Pat O’Shea (1931-2007)

‘Rising up into the air, they took to the sky and flew.  From west and beyond west, into the wind and through it, they came past countless moons and suns.  One laughed and briefly wore a scarf of raindrops in her hair, and then with wicked feet she kicked a cloud and caused rain to swamp a boat … They had been silent for so long … Silent, while man followed man as tiny blushes of life.’

Hounds of the Morrigan

Patricia Mary Shiels was born 22 January 1931 in Galway, the youngest of five children.  She went to school in the Presentation and then the Mercy.  In 1947 she went on holiday to England, but stayed and began working in a bookshop.  She married J.J. O’Shea in 1953 and they had one child, Jim.  In 1962 she moved to Manchester.

She began her writing career with the theatre in the 1960s.  Here she was supported by David Scase and his successor Tony Colegate, who were directors of the Library Theatre in Manchester.  She wrote for a number of years for both theatre and television.  From 1969 however she began to write alone on a number of different projects: short stories, poems, and an unpublished comic novel.  She then started on what was to become her magnum opus The Hounds of the Morrigan largely to please herself, her friends and their children.

Although it reads now with great ease and light-hearted spontaneity, every word had been weighed meticulously with, as Pat was to later claim, many of the chapters written eight or nine times.  Such devotion reflected her wish to create something worthy of her own favourite books: John Masefield’s The Box of Delights, James Stephens’ The Crock of Gold and The Demi-Gods, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and the novels of Flann O’Brien.  Her book is a fantasy aimed at children and young adults, yet it is difficult to categorize.  It has been hailed as a classic by many reviewers; Benedict Kiely once claimed that Pat’s “own uninhibited fancy sets fire to all this in a most extraordinary fashion.”  By 1982 the book was almost finished, and she decided to submit it to publishers.  On six occasions it came back within a fortnight, unopened.  The Oxford University Press published it in 1985, a wise move as it was a bestseller and was swiftly translated into five languages.

The story begins with the discovery of a mysterious manuscript in a Galway bookshop, which leads to the reappearance of the Celtic war-goddess, the Morrigan, who seeks a blood-stained pebble that will ensure her return to power.  She is opposed by the good-god Dagda and his human agents, a young brother and sister, Pidge and Brigit.  They are chased throughout the hills of Connemara by the Morrigan, on a high-powered motorbike, and her hounds.  Along the way they encounter sweaty Gardai, cart-wheeling nuns, an angler who transforms into an angel, swans who turn into Gypsies, a frog with an inferiority-complex and an earwig who thinks he’s Napoleon.  The Hounds of the Morrigan is a highly original and moving work and should be of interest to anyone young or old familiar with Galway.

She wrote a few ‘brilliant’ chapters of an unfinished sequel containing: a Christmas card scene, candelit shop windows, carol singers and a robin … and into this cheerful scene rides the great Irish witch the Morrigan with her wild sisters, bringing mayhem and magic and mischief.  Pat O’Shea died 3 May 2007.


The Hounds of the Morrigan (Oxford University Press, 1985)

Finn MacCool and the Small Men of Deeds (Holiday House, 1987)

The Magic Bottle (Scholastic, 1999)



David Fickling, ‘Obit: Pat O’Shea’ The Guardian (23 June 2007)


Published Tuam Herald, 11 April 2018


Tadhg Mac Lochlainn (1906-99)

Tadhg MacLochlainn (Pic)

(The Ballinasloe Zenith)

Tadhg Mac Lochlainn was born in Killure, between Ballinasloe and Ahascragh, in 1906.  After leaving national school, he worked as a shop assistant for Mannion’s of Castleblakeney and then for an uncle in Aughrim.  It was at this time that he first became a message ‘runner’ for the IRA.   Between 1926 and 1934 he worked in a hotel in London, and while there, as well as being active in numerous Irish societies, he continued to help Republican prisoners ‘on the run’ make their escapes to Canada and the US.   In 1925-26 he helped organize two Irish-themed concerts in the Queen’s Hall and it was there that he first met Douglas Hyde and Éamon de Valera, whom he became a life-long admirer of.  He once recounted that one of the more memorable moments of his life was of guiding Dev around the battlefield at Aughrim.  He had a great love of poetry and song, and while in England he had two of his own songs recorded; ‘Charming Salthill’ and ‘The Ballad of Fr. Griffin.’  He later produced a collection of his ‘Songs and Ballads’ (1976).  Health problems saw him return to Ireland around 1934.

