Those of us who remember 1947 vividly recall the big snowfall of that year, rationing and the scarcity of fuel and other essential commodities. However, our suffering was nothing compared to conditions in post-war Germany. It was from this troubled environment that two young Germans
came to Castlebar where they were temporarily adopted by Mr. and Mrs. William Staunton, Main Street. Their home in Germany was Monschan, which suffered nightly from bombing, their homes destroyed and their families broken up.
The two young children were Karlheing Wehrymeyer (aged 10) and his sister Gerda, just a year younger. They had no knowledge of the English language and before coming to Castlebar had stayed in a hostel in Glencree, Co. Wicklow, run by the Irish Red Cross Society.
Karl, as he became popularly known, enrolled as a pupil at St. Patrick's National School and Gerda joined Sr. Alacoque's class at St. Angela's N.S.
Both Karl and Gerda soon became proficient English speakers and Karl, tall for his age with a blonde head, played Gaelic football and could more than hold his own with his fellow pupils.
Willie and Ethel Staunton, their adoptive parents, had no family of their own but they were a very compassionate couple who showed great affection towards the two young Germans.
Karl and Gerda stayed in Castlebar for a number of years before returning to Germany. The pupils at St. Patrick's and St. Angela's showered them with gifts before they left Castlebar.
For Willie and Ethel Staunton it was a particularly sad time, a heartbreaking experience to part with their beloved Karl and Gerda, two young victims of a savage war.
I don't think the young Germans ever returned to Castlebar though they kept in regular contact with Willie and Ethel Staunton and some of their young friends in the town.
This was just one small episode from World War 2, a typical example of how the young and the innocent gravely suffer through no fault of their own.
Colonel McAlpine, Windsor
The McAlpines family, Windsor, Castlebar, were generally regarded as good landlords, a rare enough species in Mayo in the 18th and 19th centuiesy. Little is known of the McAlpine family nowadays, though they were large landowners in the Castlebar area in times past. They originally came from Scotland. A fine set of pillars leading to land in the Moneen area were probably erected by the McAplines in the late 18th century.
One of the best known members of the McAlpine family in Mayo was Colonel James McAlpine who died at his residence, 108 Eaton Square, London, on February 7, 1857. It was quite common for many landlords to have palatial residences in London and other parts of England. In fact many landlords rarely stepped on Irish soil and most of their handiwork was carried out by local agents, often referred to as gombeen men.
Castlebar's oldest building
Castlebar Christian Fellowship, The Mall, Castlebar, is located in the oldest building in the county town. The chapel was built for the Methodists under the patronage of Lord Lucan and the foundation stone was laid by the Rev. John Wesley on May 21, 1786. The inscription over the door reads:
"And this stone which I have for a pillar shall be God's house."
John Wesley was one of the most famous preachers of his day and travelled across Ireland on horseback giving sermons in towns and villages en route. He was a regular visitor to the Browne family, Rehins, Castlebar.
Up to the late 1940s, the Rev. Phair was attached to then Methodist Church and was well known and popular in Castlebar.
The church was the location for an art centre for some years before being again established as a place of worship. The current pastor is Cathal Duffy, Castlebar, a native of Westport, and this year the Christian Fellowship produced a very attractive calendar which has been distributed to households in Castlebar.
Some Castlebar characters
I often hear it remarked that Castlebar doesn't have any great characters like it had in the past. Television and radio have done away with people's ability to make their own fun. At the same time I believe the fun generated by some people isn't recognised until they have passed away.
I enquired in this column last week if anyone remembered a man named Mount Anthony. Sure enough, shortly after The Connaught Telegraph was in the shops, I was contacted by a number of older people who knew Mount Anthony, whose surname was Carney, a man who lived in Newantrim Street in the 1920s and 1930s. By all accounts he was popular local character who took life in his stride and had a happy go lucky nature.
Michael Brady, Newport Road, Castlebar, in an interesting article in Cathair na Mart, the journal of the Westport Historical Society, in 1977, recalled many of Castlebar's well known characters, including Mary Bingham, Whiskers Joyce, Francie Philbin, Mount Anthony Carney, Máirtín Philbin, William Murtagh, Forty Waistcoats Deasy, Horan Callaghan (Jack the Bladder) and Mary Charlie.
William Murtagh, Lucan Street, was a tinsmith and manufactured cans, mugs and milk measures. Each week he went with his ass and cart to villages around Castlebar to sell his wares. On his return home in the evening he usually went to the St. Helena Bar, Rush Street, which was then owned by a man named Johnston and is now run by John Moran.
On one particular evening some practical jokers were watching William and when he was in the pub they unhitched the ass from the cart and led the animal into William's house and upstairs to his bedroom. The jokers next removed the wheels from the cart and reassembled the lot upstairs.
When William went upstairs he was confronted by the donkey and cart. He was livid with rage and hopped and danced outside on the footpath.
Could you imagine that happening nowadays? I doubt it somehow.
