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Putting a human face on history: Cathair na Mart 2013

Putting a human face on history: Cathair na Mart 2013

Áine Ryan

IT was a school reunion with a difference. The pupils were all brought up on one or other of the Faberge egg islands in inner Clew Bay. These were days of wet batteries and few cars, telephones were exotic inventions to be viewed across the counter of the local post office, while the annual regatta was the undisputable highlight of the year. And if you needed to get home in a hurry, you were likely to get your feet wet.
Take young  Marie Gibbons (Mortimer) of Inish Lyre. Gemma Hensey, in the latest edition of Cathair na Mart 2013: Journal of Westport Historical Society, writes of the rather innovative method she used as a young island resident to get home from the mainland after a day’s shopping.
“When Marie was coming from Westport and getting near to Rosmoney, she would gather some hay and sticks and light a fire on the hill as a signal. Ellen Dunkerly had an easier plan: a board painted white on one side and hung on the boat house window; when you wanted to be spotted you flashed the white side and the family could see it with the telescope.”
On September 4, 2012, a reunion of past pupils of Cullenmore National School was organised by Joe Jeffers and Michael Mulloy. One of the larger islands in Clew Bay, it is now home to the Glenans Sailing Club. The last family to live in Cullenmore, the O’Malleys, left in 1964, while the school, which was established in 1887, was closed in 1957.
Clearly this gathering, attended by about 50 people, opened a warm and wonderful lens on life on the islands. As does the annual Cathair na Mart journal, with its eclectic studies and essays, articles and memoirs, photographs and images of the many dimensions of past life in County Mayo.

George A Birmingham

THE 31st edition of the journal continues with the fascinating story, by Masahiko Yahata, of Canon Owen Hannay, better known by his literary pseudonym, George A Birmingham. In last year’s publication, Yahata focussed on Birmingham’s play, General John Regan, which purportedly lampooned a local Catholic priest. Its staging on February 4, 1914, caused riots in Westport’s town hall. Ironically, the play had received rave reviews in London but culminated in a baton charge by the local constabulary in Westport. This riot received national and international attention and was viewed as one of the most violent in Irish theatre history.    
An acclaimed playwright, Hannay was born to a Protestant family in Belfast in 1865, and he served as rector in Westport from 1892 to 1913. In this edition, in a study entitled, ‘George A Birmingham in the Gaelic League: The Stepping-Stone to a Universally Appealing Novelist’, Masahiko Yahata, a Professor of Irish Literature at Beppu University, Japan, examines Hannay’s self-proclaimed ‘ill-starred’ and ‘brief’ relations with the Gaelic League.
On the contrary, Yahata argues that the writer’s relations with this organisation ‘contributed to his growth as a novelist’ and his development of ‘universal’ themes.

West Mayo Brigade
CLEARLY regular contributor to Cathair na Mart, Vincent Keane does not suggest in his article, ‘Financing the activities of the West Mayo Brigade IRA 1919-1922’, that similar measures should be taken against Irish banks today. However, he does provide a fascinating insight to the extreme economic measures some of our future leaders took in our budding State.
In his introduction Vincent Keane explains that during the years following the Civil War, as Fianna Fáil was established by many former IRA leaders, the electorate demanded explanations about the rather militant manner in which they had illegally, and at gunpoint, divested banks and post offices of large sums of cash, to finance the volunteer army of the Civil War.
A vignette here encapsulates the practise: “In Westport the responsibility for visiting the Bank of Ireland fell to James ‘Broddie’ Malone, O/C of the Westport Battalion. Malone, dressed in his full IRA uniform, and accompanied by Johnny Gibbons, West Mayo Brigade Adjutant, met at the bank and paid the manager, Mr Gardiner, a visit. A lorry load of armed IRA men had been placed outside of the bank to secure the area. Malone and Gibbons eventually exited the bank carrying the sum of £2679, they had failed to access the strong room.”

On sale

Cathair na Mart 2013: Journal of the Westport Historical Society is on sale for €10 in local book shops and at the Clew Bay Heritage Centre at Westport Quay.


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