From Paris to Castlebar
Colonel John J. O'Scanlon was born in Castlebar in 1827 and was one of a party of 400 doctors and first-aid workers who left Ireland to help France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/1871.
Little is known about the O'Scanlon family and it is doubtful if they have any relatives living in Castlebar.
However, in 1949 John F. O'Scanlon travelled from Paris to Castlebar and presented the members of the Urban Council with letters, documents and armlets, the property of his grandfather.
Councillor Chas. Guthrie was chairman of the council at the time and also in attendance at the ceremony were William Cresham, Robert Kilkelly, Jack Cahill, S. J. McCormack, Gussie Wynne and Michael Heverin.
Others present at the meeting included Liam MacLochlainn, county manager; Michael Moran, T.D.; M. J. Egan, solicitor; Seán Smyth, town clerk, and Kathleen Desmond, county librarian.
All have passed away with the exception of Kathleen Desmond, a native of Arklow, Co. Wicklow, who later married Alex Campbell, manager of the transport section of Castlebar bacon factory.
It would be interesting to know if the artefacts presented to the town council are still in the possession of the authority; if this is the case perhaps they could be presented to the County Library in Castlebar.
Late Josephine Jennings
Josephine Jennings, late of Tucker Street, Castlebar, died at Abbey Breaffy Nursing Home on September 1, 2010. Josephine had been unwell for some time but her neighbours remember her as a gentle, kind person, totally inoffensive. She was a hairdresser by profession.
Josephine was daughter of the late Andy Jennings who, with his wife, ran a butcher shop at Tucker Street, Castlebar, many years ago.
There have been many changes in Tucker Street over the years, but older folk still fondly remember Andy and his wife, a nice decent couple. They will also recall Tom Gallagher, Lucan Street, who worked with Andy Jennings for many years, a hardworking man whom we often met in Paddy Moran's pub, Rush Street. Tom was a native of the Burren area.
Sympathy is extended to Josephine's sister, Rita O'Flaherty, Islandeady, Castlebar, her niece Sara, her husband, Fintan Eagleton, and other relatives.
Burial took place in the Old Cemetery, Westport Road, after Mass in the Church of the Holy Rosary and many of Josephine's old neighbours and friends were in attendance in a final and fitting farewell to a genuinely nice person.
John Fay and Johnny Ruane
John Fay from Finglas in Dublin visited Castlebar last week for the first time in 56 years. The last time he was in the county town was to celebrate the 21st birthday of his friend, the late Johnny Ruane, McHale Road.
John Fay recalled that he had played in a soccer match in the grounds attached to St. Mary's Hospital in which Johnny Ruane scored what he described as a peach of a goal.
He got to know the Ruanes through their uncle, Mick Ruane, who had lived in Dublin for many years. John told the story of how one of Mick's family, who worked in Dublin zoo, was badly mauled by a bear.
John Fay said he was sorry to hear of Johnny Ruane's death some years ago and sent best wishes to his wife Mary and other members of the Ruane family.
The ghost on the Green
Eighty years ago an old tree on the Green, Castlebar, from which, tradition had it, Fr. Conroy of Addergoole was hanged by British forces during the Races of Castlebar forces, was blown down. When it was cut into junks it was found that the tree's heart was eaten away and the timber was valueless.
Some large branches of the tree were lying on the Green for some time and a popular local character, Pat Roche, made a makeshift house by tying the branches together with a rope.
Just imagine what times were likes in Castlebar in the dim distant past when people were forced to live in such appalling conditions.
On a dark and windy night, as some late-night drinkers were making their way home, Pat was turning over for his second sleep. As he was snoring loudly, the tipplers became frightened and quickly made their way home, convinced that something unusual was happening on the Green.
The next day a report circulated that a ghost had been seen on the Green; various descriptions of the ghost spread throughout the town like wildfire. It was said to have cloven feet and horns on either side of its head.
One local man was in a poetic frame of mind and wrote the following poem to mark the occasion:
About a year ago, when war was raging in France,
A tempest was blowing in old Castlebar,
And an old landmark on the Green collapsed.
At an inquest it was discovered
That the tree died of starvation,
It being found to contain an empty stomach.
A local tradesman volunteered to take the carcase,
And it was given to him gratis.
But he afterwards refused to handle the body
Unless he got carriage paid to his premises.
A few months later, some boys examining the corpse,
Discovered a brand new stomach
With head, legs and arms attached,
Enclosed in one of the sleeping chambers,
And described the gruesome scene:
That a ghost had been found on the Green.
It had taken up abode in an old oak tree,
And cheeky as the devil, it was running free.
It's too old and shrivelled to be of use
It's nasty and dirty, filthy and grimy,
My God what a sight, so stupid and slimy.
The poem, if it can be called such, was written by a man who signed himself "The Man on the Street." It is doubtful if he ever won any prizes for his poetry, but then I suppose it is no worse than some of the stuff that passes for poetry nowadays.
Still on ghosts, an old friend of mine, now retired from the clerical staff of Mayo County Council, swears the courthouse in Castlebar is haunted and maintains he observed several unusual happenings in the building when he worked overtime there.
Symes' old house in Spencer Park, demolished some years ago, was also said to be haunted, and workers in the bacon factory maintained Lord Lucan could be heard opening and closing doors with a huge set of keys in the early hours of the morning.
Another pawnshop in Castlebar
In recent weeks I recorded the fact that there were two pawnshops in Castlebar many years ago: Meades pawnshop on Main Street and Hawkshaws in Castle Street.
I have now discovered a third pawnshop, owned by a Mrs. Kilger on the Main Street. I have come across the name Gilger in Mayo, mainly located in Bofeenaun and Westport. I imagine it is the same name as Kilger.
Mrs. Kilger's pawnshop in Castlebar must have carried on an extensive business because when it was broken into a score of gold watches, gold rings, gold chains, silver medals and other valuable items were stolen.
It appears the items were hung on the inside of the shop window and the burglar cut a hole in the shutter, broke a glass pane and coolly walked away with his ill-gotten goods.
The burglar was said to be a man by the name of James McCormack and he was later arrested in Claremorris.
He was described at the time as a "smart rascal" with a good deal of experience in deeds of villainy. The thief ended up in Sligo jail.
The Champ and Major
My old friend, the late Alfie Gillespie, Creagh Villa, Westport Road, Castlebar, never went anywhere without his faithful companion, an Alsatian named Major.
The same love of animals applied to Stephen Garvey, Castle Street, bandleader and opera producer. Stephen could regularly be seen strolling around the Green with Champ, a boxer dog who was a devoted member of the Garvey household.
However, tragedy struck the unfortunate animal when it scampered down the Main Street, went into a local pub, put its paws on the counter, collapsed and died instantly.
Stephen Garvey was away at the time and there was pandemonium when he returned to Castle Street. As is the case with many renowned artistes, Stephen could be quite temperamental at times and he flew into a violent rage when he heard of Champ's death.
Stephen was heading for America at the time and it was his intention to bring the pet with him; in fact the animal had been inoculated and a special crate prepared to bring Champ to the United States. Stephen was in deep mourning for his lost friend, indeed he was inconsolable.
It was later discovered that Champ had died from strychnine poisoning, a sad end to Stephen's faithful pet.
Alas, unlike cats, dogs have only one life.