• Michael Brady emigrated to England in the 1940s and joined the Merchant Navy at the outbreak of World War 2. He has written a fine book about his travels entitled A Sailor's Story: Aboard the Ocean Liners.
Máirtín Philbin and Joe Byrne
Mairtin Philbin, like so many Castlebar people at the time, served in the Connaught Rangers during the 1914/'18 War. He was based in the Northwest Frontier of India and when he retired from the army he returned to Castlebar. Máirtín was a great man for practical jokes. In the Castlebar of the 1920s there was a man named Joe Byrne who was regarded as something of a miser by local people. His daily ration was dry bread and black tea, but on occasions he treated himself to one herring a day.
Máirtín Philbin was walking in the Old Cemetery, Westport, one afternoon and spotted Joe Byrne's grave. In a moment of inspiration, he decided to write an epitaph for Joe and attached the following words to the headstone:
Here lies the remains of
old Joe Byrne,
His daily allowance was
one lone herrin';
If he'd added to this a
pint of stout,
Surely to God he'd be
That evening the secretary of Mayo County Council was visiting the cemetery when he saw Joe Byrne's headstone with the epitaph attached to it. He was convinced the writer was Máirtín Philbin and asked him if the was the author of the epitaph. However, the bould Máirtín denied any knowledge of the epitaph and told the council official: "Begob, sir, I don't know anything about it. Sure I'm as pure as the driven snow, as innocent as a new-born babe." Máirtín obviously had a way with words.
The council official was amused at Máirtín's reaction and promptly replied: "Never mind, Máirtín, auld stock. It's a good one anyhow. Here's a half a crown, Have a pint on me."
Máirtín made haste for Johnston's where he regaled the customers with the story about Joe Byrne's epitaph and the free pint.
People had very little money in those days but endured difficult times and never lost their sense of humour. I'm afraid it's much different nowadays.
Brilliant Belcarra teacher
The Nestor families have lived in Belcarra for many generations and have made a very positive contribution to the development and progress of their native area. Seán Nestor, a former teacher, served with distinction on Mayo County Council for a number of years and his brother Pat runs Belcarra Post Office and also has a caravans for hire business.
Joe Nestor, Ballyglass, is a retired teacher and is a dedicated community man. He is well known in Castlebar, having went to school here for some years, a nephew of Delia Garvey (nee McAndrew), Lucan Street, and formerly of Ballyglass..
As the old saying goes, it wasn't from the wind the Nestors took their ability. Joe and Seán have a great love of learning and a keen sense of pride in Belcarra and Ballyglass.
As far back as 1915 Pat Nestor, Belcarra, was one of the best read men in the west of Ireland. A teacher by profession, Pat was regarded as a genius and could recite the works of Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet, and sing many of Thomas Moore's melodies with great clarity and feeling.
Indeed Mr. Goodman, musical examiner with the National Board of Education, said few could match Pat Nestor's ability to teach singing, a well deserved tribute from a distinguished literary figure.
Ireland was a poor place in the early years of the 20th century; the spectre of poverty stalked the land and many young people from Belcarra and other parts of Mayo were forced to emigrate. Under difficult circumstances, Pat Nestor and others like him instilled in young people a sense of their Irishness and a pride in their own place.
The people of Belcarra can feel proud of Pat Nestor. Charles J. Kickham put it well in one of his stories: "All was done for the honour and glory of the village."
That quotation from the author of Knocknagow, aptly sums up Pat Nestor's progressive outlook, his deep love of Belcarra and its people.
Film fun in the council
IN the early years of the 1900s, silent pictures were all the rage. They were many travelling shows, which visited the larger towns in the country. Castlebar has a long history in the movie world with the Palace Cinema on the Main Street and another cinema on Ellison Street, located where the Ulster Bank now stands.
The County Cinema in Spencer Street was built in the late 1930s and pictures were also shown in the Plaza Ballroom on the same street.
However, in 1915 when a man by the name of J. Ormonde-Dann made an application to Castlebar Urban Council to show silent pictures in the Town Hall, it created quite a flutter amongst the members. It was patently obvious that some of them regarded picture shows with a great deal of suspicion,
Councillor Michael Horan presided at the meeting and Councillor Pat Timlin was worried about the legality of showing films in the Town Hall.
Councillor J. F. Moles insisted the applicant required a licence, otherwise they couldn't consider his request.
Yet another councillor was worried about the implications of this latest form of entertainment . . . God knows where it would lead to, he stated.
What would the councillors think of some of the rubbish that now passes for entertainment? The mind boggles.
After mulling over the application for a considerable time the councillors failed to make a decision about the showing of films in the Town Hall and so the unfortunate Mr. Ormonde-Dann had to ride off in the sunset with his kit and caboodle, a disappointed and frustrated man.
Charlie Chaplin, a star of the silent movies, would have greatly enjoyed the debate and I can well imagine him writing a comical script about the antics of the Castlebar councillors all those years ago.