A group of young Galway students are shedding new light on a local war hero who gave his life almost exactly a century ago on the Green Fields of France.
The history pupils at Galway Community College have delved into the world of the early twentieth century to uncover the life of Claregalway brothers Martin and Bernie Fahy, as part of their Leaving Cert project.
September 26 marked the 125th anniversary of the birth of Bernie Fahy, who worked in the tunnels for the New Zealand army before he was sadly killed in action by an artillery shell in France in 1917.
His brother, Martin Fahy, was in active service with the IRA before drowning during the Civil War in January 1923, at just 29 years old.
And in the strangest twist of fate – as the brothers were fighting for two opposing forces – Bernie visited Martin while he was incarcerated in Wales alongside Michael Collins, where the conversations that took place can only be imagined.
There is some confusion over when Bernie was actually born, with some New Zealand records stating September 26, and other war records showing it was June 24, but one thing that is certain is that he was born in 1890. The sixth of eight children, Bernie set off to New Zealand to visit and aunt before joining the New Zealand army.
Cathy Fahy visited the grave at Arras in Northern France, where she was shocked to discover her great-granduncle had his own beautifully kept grave and headstone – a rare occurrence during that period of time.
“I live two doors down from his original home, I’m the only family member left on the homeland,” she said.
“We heard very little about Bernie Fahy in the family; even my mother wouldn’t have . . . just little snippets of information, but very little, whereas we would have heard lots about Martin.
“Both brothers met in 1916 when Martin was incarcerated in Wales. Bernie would have come from New Zealand and travelled by ship all the way with the rest of the tunnellers up to Southampton, I think.
“He had a week or two off so he went to visit his brother; you can only imagine, one dressed in British military uniform and the other one in jail because he was fighting against them.”
One of the last letters from Bernie was written in the trenches on a small piece of notepad size paper with scrawled handwriting, much different to his previous neat and cursive hand on March 16 1916 – a mere five weeks before his death.
The letter to his ‘dearest mother’ read: “If it’s not too much of me to ask you, you might send me a pair or two of homemade socks. They would do just the thing for this damp. Hope I’m not asking too much of you. Well, I must say goodbye. Goodnight, lights out. Best wishes from your son, Bernie Fahy.”
Through the research carried out, the family have since discovered that they have more relatives in New Zealand when they found out that Bernie’s aunt, whom he had visited, had given birth to an illegitimate son before joining the nunnery.
“The can of worms just started opening,” said Cathy, on the new discoveries that keep on coming about Bernie.
Galway Community College Head of History Philip Cribbin heard about the story by chance on his way up to a camogie final in Dublin, conversing with his neighbour Cathy who he discovered was a great-grandniece of Bernie.
“I just thought it was a kind of an interesting story; how somebody could actually go from Cregboy to New Zealand, return to Britain and then go to France and die there,” he said.
“I thought it was a very simple way to explain to the class as to the divisions and tensions of the time.
“Our missionary statement here in the history department is ‘bring history to life’ and so this is basically what we’re doing, we’re making it relevant, making it real for them, and personalising it,” he added.
During a recent commemorative ceremony, the class planted a tree with Bernie’s great-grandnephew Sean Fahy, where some of the students dressed up in costume and one recited a Siegfried Sassoon wartime poem.
A group of students also made two wooden plaques dedicated to Bernie and one of them was left on the Fahy family grave in Claregalway as a memorial.
School reports better atmosphere and reduced stress due to pilot project
Daily car use at Scoil Iognáid has reduced by 14% in the past year since Galway City Council introduced a School Streets pilot project to the area.
More children are walking (+11%), scooting (+3%) and cycling (+7%) on a daily basis, according to a report published by Galway City Council.
Staff reported that children were arriving to school more ready to learn, with an improved atmosphere and reduced stress at the school gate. Parents and the wider community reported a better walking and cycling environment, improved access and community spirit.
A ‘School Street’ is a road outside a school with a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times – creating a safer, calmer space for children, parents and residents to walk, scoot or cycle. The pilot project in Scoil Iognáid was formally launched in November, 2020, with hundreds of families joining to create the first city-centre School Streets project in Ireland.
As part of the pilot project, Palmyra Row, Palmyra Avenue and Raleigh Row were pedestrianised from November 30 during the school pick-up and drop-off times during the school term. Residents retain access to their homes during these times, as do cyclists or ‘blue badge’ holders, accessing the school.
The project is funded by the National Transport Authority and delivered with the support of the Green-Schools Travel programme, An Garda Siochána, and the wider school community.
Galway West TD and Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Hildegarde Naughton TD described the City Council report as “incredibly encouraging”.
