Saturday, January 29, 2022

Mayo’s Lee Keegan and Padraig O’Hora celebrate after their victory over Dublin in last August’s All-Ireland senior football semi-final. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie


By Tom Gilmore

Apart from Saturday, August 14, 2021, when they beat the Dubs in Croke Park, Mayo was probably the capital of all Ireland, outside ‘The Pale’ of Dublin, only once before, and that was back in 1798.
Not alone did some Galway people support Mayo’s success, as did all other counties, outside Dublin, but in a little church in North Galway the congregation went much further than that. They even took the priest, himself a Mayo man, by surprise when they cheered and clapped for Mayo’s win even before receiving Holy Communion!
This amazing incident has never been written about before, but it’s appropriate that the people of Mayo, and some in Galway, read it first in the Western People. After all we all are Western people! The people of the western counties must have applauded too (even if we have no evidence of it on iPhones or WhatsApp!) in 1798 when, after General Humbert and his French forces sailed into Killala and established an Irish republic outside Dublin, the Mayo men were in charge too.
But more about that later. For now, you readers need to know that when Galway didn’t bate Mayo last year, they were so passionate and pleased to see their great rivals beat Dublin that they were cheering them even in the chapel.
How do we know this happened? Well as the old adage states, seeing is believing, and I was there by chance to watch this strange scene unfold before my eyes.
It was in the little church at Lavally, a few miles outside of Tuam, and this show of sporting solidarity in a spiritual setting happened at 8pm Mass on Saturday, August 14, 2021.
Lavally is one of two churches in the half-parish of Cortoon, a football stronghold in North Galway. It’s the home place of my late father, and indeed of many of the extended Gilmore footballing clan.
I was there by chance to catch the evening Mass (saving me getting up early on Sunday in my home parish of Kilconly!) and to visit some family members. I was also calling some friends, including a lady who is a native of Shanvaghera, and her Galway husband – hopefully, to congratulate her on a Mayo win.
Leaving my home in the pouring rain and driving the eight miles to Lavally, I continued to listen to the commentary on the match on Midwest Radio. The Mayo commentators were highly excited, and rightly so, as it seemed that their Men of the West might dethrone the kings of football in Ireland for the previous six years, the boys in blue from our capital within ‘The Pale’.
Before I left home I had been watching the first half on TV and to be honest the outcome looked predictable. Dublin, after 45 unbeaten championship games, were coasting to make that 46.
But what ensued in the second half was truly remarkable, with volley after volley of Mayo attacks and Dublin being held scoreless for what seemed like an eternity. However, as I was leaving home and turning from the TV commentary to the one on the car radio, the Dubs had clawed their way back into the game and a Dean Rock point in the 71st minute saw them ahead by two, which seemed set to seal Mayo’s fate. Trailing by two points coming up to the end of any game is still a bit like having one foot in the grave and the other on a banana skin!
The persistence of the Mayo players forced Dublin’s lead to slip on that banana skin when Rob Hennelly swung over a sensational free at the death.
I was a bit like any doubting Thomas about Mayo’s chances of taking out Dublin as I entered the little Church in Lavally at precisely 8 o’clock and just as the radio commentators were saying the teams were about to start playing extra-time.
As Covid-19 restrictions were in place and Church attendances were limited — and I was the last one in that night — the man at the door with the clipboard directed me towards a seat near the top as he whispered: ‘It’s a great match.’
During the Mass I said a silent prayer that the Mayo team would win and bring down the Dubs, who I don’t dislike at all, but I felt, like so many others outside ‘the Pale’, that their dominance of football for so long was destroying the will to win of most other counties, especially those from the West. Anyway, Mayo were the only team that came tantalisingly close to taking out the Dubs on numerous occasions and it would be fitting if they were the ones to do it.
Still, I think my hope for a Mayo win was hope within a hope, even as I asked St Anthony to intervene on the wet and windy Saturday night in the Church of Our Lady and St Jarlath in Lavally.
The priest’s sermon seemed interesting, and he also talked about some refurbishment of the Church, including replacing the carpet on the altar area. Otherwise the Mass was uneventful apart from the celebrant saying that, as was customary during the ‘current’ Covid restrictions, Communion would be given out that evening, as in previous weeks, at the end of Mass and as the people were leaving near the side door close to the altar.
In summing up, Fr Pat Farragher, a native of Cong, remarked that if those in the congregation had any other spare prayers left to say, they might remember to offer one for a team from the neighbouring county who were trying to win in Dublin at that moment.
Suddenly somebody shouted from the back of the church: ‘Mayo have won!’ The whole place exploded with the sound of clapping, cheering and yahoos and everybody in the church was on their feet.
Fr Farragher looked delighted but startled.
“That’s the best news this weekend,” he declared, “and now ye can come up to receive Holy Communion.”
Row by row, seat by seat, the congregation marched up to get Communion on their way out from the Church, people stopping to chat to each other about the amazing success of the Men of the West.
Outside the Church, young and old huddled in groups at the gable wall and the side wall, some lighting cigarettes, oblivious to the light drizzle still falling as they were all agog about Mayo’s success.

Lavally Church in the heartland of Galway football was an unlikely location for an outpouring of support for the Mayo senior footballers last August.

Perhaps there were a few Mayo people among the crowd. I knew members of one family there whose parents came from Tourmakeady and Kiltimagh but otherwise, my guess is that all others were staunch Galwegians in a Galway football stronghold.
Lavally is a good distance from the Mayo border, it’s on the road towards Kilkerrin-Clonberne, the home area of Galway senior football captain Shane Walsh. Yet, sport was the strong unifying force between the two rival counties that evening.
It took me back to anecdotal evidence that I’ve often heard from oral historians when growing up in my own area of North Galway in Kilconly and Kilbannon in the ‘60s.
Those stories were about men from the area going to Mayo to fight with General Humbert when he ‘routed the Red Coats through old Castlebar’ and established Mayo as the capital of the short-lived Irish Republic, more commonly known as the Republic of Connacht in 1798 with John Moore as President.
According to Wikipedia it was ‘a client state of the French Republic but it theoretically covered the whole island of Ireland’. It also states that the Battle of Castlebar took place on August 27, 1798. We hadn’t Wikipedia, or a map of Ireland full of smiley emojis, to inform us what counties supported Mayo in becoming the capital of the country in 1798, but when Mayo beat Dublin in 2021, a new map of Ireland emerged on social media showing smiley emojis in every county in Ireland, except Dublin, supporting the Men of the West.
So, Mayo caused ripples in 31 of the 32 counties that wet August evening by beating Dublin and changed the location of the football capital of the country, as the county did with the political capital of Ireland in 1798.
Outside the church in Lavally, some of the younger people were paraphrasing lines from the song by Tuam band The Saw Doctors. They were saying stuff such as that Galway didn’t ‘bate’ Mayo this year but fair play to the Mayos for batin’ the Dubs.
Elvis Presley had a number one hit in the summer of ’65, both here and in the UK, with ‘Crying in the Chapel’, but in August 2021, Mayo’s win over Dublin had massgoers not crying but laughing, cheering and clapping in a chapel in Galway. To quote a line from another famous song, it didn’t matter what county you were from that evening, Galway or Mayo, it really was a case of ‘Hurrah for the Men of The West’!

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