Lifestyle – A new book by Athenry historian Conor McNamara offers fresh insights into the life of Liam Mellows, the leader of the 1916 Rising in Galway. Conor tells JUDY MURPHY how, during his research, he came across some intriguing theories about Mellows, the son and grandson of British Army sergeants whose wish since childhood had been to die for Ireland.
“If I were to use one word to describe Liam Mellows, it would be unhappy,” says historian Conor McNamara, whose new book on the Irish revolutionary is being launched this week. Conor’s book of Mellows’ writings certainly proves that his subject was obsessed with death and dying.
Liam Mellows: Soldier of the Irish Republic – Selected writings 1914-1922, covers his early involvement with the Irish Volunteers, his opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and the hours before his execution in December 1922 by the Free State army.
Mellows is renowned in Galway for the part he played in the 1916 Rising locally. After it was put down, he escaped and spent several months hiding in the Sliabh Aughty mountains between Galway and Clare, before escaping to New York dressed as a nun.
In America, from 1917-1920, Mellows played a key role in raising awareness about Ireland’s struggle against England.
It was in America, in 1919, that Mellows was photographed with a young boy who has never been identified. When the Fenian leader, John Devoy wrote to Mellows asking ‘who is the child’? the brief response was ‘that’s my godson’.
That raises questions for Conor who feels it was an extremely non-informative reply from a man who had stayed in Devoy’s house in New York.
There had been rumours in Ireland that Mellows had fathered a child – if not two – and the photo of him with this unidentified boy deepens the mystery for the Athenry historian.
“Mellows was likeable but unknowable and he hadn’t many close friends,” according to Conor, who teaches history at the University of Minnesota’s Irish programme, having previously worked at NUIG as its 1916 Scholar in Residence.
That observation about Mellows being unknowable is apt, as it has also been claimed that he was gay.
The historian isn’t offering answers to any of these theories – and doesn’t debate them in the book. Rather, his exploration of Mellows’ writings aims to highlight “the personal toll the revolution took on a generation of young militants”.
Mellows’ writings were ‘the disparate public and private utterances of a young man who lived an itinerant life during a time of rapidly changing political realities’, Conor explains in his foreword.
The letters, in particular, offer an insight into this apparently fearless revolutionary, showing his many insecurities and his anguish over what he believed were his mistakes.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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County Council ‘driving homebuyers out of the market’
The price that Galway County Council has agreed to pay for homes in Gort will make property unaffordable for young couples, it was claimed last week.
Councillor Joe Byrne (FG) told last week’s Loughrea Municipal District meeting that the Council had been given approval to purchase 31 units on the Tubber Road in Gort for €7.8 million.
“That averages €252,000 for homes in a turn-key condition – I find that to be an elevated price to be paying for two and three-bedroom houses. If Galway County Council are paying what I consider an inflated price, it might drive up prices for young couple in Gort,” he remarked.
Fianna Fáil’s Ivan Canning concurred that the local authority was paying “over the odds for houses” while there were so many empty Council houses dotted around County Galway, some of which the Council did not appear to know about.
“We have an awful lot of empty stock. I know of people who leave houses and it’s three years before the Council puts someone back in at an extortionate cost to bring them back because they’re empty so long.”
He asked how much the Council paid out for “slip and trips” on public footpaths, speculating that it was a lot more than would be spent on upgrading footpaths, which were “in a state” in Portumna.
He accused Council staff of “wasting huge amounts of money each year”.
Director of Services for Infrastructure and Operations, Jim Cullen, said if people fell and sued, the Council would defend the court cases and there was often contributory negligence involved. The incidents were covered by the Council’s liability insurance.
“I can’t accept the Council is wasting a lot of money. In order for the Council to get approval to buy houses, we have to go through a lot of hoops. The Department doesn’t give out money easily,” he retorted.
He said some local authority properties were handed back in poor condition, others were offered to tenants and rejected while yet more were handed back to the Council in areas where there was not a housing need.
Cllr Canning said he had been told the Council owned three houses on one road and when he started investigating further, he discovered they in fact owned eight houses – many of them empty.
Planning was recently granted to build 24 homes in the Oranhill Estate in Oranmore in an area earmarked for a community facility. Councillor Martina Kinane asked if the Council had reached an agreement to purchase these homes.
She understood that the Council had received €1.5m from development contributions for the estate.
“There is a housing need . . . but I don’t want the community space to be lost.”
Mr Cullen said he would not comment on whether the Council was in negotiation over properties.
Man to be sentenced for sexual assault on teen girl
A 25-year-old man was convicted by a jury last week of sexually assaulting an underage girl in a room over a pub while celebrating his 21st birthday four years ago.
