Mayo Pride Parade is another important step in our history

Fri, Aug 04, 2017

I was very disappointed to have missed the first Mayo Pride Parade in Castlebar on Saturday July22. I was out of the country but as soon as I got back I read the local papers' reports and contacted Mick Baynes, one of the event organisers, to get another view of what by all accounts was a well-attended day of good spirited solidarity. It is not that long ago when even the thought of such a colourful Pride parade through the county capital's streets would have met weighty and vociferous opposition. 

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A history of Reek Sunday

Fri, Jul 28, 2017

In 1432, Pope Eugene IV issued a document that lay in obscurity deep within the Vatican vaults for centuries. When the doors of the archives and library of the Holy See were thrown open during the papacy of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903), the British government sent a team of historians to transcribe everything they could find relating to Ireland. As a result of that investigative trawl, the well-known historian William Henry Grattan Flood presented Dr John Healy, Archbishop of Tuam, with a medieval document that detailed Rome’s official 15th century stance regarding the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage. The document, dated 27 September 1432, states, “Pope Eugene IV grants to the Archbishop of Tuam [at the time Seán Mac Feorais, aka John de Bermingham] an indulgence of two years and two quarantines [one quarantine was a penance of 40 days], on the usual conditions, for those penitents who visit and give alms toward the repair of the fabric of the chapel of St Patrick on the mountain which is called Croagh Patrick: this indulgence to be gained on the Sunday preceding the Feast of St Peter’s Chains [August 1]: because on that day a great multitude resorts thither to venerate St Patrick in the said chapel.” Archbishop Healy revived the old tradition of pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick and built the present church on its summit in 1905. But the history of the pilgrimage goes back further than the 1400s.

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A sheriff once roamed these here parts

Fri, Jul 21, 2017

The High Sheriff of Mayo was the British Crown’s representative in the county from the post’s creation in 1583 until the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. In a country where ownership of land carried huge prestige, the landed had to protect what they held by securing positions of power. So it was in County Mayo that the dominant families of Browne, Bingham and Gore isolated the role of High Sheriff largely for themselves up until the 19th century at least, from which time family names such as O’Donel, Knox, Blake and others appear in the records as holders of the office.

The High Sheriff was the principal representative of central government in the county in relation to the execution of the law. The position developed to include selecting the county grand jury (a precursor of the county council) and supervising parliamentary elections. In the early decades of the 1800s polling took place over a number of days in one location in the county. Under the Reform Act of 1832, five days were allowed for Irish county elections. This was reduced to two days in 1850 and finally one in 1862. Making sure elections ran unhindered was a large undertaking for the High Sheriff and the military. It was estimated that in 1832 two-thirds of the total military force in the country was employed on election duty. Contested elections could all too easily turn riotous. In January 1835, the High Sheriff of Mayo, JN Gildea, wrote to the Under-Secretary for Ireland explaining that due to the many attacks at the last election, he was suggesting that ‘three troops of cavalry, and five of infantry, together with the police, will not, in my opinion, exceed that which may be required to protect freeholders, and keep the peace’.

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The history of Lough Mask through its own isles

Fri, Jul 14, 2017

Throughout the centuries the islands of Lough Mask have stood silently and helplessly by as they played host to many extraordinary events. This week I am able to touch on just some of those events chronologically.

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The Protestant enclave of Inishbiggle

Fri, Jul 07, 2017

In the 1650s, Catholics were uprooted from their productive, arable, lands in several Irish counties by Oliver Cromwell’s Protestant army and forced at musket point to desolate, barren, Connacht. Their confiscated lands, the better holdings in Ireland, were distributed to Protestant settlers, Cromwell’s army as pay, and carved up to pay debts. Maps of Ireland, pre and post Cromwell, detailing the regression of the predominantly Catholic associated Irish language and customs point to a culture that was deliberately and officially forced to areas thought of as being so inhospitable they would not survive. County Mayo was included among these religious and cultural ghettoes. The living standards of the banished Catholics fell dangerously low and remained so for centuries. Christian duty led some within the Protestant clergy to later establish evangelical missions in the wild Irish west to give relief to the descendants of those very same Catholics. Salvation and, dishonourably, food were offered through conversion to Protestantism. Whereas 17th century Protestants believed it was God's will that godless Catholics be sent to suffer and perhaps perish in Mayo, 19th century Protestants believed it was His will that these (still godless) Catholics be reclaimed so that they might be saved. The Rev Edward Nangle's Achill Island Mission set out to do just that in 1831.

