Friday, September 07, 2018


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I finally got to visit the Mayo Peace Park in Castlebar. I had heard a lot about it and had even shared my uncle's story online with Michael Feeney way back. Various relatives had visited it and sent me photos over the years but it was difficult to get a proper impression of the place.

Now I was finally here and I must say I was impressed. It is well planned and laid out and has the required sense of dignity. I don't think its path to getting to where it is was all that smooth, so congratulations to all involved in giving us this memorial of which the county can be proud.

My own direct interest was in my uncle, John Dwyer, from Ballyhaunis and I have recounted his sad story on my own website.

It is interesting that the union jack flies freely in the park. There was a time not all that long ago that you wouldn't get away with that in the south, even, or maybe more particularly, in this context. And it is hung correctly. Full marks there.

There are a number of other flags flying, including the Canadian, USA and Australian flags. No surprise there as the Irish, including Mayo men, fought in those armies. Then there are the allies, France and Belgium. But Germany? This was the enemy. I don't think the men of Mayo died for Germany though Lord Haw Haw's father (Michael Joyce) was from Ballinrobe.

Part of the explanation may be that Castlebar is twinned with Höchstadt in Bavaria. And the fashion these days is all about inclusivity.

The centrepiece of the park is the memorial to those Mayomen who died in WWI, and I think they are probably all men on this particular structure. They are grouped by town, except for the latecomers who are placed at the extreme ends.

The memorial itself is a very impressive piece of work.

There is a separate smaller memorial to the Mayomen who died in WWII and a number of smaller memorials to those who died in the armies of USA, Canada and Australia in both World Wars. There are also smaller memorials dedicated to regiments (Connaught Rangers and Irish Guards) and others to those who served in Commonwealth forces or with the United Nations.

There is a specific memorial, from the Belgian government, to those who died in Flanders Fields in WWI, and although my uncle died at High Wood across the border in France I think of him in relation to this memorial also. "Flanders Fields" is emblematic and can serve as a generic name for significant part of the Somme front down into France. I visited the German cemetery at Langemark near Ieper (Ypres) in 1967/8, long before I knew anything about my uncle's story.

There is also a memorial to the 10 Mayo crew members of the Lusitania who died when she was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast in 1915 with a loss of 1,198 lives. Also remembered on this memorial are three Mayo people who survived.

There is a memorial to five Irish born merchant seamen, one of whom was from Mayo. These men were prisoners who refused to co-operate with the Nazis and paid the ultimate price. The Mayo man, radio officer Gerard O'Hara from Ballina, was in charge of the Irish prisoners of war in the Bremen-Farge Work Concentration Camp.

This memorial is dedicated to all the Mayo born civilians who were killed while providing emergency and essential services during the world wars of the past century. I think most of the names are probably from the WWII blitz.

This seat is dedicated to the memory of members of An Garda Síochána who gave their lives in the service of the State. It spans the period 1940 right up to 2015 and I assume it refers to Mayo born Gardaí.

There are a number of wall plaques such as this one to Nurse Bridget Quinn whose name also figures on the Civilian Memorial.

While I think the park was originally conceived as a WWI memorial the concept has clearly expanded to cover much more. Almost all of the recorded names are of men, not surprising when you consider the composition of armies, particularly in the more distant past. The only women's names I noticed were on the Civilian and Lusitania memorials, and Nurse Quinn's plaque. I expect there will be more as historians delve more deeply into the records.

Among the wall plaques is this one to two Mayo men who died in the Spanish Civil War. I wonder were they both on the same side and, if so, which side was that?

As I leave I notice this catch-all memorial stone.

And I just wonder if this title stone might need a minor correction in the future. Irish language rules on lenition are fierce complex so I'll leave it to someone better qualified than myself to come up with a definitive opinion on that one.

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