New book captures the essence of being 'Mayo'

IF you ever wondered what makes us Mayo people what we are, it might be worth your while checking out the recently published offering We Are Mayo from the pens of Tom Brett and Sean Rice.

The title, the book’s authors tell us, was chosen quite deliberately. "It reflects the common bond that exists between us, helps unite us and hopefully will never leave us," they declare.

It is an excellent production, a hardback of the highest quality in terms of the text and photography, an excellent testimony to the hard work and dedication of both authors who clearly have a great passion for their county and the people and places that makes Mayo one of the most beautiful and unique parts of Ireland.

Anyone involved in GAA would be more than familiar with Sean Rice, the doyen of sports journalism in the west, a man who still has that sharp incisive mind which he brings to readers in his weekly column in The Mayo News. You will recognise his fine penmanship in so many pieces in this book.

Tom Brett is from Charlestown and would seem to be a suitable topic himself for a book on its own, such is his fascinating and varied life which saw him and end up in Freemantle, Australia, practicing medicine having graduated from University College Galway (now NUI Galway) in 1979 before moving to Australia in 1984.

Clearly he kept in touch with his homeland and maintained his great passion for all things Gaelic, including the landscape and the people it produced, as their stories are woven through a rich fabric which binds so much of this book together.

The book opens with a wonderful foreword from Ireland’s First Lady, Sabina Higgins. Her strong Mayo connections, having been born in Ballindine where she attended national school (she also attended Mount St. Michael Convent in Claremorris), places her in the unique position to write about her county and what it was like growing up in the area in what were hard times.

Her contribution alone is a wonderful piece of social history from the pen of a lady who is a fine writer in her own right.

The glossy, high quality production takes us through the political, cultural, social and sporting history of Mayo, documenting the lives of many famous people and places.

The book is broken down into easily readable short articles covering the geography of the county, including its magnificent mountains, islands, rivers and lakes, as well as numerous places of historical and archaeological interest.

It covers the arrival of the Great Western Greenway, while it also looks at some of the great historical events which not only shaped the county but also the country, notably the 1798 rebellion, the Land League and the Great Famine, which scattered millions of Irish people, including those from Mayo, to America and elsewhere in the world.

Given the huge contributions Mayo men and women have made to shaping the historical, cultural and political landscape of the county, names such as Margaret-Burke Sheridan, Mary Robinson, John Healy, Louis Brennan and Monsignor James Horan, to name but a few, are among those profiled.

Mayo’s sporting prowess, not just in Gaelic games but in soccer and rugby too, are well documented, with some nuggets concerning some of the greats of sport, including Olympian Martin Sheridan, Paddy Prendergast, Henry Kenny, Josie Munnelly, Joe Corcoran, Padraig Carney and a wonderful piece on soccer in Mayo and the contribution Tom Ketterick made to the founding of Castlebar Celtic, while another sporting legend, Stephen Walsh of Westport Rugby Club, is given an honourable mention.

The quality of photos is quite stunning, from the front page itself, which has drawn comment over the original Mayo jersey worn by the brother of the co-author, Eamon Brett, making his debut for Mayo in the All-Ireland minor final of 1974, to the back page, which features a stunning picture of Downpatrick Head.

The cameras of a number of local photographers capture the raw beauty of the county. It is written in a very concise and easily readable format.

For anyone with the green and red blood of Mayo it is something which must be added to the collection of those who value and love their heritage and are proud to say they are from Mayo.

It can be purchased online at Castle Book Shop, Castle Street, Castlebar, and will be available in all good bookstores when they reopen. It retails at €30 (or four for €100).

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