Members of Mayo County Council pictured outside Castlebar Courthouse in 1905.

Local History: Train sabotaged to prevent vote for council chairman

By Tom Gillespie

THERE is a very interesting chapter in the historical book, Mayo County Council Years of Transition 1909 to 1919, published by the local authority in September 2017 and written by colleague Christy Loftus with research by former Mayo county secretary Padraig Hughes.

This particular section recounts how a train carrying councillors to a meeting in Claremorris in 1908 was deliberately sabotaged to delay the elected members getting to the session in time to vote in a new chairman.

The holding and timing of meetings was largely dictated by the train service provided by the Midland and Great Western Railway, and the railway company was frequently requested to lay on special trains to facilitate attendance.

Indeed, the failure of the railway company to arrive on time or even, on occasions, to run was the cause of some considerable friction and confusion.

There was even a suggestion that, following elections to Claremorris District Council in 1908, that a train had been deliberately sabotaged so as to delay the arrival of certain councillors while the business of electing officers proceeded, electing Mr. Conor O’Kelly as chairman.

Later, however, when supporters of Mr. P.J. Killeen arrived, a further election took place which elected Mr. Killeen.

An editorial in the Western People took a dim view of the actions of the members gathered at the meeting of Claremorris District Council.

In an editorial it described the ‘sabotage’ of the train carrying members to the meeting as a ‘despicable trick’.

"If, as is generally assumed, the tampering with the mail train conveying a number of Mr. Killeen’s supporters to Claremorris was part of a deliberately conceived plot to compass Mr. Killeen’s defeat, one may be pardoned for asking what is public life coming to, or are their any lengths at all at which men will stop to carry out their purposes," said the editorial.

It went on: "Is it possible the mystery surrounding the interference with the signal wires many never be unravelled, but if the Local Government Board, on the facts within the common knowledge, believe that the outrage was committed to obstruct and delay councillors from attending the council meeting at the appointed hour, we cannot see how they can refuse, on the other hand, to confirm Mr. Killeen’s election at the subsequent meeting attended by the members forming the majority of the council."

Mr. Conor O’Kelly’s nominees were elected to all positions.

The report on the proceedings was as follows: "Towards 11 o’clock practically all the members of the District Council has assembled in town with the exception of the representatives of the Ballyhaunis and Knock districts (who were coming on the mail train).

"At this time Mr. Conor O’Kelly’s party, which he marshalled to the boardroom, was the stronger, but would be outnumbered by the councillors expected in the train and for whom Mr. Killeen and his party were waiting in the town before proceeding to the boardroom.

"The mail train is due in Claremorris at 10.50 a.m. At that hour she was not even signalled. Inquiry was made at the rail station and it was learned that the staff and telephone arrangements had been interfered with and that the train was lying at Ballyhaunis station and could not proceed until she was piloted into Claremorris.

"Much evidence of sabotage existed and according to the report the authorities believed from their investigation that the tampering with the wires was pity of a carefully prepared plot.

"An appeal to delay proceedings until the train arrived was defeated by Kelly’s supporters.

"At 12 o’clock, with outgoing chair Mr. P.J. Killeen in position, the business commenced despite a further appeal for a delay which in effect was disenfranchising the Ballyhaunis/Knock areas."

Mr. D. O’Kelly, brother of Conor: "It was their duty and function to be here in time."

The train arrived at 12.30. A second meeting was held with Mr. Killeen’s supporters in attendance and Mr. Killeen was elected chairman and representative on the county council.

Another report from The Connaught Telegraph from the same period concerned an unlicensed public house at Mayo Abbey.

It reported the law did not take kindly to the local populace partaking of the hospitality offered up in shebeens in the county.

"A few evenings ago the vigilant sergeant of Balla, with his assistant merrymen, visited a well-known hospitable establishment near the graveyard at Mayo Abbey and, acting under what was known in the old times as a sheen warrant, seized a fairly large quantity of whiskey in bottles and also a respectable quantity of double X porter in jars.

"Of course it was asserted by the owner of the liquor that it was kept for purely social purposes; but the amiable sergeant makes very different assertions and is determined to have the discrepancy between them judicially settled at the next Petty Sessions to be held in Balla."

A meeting of the council held on April 1, 1911, noted ‘with profound regret the demise of our esteemed colleague James Daly’ who was the former proprietor and editor of The Connaught Telegraph and a key figure in the establishment of the Land League in Mayo.

Mr. Daly was elected on four occasions to represent the Castlebar Electoral Division on the county council.

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