When presidents were presidential

Fri, Nov 18, 2016

History was indeed made on November 8 when Donald Trump was elected 45th president of the United States. I am not quite sure why history was made, a Republican beating a Democrat is not new, but it certainly feels like something immense has happened. Only something immense could sway the US electorate from voting to return a black Democrat in 2012, to voting four years later for a white billionaire Republican who holds overtly racist and misogynistic views. 

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Dublin in twelve hours, and that is a promise

Fri, Nov 11, 2016

Through the years of kingdom, empire, dominion, republic and continental union, County Mayo has retained the rarely advantageous honour of being among the most westerly outposts of each political entity. The county's distance from the heart of government and its demanding terrain seriously hampered any mode of movement, in and out of Mayo. At the passing of the Acts of Union in 1800, the Crown accepted that responding to sporadic violent opposition to the legislation would be difficult considering a regiment on foot would take six days to travel from Dublin to the west. Correspondence between the British authorities in Dublin and their surrogates in Mayo would therefore be all the more urgent. However, at this time, it took the swift mail coach, running through the night, more than 30 hours to reach the county capital. Logistical challenges existed too for the movement of produce and for travelling men of business. Any coach journey covering 60 miles a day was considered efficient. To reach even Mayo's eastern border by coach from Dublin would have taken two days with good conditions. Land transport, at the turn of the 19th century, was undependable and slow. As a result, long distance travel on the part of most people was simply not undertaken due the many obstacles it raised. 

That all changed with the arrival in Ireland of Carlo Bianconi. The Italian had landed in Ireland in 1802 and had set up a small two car service in Clonmel in 1815. Charles Bianconi (as he was by then known) began offering cheap and expeditious travelling across extended distances throughout Ireland. Despite the cars being uncovered and open to the harsh Irish elements, the services proved hugely successful as they were scheduled, fast, and many stages on each route had a Bianconi owned inn in which food and lodgings were supplied before the traveller progressed. Bianconi’s horse drawn transport operated in Castlebar from 1836. His Mayo network was extended to include a daily service from Longford to Ballina that ran through Foxford. Bianconi revolutionised movement for the people of Mayo when in August 1851 he announced an ambitious new route that would take a patron from Ballina to Dublin in one day. The two horse car would leave Ballina every morning at 5.45am (except Sunday) and would progress first to Castlebar, then Westport, Leenane, Letterfrack, and on to Clifden in time for the mail coach from Galway to Dublin and in time for the Westport and Castlebar day coach to Galway railway station. Bianconi's new route announcement was well timed to coincide with the opening of the Galway railway station that same month. In addition to the two horse car, the entrepreneur timetabled a well-equipped four horse coach to leave Westport for Castlebar every morning.  After Castlebar, the coach would pass through Ballinrobe and Shrule on its journey to Galway. The capacity for the four horse coach was 15 passengers, four inside and 11 outside. Bianconi boasted that by availing of his routes, the Mayo traveller could be in Dublin that same evening enjoying an early dinner. 

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Mayo co-operative creameries, the original cash cow

Fri, Nov 04, 2016

Irish farmers learned a long time ago that, in certain circumstances, working in co-operation could lead to real progress and maximised profit for each individual. The meitheal system, whereby a farmer would assist a neighbouring farmer, who would in turn reciprocate that help when needed, was a well established tradition in rural Ireland. The spirit of the meitheal was evident in the beginnings of the Irish co-operative movement. Co-operatives were operating since the 1880s and the concept of voluntary association among farmers went through strong periods as well as years of slow development.

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An eighties classic is being rebooted on Saturday

Fri, Oct 28, 2016

Johnny Logan won the Eurovision for the first time, veteran republican Tom Barry died, retired international Robbie Keane was born, and Knockmore and Castlebar Mitchels last met in the Mayo senior club championship final. The year was 1980 and that final saw the meeting of two Mayo footballing traditions. Mitchels, founded in 1885 was the oldest club in the county, while Knockmore, though founded in 1958, were not registered until 1960. Mitchels had 24 senior titles in the bag to Knockmore’s one before the 1980 final. However, it could be said that the playing field had been levelled on the run in to the decider as both teams had shown recent good form. Mitchels had taken the 1978 title by a point against Claremorris and Knockmore were beaten finalists in 1979. Two early Knockmore goals in the 1979 semi-final had knocked champions Castlebar out of contention. Knockmore’s opponents in the final were the all-conquering Garrymore side. Garrymore had completed the three-in-a-row from 1974 to 76 (the last club to do so), and it took a replay for them to be beaten in the 1977 final.

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The television will not be revolutionised

Fri, Oct 21, 2016

If I told my four-year-old son that Irish television only provided one channel at the time of his father’s birth he would probably laugh, thinking the very notion as being inconceivable. In contrast, his generation will grow up with a multitude of portable devices on which to watch TV and movies. Consequently, the television set has lost its monopolistic control over our personal entertainment, impressionable thoughts, and consumer behaviour. Public trends and industrial production, or perhaps vice-versa, have moved on and may never return this way. Though it is far from dead, it is not that long ago since the television set was the internet of its era.

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Blueshirts march on Cooneal

Fri, Oct 14, 2016

At the January 1933 general election Éamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil retained power by increasing its seat count to 77. Since its first general election in 1927, the party had increased its Dáil representation at every subsequent contest. In order to halt Fianna Fáil’s march, opponents of de Valera formed a new party in September 1933 by merging the bulk of the membership of the pro-Treaty Cumann na nGaedheal with two smaller conservative groupings, the National Centre Party and the National Guard (a fascist group known as the Blueshirts). Fine Gael — The United Ireland Party was formed and immediately began the process of holding Cumann na nGaedheal’s core support and growing its membership base.