On returning to Ballinasloe he married Mel Kelly and began taking an active role in the sporting, social and cultural life of East Galway; the GAA, An Taisce, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí, and the Ballinasloe Comórtaisí Dramaíochta, that was to last the best part of 70 years.  The family lived Killure, then Derrymullen and later moved to Duneeda.  Their children went on to become prominent people in the worlds of sports and business.  He worked as a Home Assistance Officer for the local council and was a member of the local Development Committee, the greatest success of which was the founding of the Ballinasloe Co-op Mart.  Around the time of retirement he penned the polemical Community cooperation with the autocrats, bureaucrats and plutocrats (1977)

He had a great interest in the Irish language and along with a team of volunteer teachers established classes in the old Ballinasloe Workhouse.  He wrote the history of the Gaelic League in the town (Craobh Ghrealláín) and his influence had an impact on the development of Eoghan Ó Tuairisc, who went on to become one of the most accomplished writers of modern Irish in recent times.   Mac Lochlainn was a founder-member of the Ballinalsoe Historical Society, helped organize the erection of plaques on many of the town’s sites of historical interest, and with the Battle of Aughrim Memorial Cross.  He campaigned successfully to have bi-lingual signage on many of Ballinasloe’s streets, the first town in Ireland to ever do such.  Towards the end of his life he was active in preventing the destruction of the Poolboy Mill.  He wrote six works on local history, the most famous of which was his Ballinasloe: inniu agus indhé (1971), but followed it up with short but impressive histories of his native Killure, and of Ahascragh, Aughrim and Lawrencetown.  Tadhg Mac Lochlainn died on his birthday.


Ballinasloe: inniu agus indhé, a story of a community over the past 200 years (Galway, 1971)

The story of Killure, Fohenagh and Kilgerril parish over a period of almost 200 years (Ballinasloe, 1975)

Songs and ballads [Songs sung by Escir Riada] (Ballinasloe, 1976)

Community cooperation with the autocrats, bureaucrats and plutocrats, as seen by a democrat in Ballinsloe (1977)

Conradh na Gaeilge, Béal Átha na Slua: Comóradh 75ú bliana de Chraobh Ghrealláin 1902-1977 (Ballinasloe, 1977)

A historical summary of the parish of Ahascragh, Caltra and Castleblakeney (Ballinalsoe, 1979)

The parish of Aughrim and Kilconnell (Ballinasloe, 1980)

The parish of Lawrencetown and Kiltormer (Athlone, 1981)



M. Mac G., ‘A man for all seasons’ Connacht Tribune (2 July 1999)

Tom Kinnucane, ‘Tadhg McLoughlin’ The Ballinasloe Zenith, Vol. 2, Issue 2. (June 1995): pp. 10-11


First published Tuam Herald (7 March 2018)


Margaret O’Connor – Forgotten Patron of the Arts


‘Clad in cloth of gold, her dearest friends about her’

Mairgeag Ó Conchobhair was one of those truly remarkable women that medieval Ireland produced.  She was the daughter of Tadhg Ó Cearbhaill, the king of Éile [N. Munster], and her mother was one of the Mag Eochacáins.  She married the Ó Conchobhair Failgi [of Meath/Offaly].  In 1433 she issued two ‘general invitations’ to all the ‘poets, musicians, chroniclers, gamesters and poor men’ of Ireland and Scotland.  The first meeting was held on March 26th [New Year’s Day], near Killeigh, Co. Offaly. The second, a huge gathering of almost three thousand people, was hosted later that same year at the Uí Faighle traditional seat at Rathangan in Kildare on the ‘first autumnal festival of Mary’ [The Assumption].

