all up, editing it down and putting it in the right order – I found that all a bit tedious.”

Curiosity continues
Looking to the future, Gerry has his eye on other townlands that he’d like to research – although he’s not too sure about putting his mind to another book.
“I have looked at some other townlands already … I’d like to explore them, but I can’t in the same detail or anything like what I’ve done here.
“I devoted a whole book to one town. I can’t, and I’m not threatening to, write another book!
But from a curiosity point of view again, there are quite a number of things in the Kilmaine area that I’d like to get to the bottom of.”
We’ll just have to wait and see what gems he unearths, and hope that he shares them with us. Perhaps a blog Gerry?

The book is due to come on sale next week and will be available to purchase in local bookshops in Kilmaine and Claremorris