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Currency of historical journal, Cathiar na Mart, prevails

Currency of historical journal, Cathair na Mart prevails

Áine Ryan


FOR County Manager, Peter Hynes there is one edition of Westport’s Historical Journal – Cathair na Mart – that is particularly relevant as the Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, prepares to publish his paper on the future of local authorities. In 1981 Westport native, Dr John Gibbons contributed an article entitled ‘Some Root Causes of Failures of Irish Local Government: A Mayo Perspective’.
“It would be very interesting to see when Minister Hogan publishes his paper on the future of local authorities how his ideas compare with issues and topics raised in the article written over 30 years ago by John Gibbons. We know that town councils and area committees have replaced the urban district and rural district councils but  a key question remains: how do we pay for local services?,” Peter Hynes said at last week’s launch of Cathair na Mart 2012.
Officiating, Mr Hynes also observed that ‘the county was enriched by the work of the historical society’, whose journals he likened to the National Geographic, in so far as their many articles never dated and always had currency.
“The work of Westport Historical Society has been one of the keys to the transformation of the town. I remember when I came to Westport first, the Octagon was a sea of concrete and there were still many derelict buildings in the town. The work of this society helped to popularise heritage and ensure it is not just about the past. The annual journal, Cathair na Mart, is its jewel in the crown. It is a treasure trove with an accessible format that every year provides a pot of gems, which are both eclectic in nature and provide a large range of topics.  This year’s edition includes articles on the Inishkea islands and the life of Joseph MacBride,” Mr Hynes said.
Earlier, after a formal welcome by chairman John Mayock, Aiden Clarke sent the good wishes of the society to John and Sheila Mulloy, president and vice-president, who were not present due to illness.
The evening’s proceedings, at The Sheebeen, were opened with a presentation on the traditional farming practise of Booleying. The talk was given by John Kerrigan, a folklorist and ethnologist who has volunteered at Clew Bay Heritage Centre over the summer months.

THE practise of booleying (buaile means enclosure) was widespread in rural Ireland, and still continued on Achill Island until the 1940s. Often referred to in the Brehon Laws, it was integral to the Rundale of Clachán system of farming and involved herders migrating with their cattle during the summer season.
Booley huts varied in size and usually had curved corners and were made of varying combinations of sod, wattle and stone. The practise had a cultural and social dimension and helped to relieve pressure on the home farm during the summer. The booley hut, or series of huts were usually situated in a location with good vantage, plenty of pastureland and adjacent to a river or stream. Booleying was underpinned by the ethos of the meitheal – a cooperative culture practised by peasant farmers.
Interestingly, butter-making and churning was a primary occupation during this seasonal period and many bog butter finds can be directly linked to the practise of booleying. 

Cathair na Mart 2012

IN this edition of the journal, Masahiko Yahata, an expert on the playwright, George A Bermingham ( a pseudonym for Canon James Own Hannay, who served as rector in Westport from 1892 to 1913) assesses his play ‘General John Regan’. Just like JM Synge’s ‘The Playboy of the Western World’, it led to violent riots at its showing in Westport Town Hall, in February 1914. Professor Yahata asks if ‘General John Regan’ was no more than a farce, as English and American audiences viewed it, or whether it was an insult to the Irish race as was the conclusion of Westport, and other Irish audiences.
In another paper, Anthony J Jordan writes about Joseph MacBride, the older brother of 1916 leader, John MacBride, who, like his comrades, was executed in the aftermath of the rebellion.  Unsurprisingly, there was widespread shock in Westport after the execution of their native son, John MacBride and when the local Irish Volunteer Company undertook a march ‘to show the flag’, the RIC, backed by 120 soldiers, arrested 33 men who were later interned in Britain. Joseph MacBride, who later became President of the local branch of Sinn Féin, was among the internees.
To mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, both the last edition of Cathair na Mart and this one include fascinating papers on aspects of this great tragedy.
In this journal, Alex Dylan Nolan, puts the tragedy in a commercial historical perspective in his two-sectioned paper which examines ‘The Business of Emigration’ and ‘The Business of Shipping Agents in County Mayo, 1912’.
In the opening paragraphs he notes that ‘[despite] the RMS Titanic’s splendour the liner was officially classified as an emigrant ship’. This was because the British Board of Trade defined emigrant ships as those that carried more than 50 steerage passengers.
Poignantly, Mr Dylan Nolan also states: “The struggle for the supremacy in the trans-Atlantic passenger business between American, British and German companies ensured that regulations governing the trans-Atlantic shipping industry floundered behind the technical advances.”
This edition includes an article on the subject of prehistoric activity on the Inishkea islands, by Sharon A Greene, as well as a paper on ‘1886, The Lamentable Truth: Poverty and Distress in Swinford Union’.
Cathair na Mart 2012: Journal of the Westport Historical Society’, is on sale in local bookshops and at the Clew Bay Heritage Centre. Previous editions can be viewed and bought at the website www.westportheritage.com.