Pages from the Past

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 29th February, 2012 5:00pm

Stories from back issues of the Westmeath Independent.

150 Years Ago


Calling for an end to the US Civil War

Having first published in 1846, the Westmeath Independent has witnessed and written about wars and famines spanning almost 170 years.

Here's an editorial published in an edition of February 1862 on the subject of the then ongoing US Civil War.

"We deeply regret that as yet we see no speedy solution of the difficulties that encompass the States of America, both North and South. War and bloodshed, havoc and desolation are sweeping on unabated through the land. Bad passions, passions the worst in our nature are being incited among men who must finally, no matter how the contest ends, live together, and have a great many interests in common and it is a pity that people endowed with many great and noble qualities, will not before the end comes and when they are both utterly weakened and exhausted, for a moment listen to he voice of reason, humanity and charity and draw down swiftly the curtain upon a spectacle which saddens the hearts of all true lovers of liberty."

100 Years Ago


Padraig Pearse speaks at Fr Mathew Hall

The Westmeath Independent of February 24, 1912, reported on a meeting in the Fr Mathew Hall, Athlone, the previous Thursday, under the auspices of the Clan Uisneagh branch of the Gaelic League.

Addressing the gathering was a speaker described by the Westmeath Independent as Mr Pearse BL, (President St Enda's College, Dublin).

Lamenting the fact that people tried to hide their rural Irish accents, Pearse asked: "Did you ever hear of an English parent complaining that his child was not speaking English with a French or German accent? Why should anyone speak otherwise than with the accent of his own country? We have almost reached the bottom in the matter of vulgarity when we begin to despite things because they are Irish.

Stating that Irish life was "impregnated with vulgarity", Pearse added: "We find the society of our Irish provincial towns divided into so many watertight social compartments and built up of so many separate social strata as society, than let us say in India, where they are more castes than they have days in the week."

Referring to the rising tide of English newspapers that were growing increasingly popular in Ireland, Pearse asked: "Why should Ireland give up its old literature which was the envy of the world and take to its heard the gutter literature of London.

Is that a good thing or a sign of progress. No, it is a sign of national decadence.

"There is a sort of hazy idea that Irish goes with poverty and English with prosperity. But has English made Ireland prosperous. Is Ireland more prosperous than when she was Irish speaking?

Ireland is not prosperous because she is not herself, but because she is dominated by foreign foes. She must realise herself and be herself," he concluded.

50 Years Ago


Marking 60 years of Ireland's oldest musical society

Sixty years in existence, this is the proud record of Ireland's oldest musical society.

To mark this historic occasion, the Athlone Musical Society will host a Diamond Jubilee celebration in the Royal Hotel, on Wednesday next, February 28.

This unique occasion is attracting widespread interest which will be reflected in the attendance of representatives of the national and provincial press as well as radio and television commentators and photographers. This event, which would prove to be the highlight of Athlone's crowded social calendar, will be the occasion of a reunion of members patrons and friends, past and present, and will no doubt be imbued with the same spirt of gaiety and enthusiasm which has always been a feature of the society."

Outlining the society's small beginning, the piece said: "Sixty years ago, in 1902, a number of Athlone's musical enthusiasts including Miss Disney, Miss Treacy, Miss Madden and Mr Harry Foy, came together and formed a group which today is still flourishing as Athlone Musical Society.

In those early days activities were confined to the promotion of concerts for charitable purposes and it was not until 1907 that the first light opera, "The Pirates of Penzance" was performed.

The Musical Director and producer was Mr Frank Hayward and among the cast were Mr Harry Foy, Misses Kitty and Mona McCormack, Mr and Miss Fetherstonhaugh, Miss Disney, Misses Madden and Miss K. Kilkelly. This production was so well received that it was then taken on tour to Ballinasloe, Moate and other centres and was followed in the next few years by "The Gondoliers" (1908) and The Mikado (1909)

Retirement of well-known teacher

Sean O'Brien, NT, Principal of the Tubberclair NS, retired on Friday last, after 47 years in the teaching profession, the Westmeath Independent of February 24, 1962 reported.

A native of Cappamore, Co. Limrick, he taught in his earlier years in Clara and Cavan, but his life's work was in Tubberclair where he became one of the best known and most popular figures in South Westmeath for 40 years.

25 Years Ago


Fianna Fáil takes three out of four seats

It was election time in Ireland in February 1987 and the election dominated the Westmeath Independent during the month.

The February 20th edition lead with the story: "Fianna Fail take seat from Fine Gael: O'Rourke elected without reaching quota".

The story explained how for the first time in the history of the four-seater constituency of Longford/Westmeath that Fianna Fail had returned three deputies to Leinster House.

"Outgoing TD Albert Reynolds from Longford was elected on the first count, topping the pool for the fourth consecutive election, with a massive 10,542 first preference votes," the paper said.

Henry Abbot was elected on the sixth county for Fianna Fail while outgoing Education Minister Paddy Cooney was returned, on the seventh count, with 2,000 votes over the quota, thanks to transfers from a running mate. Also elected on the same count without reaching the quota was outgoing TD Mary O'Rourke.

The swing away from Fine Gael came as a major shock to party activists, and the paper reported that Cooney dropped 5,680 first preference votes.

However, Cooney told the Westmeath Independent that Fine Gael had been expecting a swing against them. And he said that in Athlone, the PDs had polled well at his expense.

Athlone PD candidate Dan O'Sullivan received 1,9387 first preference votes and said "what the party had to do now is to establish branches in every area."

Another PD candidate Senator McAuliffe Ennis received 3,463 votes.

Across the Shannon, a lengthy recount saw a lengthy battle between South Roscommon TD, Liam Naughten and Senator John Connor to win the third seat.

"Eventually the South Roscommon based TD Liam Naughten was to hold on to his seat, defeating Senator Connor by 18 votes following a county and two subsequent recounts."

Also elected were Fianna Fail's Sean Doherty and Terry Leyden,.

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