She said the findings would provide information on how to boost increased levels of children taking a healthier and greener mode of transport to and from school.
“Crucially, the report and findings published by Galway City Council acts as a step-by-step blueprint for local authorities nationwide to replicate these results in their own counties,” Deputy Naughton stated.
“Earlier this year I launched a new programme, Safe Routes to School, which is investing in safe walking, cycling and scooting infrastructure on the lead-up to and entrances of our schools. The programme aims to deliver and is delivering, results just like those we can see from this School Streets pilot.”
Director of Services at Galway City Council Patrick Greene said there was reason to celebrate as the School Streets pilot turned one.
“The National Transport Authority identifies the front of school as the place where children congregate in the greatest numbers and where they are most vulnerable to indiscriminate parking practices, hazardous crossing conditions and air quality issues from idling cars.
“The School Streets pilot at Scoil Iognáid has created a space where children as young as four and five are scooting and cycling with their older classmates, as they arrive into school. “Galway City Council is now looking to progress ‘Safe Routes to School’ and ‘School Zones’ at more schools in the city – these designs will create a safer front-of-school environment for children and if any opportunities arise to deliver School Streets or ‘traffic-free’ streets. Galway City Council welcomes the opportunity to explore this with the school community,” he added.
The full report from the public consultation on April/ May 2021, and further information on the School Streets project can be found at www.galwaycity.ie/schoolstreets.
Tommy confident that relic from 1914 shipwreck is in sight
BY LORNA SIGGINS email@example.com
When Claddagh native Tommy Holohan was growing up on Galway Bay, he remembered how neighbours used to have contests to swim out to the wreck of a ship off Mutton island.
Now he believes he may have located the anchor of the same ship, named Nordlyset, in the sands off Nimmo’s pier.
“We’re not sure, but the anchor chain is here and close to part of the keel, so there’s every reason to think the actual anchor is a couple of foot below, “Holohan says.
“If it can be located, and then raised, it should be exhibited as a key part of Galway’s maritime history,” he feels.
The Nordlyset, or Northern lights, was a three-masted 1,600-ton steel sailing barque which was built in Greenock, Scotland, in 1891.
It was carrying a cargo of timber deal from Rimouski, Canada, into Galway when it hit rocks off Mutton island in November 1914.
No members of the crew perished, but much of its cargo was either washed ashore or was salvaged, Holohan says.
“They got her off the rocks and towed her in, and the hull was sitting upright and we could see it for several years” he explains.
“The Claddagh men had contests to swim out to her,” he recalls.
“Then Hammond Lane Metal Company was sent to take what was of value from it and stripped it down,” Holohan says.
“It was a beautiful ship, and a ship that sailed the oceans. It was fitted with the most modern technology they had at the time.
“Galway had been setting its sights on becoming a major transatlantic port and, of course it was one of several ships to run aground in the Bay – but perhaps one of the better-remembered by people who are still alive,” Holohan says.
“All that was left after Hammond Lane finished was the keel, and we think the anchor has to be here. “I think if the proper buoys were used, it might help to lift the keel and that would point to the anchor,” he believes.
The wreck was also close to South Park, known as the ‘Swamp;, which was the Galway dump until the late 1950s, he points out.
“When we were growing up on the Claddagh, we had no toys, so we would be back looking for toys in the dump, or food. When my mother was young, she and her sisters were sent down to the dump for cinders for the fire,” he says.
Holohan is a grandson of Nan Toole, who was known for her medicinal cures in the Claddagh. She delivered him as a home birth in 1951 and died a year later in 1952.
A keen athlete, Holohan holds the world record for the number of times an Irish person has run the New York marathon consecutively, and has also run marathons in Dublin, Boston, Edinburgh and the Mojave desert.
He is a founder member of the Anti-Austerity Alliance and stood for the alliance in the local elections in 2014, and in the 2016 general election. Apart from politics and running, he also maintains a keen interest in local history.
Storm Barra to bring coastal flooding and disruption to Galway
Met Éireann has warned of potential for flooding in the West on Tuesday, with Storm Barra bringing “severe or damaging gusts” of up to 130km/h.
A Status Orange wind warning has been issued for Galway, Clare, Limerick, Kerry and Cork from 6am Tuesday to 6am Wednesday, with southerly winds, later becoming northwesterly, with mean speeds of 65 to 80km/h and gusts of up to 130km/h possibly higher in coastal areas.
“High waves, high tides, heavy rain and storm surge will lead to wave overtopping and a significant possibility of coastal flooding. Disruption to power and travel are likely,” Met Éireann said,