Kevin Corcoran, 68 The Glade, Athenry, had denied a charge of sexually assaulting the then 16-year-old girl by digitally penetrating her, during his 21st birthday celebrations which took place in a pub in East Galway on November 22, 2015.
A jury of four women and eight men took just two hours and 45 minutes to reach a majority verdict of 10-2, finding him guilty of the offence following a three-day trial at Galway Circuit Criminal Court last week.
The name of the pub or town where it is situated cannot be published in order to protect the identity of the victim.
The court heard she had been drinking and socialising with male friends in the pub when her group encountered Corcoran and a group of his friends who were celebrating his 21st birthday.
His group were renting two rooms upstairs for the night and she and some of her friends joined the party upstairs in the early hours.
The said girl had left the bar area around 4am after being asked to go home by a barman. She told jurors she met Corcoran outside on the street while on her way home. He invited her back into the party and she agreed to go back with him.
Once upstairs again, she said he pushed her down on a bed in one of the rooms while his and her friends were partying in a room across the hall, and sexually assaulted her.
She said he first took her phone off her before the assault took place.
He threw her phone back to her afterwards and she left the premises distraught and went home.
She told her mother shortly afterwards. Her mother went to work that day but later that night took her daughter to the Garda Station and from there to the sexual assault unit in Galway.
Dr Lorna Flanagan from the Forensic Science Laboratory gave evidence that there was insufficient DNA evidence found on the girl’s jeans and underwear to link Corcoran to the allegation of digital penetration.
She noted the button had been ripped off the girl’s jeans and the zip broken, which could suggest the jeans had been pulled off her with force.
Forensic medical examiner, Dr Joanne Freeman, gave evidence she medically examined the girl at the sexual assault unit and concluded there were injuries consistent with the allegation of digital penetration.
Corcoran declined to give evidence at the trial.
He will be sentenced on December 11 next.
Council considers charging for train station carpark
Pay parking could be coming down the track for spaces at Oranmore train station – with County Council officials warning that the introduction of a charge may be the only way to fund additional spaces at the frequently over-subscribed car park.
A meeting of Athenry Oranmore Municipal District was told that bylaws for the introduction of pay and display at the council-owned facility were currently being drafted – and councillors would have to make a decision about its future operation in the not-too-distant future.
Cllr James Charity (Ind) said it would be very difficult for any councillor to support such a move, given that they were also trying to encourage people to leave their cars behind.
“It will be a significant difficulty for any member to vote for pay parking when we’re trying to encourage people to use public transport,” he said.
Cllr Liam Carroll (FG) said that the extension of the car park in Oranmore needed to be a priority as people’s safety was being put at risk due to disorganised nature of parking when the facility fills up.
“This morning, I left Oranmore at about 8.50am and the car park was chock-a-block – they were parked all the way out to the Coast Road.
“There are 140 spaces there and at the moment, I would estimate that there does be 250 cars there, parked all the way in on a cycle lane and on a bus lane. Oranmore Station is a victim of its own success,” he said.
These cars were mostly commuters going in and out of Galway City and this was achieving a significant reduction in the volume of cars on the road, he continued.
“If you’re talking 250 cars a day, that’s around 55,000 per annum being taken out of the city. Most of those cars aren’t there until after 8am so it’s not people going to Limerick or Dublin – it’s people using Oranmore as a commuter station.
“Imagine the impact that’s having on the reduction of the carbon footprint in the city; and the impact on health and wellbeing, when people are not getting stuck in traffic when they hit the roundabout at Galway Clinic every day,” said Cllr Carroll.
Cllr Shelly Herterich Quinn (FF) said that the fact that a charge existed for parking at the train station in Athenry was further exacerbating the problem – as people were driving from the town to Oranmore Station to get the train there and avoid having to pay to park.
“That’s adding to the load at the station in Oranmore. In Athenry, there are hundreds of spaces, but people just don’t want to pay,” she said, adding that Iarnród Éireann should consider offering its parking spaces for free in Athenry.
Cllr Gabe Cronnelly (Ind) said that Oranmore and Attymon should be better utilised by Iarnród Éireann as commuter stations and put down a motion to seek that the number of times the train stopped there was increased – seconded by Cllr Carroll, the motion was adopted by area councillors.
Senior Executive Engineer Damien Mitchell said that a framework document currently under development for the Garraun area where Oranmore Station is situated included provision for a loop that would enable frequent commuter trains to run in and out of Galway City.
“The reality for parking is, how do we pay to add additional spaces,” said Mr Mitchell.
“What we’ve done in the past is borrowed it and put in pay parking to pay it back.
“I know the problem is there, but the reality is I have four or five towns in the county looking for additional parking spaces and the only way to facilitate that is to pay for it,” he stressed.