Fr. Tom Shannon corresponded with Castlebar emigrants in England.

Fr. Tom Shannon’s Sodality papers: Keeping in touch with Castlebar emigrants

By Tom Gillespie

Part 5

THE late Fr. Tom Shannon spent 14 years as a curate in Castlebar, during which time he was responsible for the boys Sodality, to the members of which he wrote monthly typed letters.

From November 26, 1964, to July 12, 1971, he sent out 81 missives. Their keeper, Ernie Sweeney, gave permission to feature extracts from them in The Connaught Telegraph.

During his years in Castlebar, Fr. Shannon was highly respected by the teenagers and young men he ministered to. In the 1960s emigration was rife, but Fr. Tom always kept in touch with the young men who were forced to leave in search of work abroad.

In a letter to Sodality members on November 30, 1970, when he recorded the death of Archdeacon William Nohilly, he referred to many young men who had gone abroad.

He wrote: “It is a happy coincidence that I bring you in this letter good news from our friends and companions who have left us - men who in their attitudes and actions are living up to their faith in which they were baptised.

“Quite recently, I had a letter from Joe Lyons of Thomas Street in which he said: ‘I must tell you that I enjoy going to Church here, more so than I did when I was in Ireland. Maybe it's because at home it is the thing to do and everybody notices if you don’t attend Church. But when you are away from home and up against it at times, it is great to feel that you have God and Faith to find comfort in'.

“Mike Garvey of Lucan Street is staying with Joe at 40, Hammersmith Grove, London, and he wrote to say: ‘I don’t expect to be home for Christmas. So, give my regards to everyone’.

“Frank Browne of Kilboyne left Salford for the United States last Saturday. He wrote to me before leaving and said: ‘I would appreciate it a lot, Father, if you would say ‘good-bye’ for me to all the boys, especially to Pat McLoughlin, Tom McHugh and Pat Higgins, and the girls in the Castle Bakery (Castle Street).

“'I would like to wish the best in the coming year (1971) to all the boys who go to your meetings. I hope that are all keeping the Pledge; and if they are, I hope they won’t break it for a long time’.”

Fr. Shannon’s letter continued: “Dave Lyons (Thomas Street), Pete Vahey (McHale Road) and Ber Hughes (Thomas Street) are living at 15, Crediton Road, Kensal Rise, Killburn. Dave wrote to say: ‘We usually go to the 12 o’clock Mass, and I am glad to say it is usually packed to the door’.

“Pete wrote to say: ‘I have started work in my new job. I hope to be a qualified chartered accountant in four years. I know it will be hard going, but it will be worth it in the end’.

“Ray Mooney, Western Avenue, East Acton, London, wrote: “Since I have been over here I have been to two dances only, and I didn’t like them a lot - not a patch on the Socials or Hops (at home)’.

“Tommy Rothery (St. Patrick’s Avenue) wrote from Queen’s Road, Leeds: 'I’m going for engineering, but I have to start at the bottom’.”

In his letter of February 22, 1967, Fr. Shannon said he had extended Christmas greetings to the following emigrants: Paddy Jordan (McHale Road and Bristol), Pat Connolly (Moneen and Liverpool), Oliver Neary (McHale Road and Kent), John Heneghan (Burren and Leigh), Mick O’Boyle (Borradroma and Blackburn), Joe Neary (McHale Road and London), Paddy Lynch (Moneen and Manchester), John McDermott (Borradroma and St. Helens), Oliver and John Joe Neary (McHale Road and London), Lawrence Quinn and Brian Scahill (Cloonkeen and Liverpool).

In November 1967 he had received letters from past members in England - Paddy Lally (Garffymore) and Padraic Walsh (Ballymavrath).

While in June 1968 he had heard from Paul Bourke (Mountgordon), Frank Mulchrone (Rahins), Brian Halligan (McHale Road), Mike Conway (Ringeraun) and Chas. Guthrie (St. Patrick’s Avenue). And in November from Owen Flannery (St. Bridget’s Crescent and Hammersmith), Mick Collins (Cornanool and Norwich), Paul Bourke (Mountgordon and Camberly, Surrey), Tommie McLaughlin (Derrycoosh and Tooting, London), Eamon Scahill (Derrylea) and Henry Brogan (Pheasant Hill), both in Liverpool.

For Christmas 1968 he received season’s greetings from the following - Anthony Jordan (Ballynew), John McDermott (Borradroma), John Heneghan (Burren), John Joe and Eamon Neary (McHale Road), Michael Burke (Borradroma), Tommy Joe Prendergast (Newantrim Street), Paddy Lynch (Moneen), Michael and Frank O’Boyle (Borradroma).

In July 1969 he received letters from England from Francis Foy (McHale Road), Mick Collins (Cornanool), J.J. Corrigan (Ballycroy and Hoban’s Main Street), and Willie Scott (Main Street), while in August those who wrote to him from England were Michael Rice (Moneen), Padraic Neary (McHale Road) and Cyril Killeen (Station Road).

For Christmas 1969 he received greetings from England from Kevin McAleese (Ballynew), P.J. Quinn (Mountgordon), John Heneghan (Burren) and Padraic Martin (Liscromwell).