In 1445 she led a company of Irish nobles on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, as it was a year of indulgence.  She was noted by the annals as a great benefactor of the church; endowing chalices and books.  She also oversaw the building and upkeep of many bridges and roads.  She died of breast cancer in 1451.  Her son Calbach Ó Conchobhair Failgi died the same year of leprosy.  The following account of her is by the Sligo historian Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh (DmcF) from a partial translation of ‘The Annals of Ireland’ he carried out for the antiquarian Sir James Ware.  The rolls of attendees at these gatherings mentioned are now long-lost, but the entry is of some interest because of the mention of two individuals from senior Connacht learned families.

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Annie Keary – Forgotten Irish Novelist

Annie Keary

Annie Keary (signature)

The novel Castle Daly was published in 1875.  Set in a great house in Galway during the famine, its author Annie Keary was a popular novelist in her time, but has been sadly overlooked since.  She was celebrated as an author of travel guides, historical fiction and for her adapting of myths and legends for schoolchildren.  Of interest to Tuam Herald readers is that, although Annie spent most of her life in England, she was born to a family that played a central role in the life of Tuam in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Disentangling the various generations of the Kearys is complicated by the habit of the family naming all of their successive eldest sons William.  They had a house and land at Clough in Corofin.  Her great-grandfather established a brewing business at Waterslade Place in the 1740s.  In time, owing to the rise of the Guinnesses, his business suffered and he was bought out by the Blakes.

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Paddy Finnegan (1942 – 2014)

Paddy Finnegan

Paddy Finnegan

“There are enough lunatics, winos and gobbaloons roaring and shouting to themselves.  I should not like to be confused with one of those.”

Patrick Joseph Finnegan was born in Dereen, Kilkerrin, Co. Galway on the last day of 1942.  He was the third of five children to Michael Finnegan and his wife Mary (née Kelly).  He had three sisters; Bridget, Margaret and Sara and a brother, Jimmy.  In his youth he knew older local people who were native Irish speakers and developed a great love of the language.  He was educated at the Franciscan Brothers’ National School in Kilkerrin before he won a scholarship to St Jarlath’s College, Tuam in 1956, where he excelled academically.  After school, he went to Wolverhampton for a year, before returning to join the civil service in Dublin.  He worked for the Dublin library services in the 1960s and as a bus conductor with Dublin Bus, based mostly at the Donnybrook depot.  His exploits passed into the folklore of the workers at CIÉ.

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The Great Leveller

Gone The Way of Truth (Pic)Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill, Gone the Way of Truth: Historic graves of Galway (History Press, 2016)

Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill, whose mother’s family hail from Dunmore, is something of a polymath.  He has great fluency in many aspects of Irish and German language and literature after many years in Europe.  He works now as a secondary teacher in Dublin, from where he blogs as An Múinteoir Fánach; writing regularly on diverse aspects of history and folklore.  He has published a number of books already; a collection of Irish legends in German, and more-recently Fadó: Tales of lesser known Irish history (2013) which covers intriguing and forgotten stories from around the country; body snatchers, priest catchers and female pirates.

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NUIG’s Special Collections

James Hardiman 2James Hardiman Library: Highlights from our Special Collections (eds. Marie Boran & Olivia Lardner, 2016)

The James Hardiman Library of NUI, Galway has only recently launched an impressive new guide to some of its most rare and culturally valuable possessions.  The university library has undergone tremendous development and expansion during the last few years, and it makes their most recent publication especially timely.  The work of many people, but especially of librarians Marie Boran and Olivia Lardner, Highlights from Our Special Collections is a beautifully-illustrated guide to the university’s rare books collection.  Moreover, it provides a fascinating guide to old printed material; how to interpret and how to make the best use out of such material.  There are insights into the works of individual printers, bookbinders, and former owners.  The book opens with a brief overview of the uniqueness of the Galway collection, and how it came together over the past 170 years through the foresight of librarians, antiquarians and academics; James Hardiman, William King and Valentin Steinberger were all impressive collectors.  This led to NUIG accumulating a remarkably eclectic and diverse collection, reflecting subject areas that remain major areas of research in the university to this day; from Anatomy, Engineering, and Architecture to Astronomy, Zoology, Law and Languages.  Along with the large number of books, NUIG’s Special Collections is also the home to many valuable drawings, map and photographs.

