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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The Seven



Ruth Dudley Edwards, The Seven: The lives and legacies of the founding fathers of the Irish Republic (Oneworld: 2016)

In his Irish Impressions (1919) G.K. Chesterton recounted a story about a ‘comical’ character he met on a visit to Dublin.  This ‘hearty Unionist, not to say Coercionist’ had been shot by British soldiers during the Rising.  He knew however who to blame; ‘[h]e assured me with great earnestness that the rebels had been guilty of the most calculated cruelties, and that they must have done their bloody deeds in the coldest blood.’  Yet, ‘[w]hen disciplined troops destroy people so much at random’, Chesterton thought, it was much to his interlocutor’s ‘honour that he was, on principle, so much more indignant with the rioters who did not shoot him than with the rioters who did.’  Chesterton published his book, partially one might suspect, to enlighten his avid Anglo-American readership on the complexity that lay behind of the unfolding Irish Revolution.  He approached the turbulence of Anglo-Irish history through the prism of a long-running family feud.

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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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‘All faults and failures blotted out’

earthlyIn an editorial that a he penned a few weeks ago, the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Moore, along with describing Ireland today as a ‘terrible ugliness, and it is getting uglier’, informed his readership that the 1916 Easter Rising then being commemorated in Dublin, was nothing but a ‘blasphemy of terrorist acts committed in the name of God’ and a precursor to the Islamic State.  One might forgive Moore the theatrics; his article covered a lot of ground, the real bugbear of which appears to be his Conservative Party’s position on the EU in the upcoming British referendum.  One might suspect that much of the angst in Britain over Europe is really a post-imperial hangover of sorts, and understandably enough, 1916, being the spark that set the rest of the barn on fire, would not be remembered kindly in such circles.

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