In early February 1934, a UIP (as the party was often referred to) rally took place in Cooneal in north Mayo. The main speakers were Patrick Belton, TD for Dublin North, and Michael Davis, TD for Mayo North. Belton had a personal hatred of de Valera ever since his own expulsion from Fianna Fáil for breaking party policy and taking the Oath of Allegiance in order to enter the Dáil in 1927. At the Cooneal rally, Belton did not hide his loathing of de Valera. Flanked by Blueshirts in berets from Ardagh, Lahardane, and Knockmore, Belton took to the stage wearing a Blueshirt uniform under his coat. It was an act of defiance and a show of support for General Eoin O’Duffy, who as leader of the Blueshirts, had been arrested in Westport a few weeks previously for wearing the group’s uniform. Listing his own nationalist credentials, among them the swearing of Michael Collins into the IRB, Belton commended O’Duffy’s actions in Westport when he insisted the general “was fighting for the expression of the will of the majority of the Irish people against a dictatorship of the people led by de Valera”.

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Lucan and the Charge of the Light Brigade

Fri, Oct 07, 2016

It was the action that went down in military history as much for its commanders’ incompetence as for its soldiers’ perceived heroism.

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The taming of the Blue: Act 2

Fri, Sep 30, 2016

The first thing to strike me when I entered Croke Park two weeks ago was that Mayo fans had very obviously and deliberately populated Hill 16 in big numbers. The Blue army’s sense of ownership of the historic terrace, as reinforced during the 2006 ‘Mill at the Hill’, had again been challenged. While mutual respect remains, the Mayo fans’ sense of inferiority and their Dublin counterparts' sense of entitlement have both been eroded to a point where near equilibrium has been reached. The Mayo team too, learned some years back that nothing and no one is sacred in top flight GAA. That understanding did not come in some midnight revelation, but through years of proving it so on the pitch.

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When the Mayo oligarchy ruled all

Fri, Sep 23, 2016

During the Georgian era, powerful Protestant families owned large tracts of land throughout County Mayo and the province of Connacht. The Castlebar based Bingham family, together with the descendants of Sir Arthur Gore (1685-1742), formed a family compact or oligarchy through marriage and blood whereby political appointments and other influential positions would be secured among themselves. In an era when marriage was determined by the spirit of collateral calculation, the children of Sir Arthur Gore and Elizabeth Annesley would cement the oligarchy.

Their son Arthur Gore (1703-73), became the 1st Earl of Arran. A daughter Elizabeth married James Cuffe (1707-62), son of Gerald Cuffe, who built Elmhall and grandson of Sir James Cuffe, who was granted lands in Ballinrobe in 1667. James Cuffe’s (1707-62) uncle through marriage was Sir Henry Bingham (1654-1714), 3rd Baronet of Castlebar. The Bingham baronets became the Earls of Lucan in 1795. Elizabeth and James’s son James Cuffe (1745-1821) became 1st Baron Tyrawley and sat as MP for Mayo from 1768-97. Anne Gore, another daughter of Sir Arthur and Elizabeth, married John Browne (1709-76), 1st Earl of Altamont. The extremely wealthy and powerful families of the Gores, Cuffes, and Brownes were now first cousins and, in turn, the Binghams were inducted into the oligarchy through their relationship to the Cuffes. In County Mayo, being the remotest part of Ireland from intercourse with the interior of the kingdom and the capital, the oligarchy was an essential component of the Crown’s local government system.

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Croagh Patrick, then and now

Fri, Sep 09, 2016

There are not many locations within the boundaries of Mayo from where a vista of Croagh Patrick cannot be gained from even the smallest naturally raised platform. The mountain, with its distinctive pyramidal shape, is an iconic symbol of the county for the people of Mayo. Better known today as a venue for an annual Christian pilgrimage, the Reek’s history is one of changing uses.

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Mayo’s seventeenth century rebel song

Fri, Sep 02, 2016

I recently stumbled upon a 17th century song, as you do, which was dedicated to the county of Mayo. The song, titled "The County of Mayo", initially caught my eye as it was printed in the old Irish type, a rare sight nowadays. The author was a man named Thomas Lavelle who was active during the middle of the 1600s.

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1879 - a forgotten year of famine and fury

Fri, Aug 26, 2016

It may not be scorched on the Irish psyche as the Great Famine of 1845-52 is, but the famine of 1879, which affected the west more than any other region, brought suffering and led to an increase in agrarian offences committed by furious and despairing tenants. In 1879 the Great Famine was still a painful memory for a large number of people. Most had witnessed first-hand family and friends die a slow, torturous, death by starvation, and had parted indefinitely with family members who had emigrated in an attempt to escape the living hell of famine. The population of Mayo fell by almost 30 per cent during the Great Famine due to death and emigration, and by 1879 the county was still recovering.

The weather in the weeks leading to the traditional harvest time of autumn was reported to have been poor with torrential rainfalls and lightning storms accompanied by high winds at times. Despite the lessons learned during 1845-52, Mayo farmers remained dependent on the potato crop because, except for limited areas mainly in south Mayo, conditions would not support any other crop. The wet weather, as it had done in the 1840s, brought on the feared blight. The telltale signs of an infected plant, the browning leaves followed by dying plants, spread panic through the county. The crop failure was swift and widespread and its effect instant. A visitor to Mayo in late August reported, “the entire community appears to me to be separated only by a film from an unknown abyss.”

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