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North Mayo’s flax growing industry

Fri, Jun 30, 2017

The success of the early linen industry in Mayo is often overlooked, especially in terms of the numbers it brought into regular employment. The growing of flax in Ireland for the production of linen was encouraged by English monarchs from the 17th century in order to reduce the Irish woollen industry which was competing with its English counterpart. The Crown's chief governors in Ireland supplied flax seed, sold looms at cost to farmers and employed linen experts from the continent to instruct the Irish in how to get the most from their flax harvest. The industry exploded as a result, and by the end of the 1700s, linen accounted for almost half of Ireland's total exports. Mayo benefited greatly from the linen boom. The Binghams of Castlebar and Brownes of Westport developed massive linen markets in both towns. Castlebar catered for all linen trading from the south of the county. By 1834, 30,000 people were employed in the linen industry in Mayo. That equated to over eight per cent of the county's population which had increased in tandem with the growth of the linen trade.

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Celebrate our maritime heritage this summer

Fri, Jun 23, 2017

Off the longest county coastline in Ireland, around scores of islands, as many lakes and along 100 rivers, the inhabitants of Mayo have taken to their boats and exploited our county's waterways in a sustainable manner for hundreds of years. That strong heritage is etched on our crest and is alive and celebrated today. Irish traditional boats in general took on distinctive regional characteristics and the designs of crafts were shaped by purpose, available materials and historical circumstances. Because of our geographical size, Mayo has been a focus of academics studying our many contributions to traditional boat typology.

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Mayo’s role in saving the uilleann pipes

Fri, Jun 16, 2017

Happy first birthday to Old Mayo. The first article appeared on June 17 last year. This week’s offering, the 52nd article in the series, focuses on Mayo’s role in aiding the survival of the uilleann pipes. This not particularly old but peculiarly Irish suited instrument with its smooth, haunting, sounds has drifted from popularity to a precarious state and back.

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Come back Nestor - All is forgiven

Fri, Jun 09, 2017

Mayo meet Galway for the first time since the former’s shock defeat to the Tribesmen at this stage of the Connacht football championship last year. Galway's win put stop to Mayo's potential and unprecedented run of six provincial titles in a row. That defeat, Galway’s promotion to division one of the Allianz League, and the decision of some of Mayo’s senior players to give it one more crack, all point to a hotly contested semifinal this Sunday in Pearse Stadium. But sure what else would you expect from one of the oldest rivalries in GAA? It is a rivalry that kicked off in dramatic fashion in Connacht’s first contested championship in 1901. That year’s championship was actually not played in 1901, but was held throughout October and November of 1902. Galway had made their way to the Connacht final with a tight win over Roscommon. Mayo had received a bye into the final which was fortunate as Mayo GAA was in a period of reorganisation, its county committee had only been formed in April 1902.

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The long road from the Bloody Code

Fri, Jun 02, 2017

‘No person shall suffer death for any offence’ - no, it is not a medieval monarchical decree, it is in fact the first order of the Criminal Justice Act 1990. The Act prohibited capital punishment under all circumstances within the Republic for the first time. The death penalty had remained on the Irish statute books exclusively for the offences of treason and murder, but from 1990 onward those crimes would carry a sentence of life imprisonment. To say the 1990 Act ended centuries of capital punishment in Ireland would be telling only half the story.

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Who fears to speak of Ernie O’Malley?

Fri, May 26, 2017

This week’s title borrows from John Kells Ingram’s famous 1843 political ballad, "The Memory of the Dead". In his poem, Ingram posits that later generations turned their fattened backs on the memory of the rebels of 1798, "Who Fears to Speak of '98?" Ingram was not a republican, but he penned his piece for the nationalist paper The Nation because he sympathised with what the United Irishmen had attempted to do and he had always pledged to defend brave men who opposed tyranny.

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Mayo through Jack Leonard’s lense

Fri, May 19, 2017

'The Men of the West', that iconic photograph of Michael Kilroy's flying column taken with only the aid of natural light on the southern slopes of Nephin at 11.45pm on the longest day of the year in 1921, is known to us all. It hangs in numerous Mayo pubs and homes and thanks to the quality of the conditions and the skill of the photographer, we can clearly see the resolute expressions of the young men, we know their names and know their stories. But what of the photographer himself? What of the man who captured this first ever photo of an IRA unit on active service in Ireland? Jack Leonard did not just happen upon Kilroy and his men that bright June night. He was no amateur photographer, and neither was he a bystander during his country's fight for freedom. With a keen sense of duty, Leonard used his talent to capture all aspects of Mayo life in the early twentieth century. Jack 'JJ' Leonard was born in 1882 in Crossmolina and as a young man he trained in journalism and photography in London. He returned to Ireland in 1906 to set up his photography business at a time when the country was in political flux. Emotions and anger remained after the Land War in Mayo, a period of civil unrest and violence in the late 1800s, and the methods of parliamentary nationalists were now being challenged by physical force republicans. 

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