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Mayo Feis 1903
15-16 April 1903

"Just over a hundred years ago, on Wed., 15th and Thurs., 16th April 1903, an event of great cultural importance took place in Ballyhaunis - an event which brought the town to national prominence as a centre of the Gaelic Revival then sweeping the country. It was the fírst ever Mayo County Feís, and ít was organised and hosted by the Ballyhaunis Branch of Connradh na Gaeilge or The Gaelic League."

Annagh Magazine, the local Ballyhaunis publication, published an article on the Feis by Paul Waldron in 2003 which was based on contemporary newspaper reports of the Feis. The article highlights specific Ballyhaunis angles and has enough detail for me to identify some of my family who entered competitions, and any prizes they might have won.


"Amongst the notables in attendance over the two days were Douglas Hyde - 'An Craobhin Aoibhinn' - then Presídent of the Gaelic League and later to become the first President of Ireland; Padraic Pearse, who was to become Commander in Chief of the Irish forces in the 1916 Rising; Padraic Ó Máille of Mounterown, Maam, Co. Galway, a Gaelic League organiser, later a member of the First Dail, 1919, and later still, Deputy Speaker of the Dail. Colonel Maurice Moore of the famous Moore Hall family; and Fr. Bewerunge, an authority on Irish music."


My aunt, Bea Dwyer (age 11), and uncle Willie (14) entered the "Juniors Elementary Conversation, together with O'Growney, part I (juniors)", as did my uncle John (age 9) who won a "book prize". Willie and John seem to have been junior members of the Gaelic League.

When it came to the Juniors recitation of prayers in Irish (Our Father, Hail Mary and The Creed), the Dwyer children entered in force: Willie, John, Bea and Maggie (6). The exceptions were Norah (8) and Mick (1). This section also attracted a clatter of entries from the Gilmore family (Julia, Lillie and Mary), who I assume are my Fahey connections.

Mary E Fahy, to whom I am also related, entered the "Historical essay on The Penal Days (about 1,500 words)".


Willie became a schoolteacher and local and county secretary of the INTO. Bea became a milliner and Nora became a seamstress. They married two Kelly brothers, Michael, and Tom. John went into the British Civil Service in London and died on the Somme in 1916. Maggie became a schoolteacher and married Padraig Fahey (also a teacher and brother of the Mary E Fahy referred to above).


Two things struck me in particular on reading the article.

- Very few of the entrants' names were gaelicised. That would be very unusual in today's Irish language millieu. I'm not sure which of the two alternatives indicates the most self confidence.

- There was a very interesting competition entitled "Best Irish Speaking Family". This was to consist of the father, mother, and at least three children; competitors were required to sustain a conversation on the ordinary affairs of life, adjudicators reserving the right to alter the drift of the discourse at any point. The surprising thing was that, despite the Feis attracting entries from all over the county and beyond, there was only a single entry for this competition: Frank Carney and family, Shanvaghera. Needless to say, Frank's family won the prize.

I wonder if the lack of entries might be an indication of the state of linguistic transition across the country, and as far west as the Ballyhaunis hinterland, at that time.

In this context it is interesting that in the 1901 census, none of the Dwyer family are entered as speaking Irish, while in the 1911 census both Maggie (16) and Norah (18) are down for it (Willie, Bea and John were not present in the house for the 1911 census). That would have meant five members of the family having gained some ability in Irish over the 10 year interval between the two censuses. I wonder if this is any indication of the influence of the Mayo feis on the family. Just a thought.

Apparently Padraic Pearse was so impressed with the Feis that he wrote a glowing leading article in 'An Claidheamh Soluis' on the subject. I will chase this up in due course. Meanwhile I have scanned in the Annagh Magazine piece which you can read here.

Thanks to cousin Michael for alerting me to the Annagh article
and to cousin Matt for sending me a copy.

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