The Achill Feis of 1911; Part (2)
The Achill Feis (fair) was one of the biggest events held on the Island. It was reported on by local newspaper the Mayo News:
The Achill Feis, which took place on Thursday last, was the first event of the kind ever held in Lower Achill. We are glad to be able to record that it was a good success… the crowds gathered from all parts of the island, kind helpers motored down form Castlebar, and by 8 o’clock all was set going.
Dooagh Village, where the 1911 Feis was held. Reproduced by kind permission of Mayo Libraries.
Under the instruction of Emily Weddall and members of the Gaelic League the many Islanders clubbed together to put the final touches to the fair. The men of Dooagh worked into the early hours to have the hall ready in time for the big day.
On the day of the fair the children were dressed in their best clothes to perform in front of the crowd each hoping to finish first in the singing, dancing or storytelling competition. The adults too competed in similar categories. There were many exhibits of crafts, industrial exhibits, home produce and baking. Emily won first prize for darning!
The bilingual play The Doctor was performed by the talented locals. A perfect end to a perfect day!
Mayo News; June 3, 1911. P. 8
The hall that Emily built for Achill, the venue for the Fair (Reproduced by kind permission of Mayo County Libraries.)
Achill Feis of 1911 (1)
It did not take long for festival fever to take a grip on Achill, in 1911 there was a big Feis (fair) held in Dooagh village on Achill. It was one of the first events held in the newly built hall initiated and financed by Emily Weddall. This fair was a big event with people coming from the island and from further afield. There were many competitions at the fair and substantial prizes awarded to the winners! Emily wrote this letter to the Mayo News:
To the Editor “Mayo News”
Sir- May I through your paper drew the attention of the Irish crochet workers of the county to the selection by the County Committee of the Achill Feis, as the place where the Branchardiere prizes are to be competed for… I must therefore remind intending competitors that the date fixed for the Achill Feis is May 25th, and the prizes offer for the competition are:-
Competition No. 27 – Best piece of Irish crochet lace, Irish design: first prize 10s, second 5s.
Competition No. 28 – Best Irish crochet collarette and cuffs, Irish design, first prize 10s second 5s.
There were also prizes for dancing, music and singing. The skills categories in the competition included best sewed, knitted and crochet garments. The more unusual competitions were for the best plain cake, made from Irish ingredients and the best dozen of hen’s eggs!
Mayo News; June 3, 1911. P. 8
The first time St. Patrick’s Day was introduced as a national holiday was in 1903. When Emily arrived back in Ireland in 1906, the holiday was in its infancy. There were no parades as such, pubs were closed as it was a holy day, and people celebrated mostly by attending church. But in Achill that was not the case. It might have been a sober day but it did not prevent the festival atmosphere. An article that appeared in the Mayo News on March 30th 1907:
La Fheile Padraig in Dooagh!
Concert and Play a Magnificent Success!
St. Patrick’s Day was fittingly celebrated in Dooagh. In the early morning a large procession headed by the village band and waving some beautiful banners marched to the chapel playing national airs all along the route. Mass was celebrated by Rev. D. Greeney CC, who preached an eloquent sermon on the life and mission of our National apostle. The Acts as well as the Rosary were recited in Irish. In the evening the venue was Dooagh National school where an Irish Ireland concert and play was met with almost unbounded success notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather.!
The unprecedented success of the entertainment was chiefly if not wholly, due to the energy activity and perseverance of Mrs. Weddall, Miss McWilliams, Miss Grey, Miss McCabe, the Misses Callaghans and a host of other ladies, upon who it reflected great credit. To them and to their lieutenant all the Irish Irelanders of the parish extended the most heartfelt thanks and trust their net endeavor in that direction will be more successful still. The committee in charge of the arrangements are deeply indebted to Mr McGreevey, Balla and Mr Fitzhenry, League organiser for their kindness in lending scenery and other decorations.!
The success of St. Patrick’s day led on to other Irish cultural festivals on the Island, especially “Under the auspices of the Gaelic League”. Emily and/or other members of the local branch of the League did the fundraising and organised them at various locations and times of the year. It was also the early days of tourism and such events attracted the people who attended cultural events.
A Gaelic League event advertised in the Cliadheamh Soulis in 1907
Mayo News, March 30 1907. Page 4
Cliadheamh Soulis 7 June 1907. P 7
Rockfield House, Keel, where Emily set up home with her husband
Emily Weddall moved to Achill Island in 1906 with her husband retired sea captain, Edward Weddall, whose compromised health, due to a tropical disease benefited from the fresh sea air. Emily acquired Rockfield house, which once was a mission school in the 1840’s/50’s through connections established by her late father William John Burke who spent some time on Achill in the 1840’s.
Emily who was concerned mostly with the care of her husband, made time to indulge her passion and love of the Irish language and culture. A woman of means she had the resources and the drive to get involved in the beginning of the cultural revival on Achill. She naturally gravitated towards people who shared her interest and they to her. She joined forces with the local Parish Priest, Fr J Connolly and Seaghan Mac Enrigh, who had previously campaigned for the reintroduction of Irish in the schools and classes for children and adults alike.
Emily was already a member of the Gaelic League, which she joined when she returned to Ireland in 1906. and teamed up with Fr Connolly to form a local branch Grainne Mhoal (named after the pirate queen Grace O’Malley) in 1907/08. Over the next few years the people that would be pivotal to the revival would converge to make Achill, making it a hub for the Irish language and cultural revival.
The magazine produced by the Gaelic League, to which Emily was a frequent correspondent
The house on Leinster Road, Rathmines, where Emily McArthur lived before she married.
Emily McArthur became the second Mrs William John Burke on October 2nd 1861. The couple married in St. Peter’s Church, Dublin, by witnessed by Henry Ashe and John Galbraith. The marriage was solemnized by Rev Burke’s old friend Rev Hyacinth D’Arcy.
All that remains of St. Peter’s Church, Dublin. (Photo by Ciarán Parkes
Emily McArthur was living at an address on Leinster Road, Rathmines, possibly the one that the family lived in before her father’s death in 1829. Her new husband Rev Burke stayed in a rectory on Harrington Street, though it stated on their marriage certificate that his home address was still in his native Galway. It appeared that Rev Burke and his new wife did not return there but stayed on in Dublin, where their first child was born a year later.
The house on Harrington Road, where Rev Burke stayed before her married Emily’s mother
Rev Burke’s previous life in the West of Ireland was far from ideal. He had a long and controversial history there, and perhaps did not want to subject his new wife to it. Shortly after their marriage and birth of their child the couple moved on to Edenderry, Co. Offaly, where they had a better chance of living a peaceful existence. Their tranquility was lived, as it did not take long for the Rev Burke’s past to catch up with him…
Thanks to Ciarán Parkes for photo of stained glass window from St. Peter’s Church Aungier Street, Dublin.