In the early 1990s the Mayos in Galway were getting so uppity that it was decided that action would be taken. It is believed that Seamus Keating, the legendary Galway city and county manager, and a Tipperary man to boot, was never slow in taking the hard decision. Exasperated by the controls exerted by the Mayos, their prestigious positions in all walks of life in the city, their swagger about the place, and the whingeing by the few Galwegians left on his staff at the unfairness of it all, one day he pressed the red button on his desk.
The Mayos, also known by their clandestine name Muintir Mhuigheo Gaillimh, were meeting in the basement of their HQ, The Sacre Coeur Hotel, Salthill. Suddenly the room was plunged into darkness, the door was kicked down. It is understood that a force of Irish Army Rangers, stationed at Dun Ui Mhaoiliosa at the time, burst into the room. In the confusion that followed no one was hurt, but it marked the beginning of the end of the influential Mayos; and as we all know, the Sacre Coeur hotel was closed never to reopen.
It was a close run thing. I always believed that our Dan O’Neill, whom I’ve been writing about this past fortnight to mark the publication of his autobiography Divided Loyalties*, was a Mayo sleeper agent biding his time before being summoned by the Mayo Mullahs to take over Galway. He says himself that the Mayos ‘were on the march’ when he arrived here in 1967. He boasts that you’d find a Mayoman in every position of importance in the city: The bishop, Michael Browne was from Westport; the chief superintendent of An Garda Siochana was Joe Meaney from Newport. The county dentist was Michael McLoughlin from Ballina. Des Kneafsey from Ballycastle, and Joe Kelly from Belmullet were surgeons, Prof Eamon O’Dwyer, the renowned gynaecologist, was the son of the chief superintendent in Castlebar. And so the list went on. Pat Tobin (Newport ) and Donal Downes (Castlebar ) were leading consulting engineers. Simon Kelly, Westport, was a famous architect. Frank Sheridan, Achill, was our harbour master (his son Brian succeeded him ). Fr Leo Morahan, Louisburg, was a great GAA figure and Barna PP. Joe Lally, Castlebar, headed our regional tourism office. Dr Gay Corr, Irishtown, practically founded the Regional Technical College. He was later assisted by the Mayo historian Bernard O’Hara from Killasser. As Dan says with evident pride: ‘You couldn’t turn sideways in Galway without running into a Mayo person.’
To add insult to injury, in 1967, Galway was confidently chasing its fourth All Ireland football title, when the Mayos stopped them in their tracks on a miserable Sunday at the Pearse stadium. It was a terrible blow to Galway as it had fielded probably the greatest team ever to play Gaelic football. It’s probably true to say that there were not many broken hearts in the city, when Mayo was ousted.
What was a loss, however, and still is, is the Sacre Coeur Hotel. Most Galwegians forgive the generous Dunleavy family for their Aghamore, Co Mayo, roots. Three generations of Dunleavys, beginning with James and Agnes, then came Sean and his wife Vera Jennings. Her brothers played on the Mayo team in the 1960s. Their son Sean Óg continued the family football tradition by winning an All-Ireland minor title, this time for Galway in 1986. Sean Óg and his wife Aileen (nee Moran ) continued the family tradition. The ‘Sac’ was the venue for most of our returning teams from Dublin. Win or lose, there was always a slap up dinner available. If it was an All-Ireland victory the team might not get through the crowds, from Ballinasloe to Eyre Square, till the early hours of the following day. Amazingly, no matter what time, or how many, or how chaotic, an abundance of food was always served. Seconds always offered. The ‘Sac’ was a by-word for warm and lavish hospitable destination in the West of Ireland.
A final story from Dan. In September 1967 two plain clothes policemen from Scotland called into the Galway Tourist Office at Victoria Place. They had evidence that a certain Barry Ashington had been booked into a B/B in Mary Street some months previously, by one of the Galway tourist advisers, Rosemary Carney. The Scottish police wanted a copy of that booking. In fact Dan, who readers may remember was a member of An Gárda Siochána before he came to Galway as assistant manager and promotions officer with Ireland West. By chance Dan recognised one of the Scottish policeman when he had taken a prisoner back from the CID (Criminal Investigation Department ), in Edinburgh some years before. Soon the full reason for the visit was being discussed. Apparently Ashington had murdered a young American student, Anita Harris, earlier that year and fled to Ireland. He stayed a night in Galway and then began working in the Limerick/Clare area. However, following information from the CID, Garda Sergeant Maurice Jones was alerted by Lisdoonvarna Sgt Michael Harrington that Ashington was in the area. He was arrested, and it was established that he dumped the stubs of his victim’s cheque book into the drain outside the Galway Tourist Office. Sgt Jones had retrieved them. Now all the evidence was coming together. A copy of Ashington’s Mary Street booking copy was found, and the Scottish policemen went on their way. Some time later at Ashington’s trial, Dan was asked to appear as a witness to verify the booking form .
It was a long, tedious, journey to Edinburgh, hours waiting in the basement of the court, until Dan was eventual called. He came blinking into the crowded courtroom. The bespectacled judge looked at him pensively. The counsel for the prosecution rose, and passing Dan the copy of the booking form, asked dramatically: “ Mr O’Neill is this the form you and the CID detective examined in your office in Galway?”
“Yes,” said our Dan.
The judge without waiting for the counsel to speak, dryly commented:“ Thank you Mr O’Neill, for coming so far to say so little.”
by Dan O’Neill
published by Low Ball,
on sale at €15.
The ballad of Dan O’Neil
The following ballad was submitted by that great Galway cyclist and GAA man Críostóir MacGearailt. I have only room for
a selection of the many verses;
but enough I believe, for readers to get the intentions of the poet:
You fielded with Mitchell’s, king-pins of the game
Step by step moved on forward to find your own fame.
Lost your mother at ten - what a terrible blow-
but you felt she still guided you here down below.
Divided Loyalties is the title of this fine book by Dan,
Full of photos and stories since his career he began
Great times to recall, golden memories enshrine,
VIPs on the field, and the broader sideline.
In Mayo’s green and red won National League ‘54
Sure you love these colours, now and ever more.
Of lovely Lough Lannagh wrote verses sublime,
You sung to magic music of Dermot O’Brien.
Various places you visited abroad and at home,
Played football at venues from New York to Rome.
When we turn to versatility, you really impressed,
Every sport you engaged in, could match all the best.
More pages and pages Dan’s story could fill,
When we think of Muintir Mhuigheo and the Sac in Salthill.
Marking Sean Purcell, or golf in Bangkok,
And that All-Ireland medal such tributes unlock.
Of striking personality - was the best one could find-
In organisations, public and private, unique style you enshrined,
had you waited in politics, which of two would you be,
A taoiseach or president, we’d certainly see....