James Hardiman

The library has also benefited much from the donation of individual collections, including those of Lord Killanin, the folklorist James Delargy and the library of Joseph Henry.  The Henry Library is a collection of special interest to Tuam, as it was long based in of St. Mary’s Cathedral here, and was moved on permanent-loan to NUIG in 2006.  Joseph was one of the Henry’s of Toghermore House and the ancestor of Bobby Burke.  He himself spent much of his life as an Anglican chaplain in Peru.  In 1881 at a meeting of the Tuam Diocesan Council he offered his own ‘large and well-stocked library and bookcases to the Diocese.’  Before his death in 1885 he left his books and £15 a year for the purchase of new stock.  The collection contains numerous works on history, geography, topography and travel, with a small number of interesting titles on polar exploration.  The library grew through purchase and some stock like bibles and prayer books were added to it over the years by the closure of Church of Ireland buildings locally.  There is a near complete set of the Achill Missionary Herald, printed by the evangelical Irish Church Mission Society at their unique settlement on Achill, from the 1840s to the 1870s, which would be of great value to west of Ireland historians.  It also contains the Protestant Tuam Diocesan Council Reports covering almost a century, from 1871 to 1951, the works of Dean Edmund Burton of Tuam, T.J. Westropp’s study of the fort of Dún Aonghusa (1910), Hubert Knox’s Notes on the early history of the dioceses of Tuam (1904), and Edward Sirr’s A Memoir of the Hon. Power LePoer Trench, Last Archbishop of Tuam (1845).

Tuam Herald, 29 June 2016

Seán na bPáipéar, Knight of the Road


“Mental and perpetual tramping was now his lot”

‘Some years ago Mayo fairs and markets were the happy hunting grounds for the ‘Sons of the Rest’ and the ‘Knights of the Road,’ and, the country people used to enjoy the performances of the clowns, acrobats, ballad singers, fiddlers, etc. The closing of the workhouses and the lack of lodgings in the small towns drove these wanderers off the road.’

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Piper Reilly, Éamonn Ceannt and two forgotten Connacht pipers

Piper Reilly at the 1912 Oireachtas, (looking off-camera) next to Éamonn Ceannt

Piper Reilly at the 1912 Oireachtas, (facing off-camera) seated next to Éamonn Ceannt

Since penning the last post on Piper Reilly of Dunmore, it has come to my attention that he must have lived for some time after the year 1912, as along with Éamonn Ceannt, he played at the Oireachtas in Dublin that year.  O’Reilly was then 73 years old, meaning he had been born in 1839.  His presence at the Oireachtas was soon after reported on by Seamus ua Casaide:

‘John O’Reilly of Dunmore, County Galway, the dean of the assemblage, won the highest honors jointly with James Byrne of Mooncoin, County Kilkenny.  The former is described as “a blind man of smart appearance with a jet black goatee beard and clean shaven upper lip, which gives him the appearance of a returned Yank.”  Though seventy-three years of age, not a grey hair gives warning of life’s decline.  His playing, which was far superior to his performance of previous years, may be attributed in some degree to his splendid set of pipes, recently purchased from William Rowsome, the clever pipemaker of Harold’s Cross, Dublin.’

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Piper Reilly of Dunmore

Piper O'ReillySean O’Neill was Adjutant of the IRA’s Tuam Battalion throughout the War of Independence.  Despite his self-effacing claim that he could not write in ‘a lucid style’, he left behind him what is one of the most extensive and interesting witness statements given to the Bureau of Military History [BMH].  O’Neill was born in Beaghroe, Tuam on 22 May 1883 and went to school at Brownsgrove, on the Dunmore Road.  His father James was a small farmer, who rented about fifteen acres from Patrick Kelly, one of the Kellys of the ‘Grove House’ in Tuam.  James was a native Irish speaker and had been educated in a hedge school, which was held in a small thatched building in the neighbouring townland of Glan.  The teacher at the time was Marcus Cunningham, and from him the local children learned the 3 Rs and studied ‘MacHale’s Catechism.’  Sean O’Neill’s writings are full of memories of local social life; the roadside dances, Maypole dances and barn balls.  In his witness statement to the BMI he makes special mention of the ‘Piper Reilly.’

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