Anita McMahon, a Cork native arrived for the 1912 Scoil Acla to learn Irish. She had intended to leave after the summer but like many before her, ended up staying for most of her life. From her arrival her destiny on Achill seemed to have been set.
On her way to Irish class one morning an event was unfolding outside her lodgings of the Amethyst Hotel in Keel. On a platform was the Protestant Agent collecting the rents from a group of men. Curiosity caused her to stop and listen to the ‘commotion’, which turned out to be the agent extracting rather than collecting rent from the men. Appalled at how the agent was treating the men “just like dogs”, as she later wrote, Anita felt compelled to do something about the plight of these men. Instead of going to her Irish class she returned to the hotel and questioned the proprietor about the what she had just witnessed.
At the time the Amethyst Hotel was owned by a Mr. Patton who was able to give he a little background on what was going on outside. He told her that the rent at the time (1912) was about £1 a year which sounds like very little but was a extraordinary amount then, even by today’s standards. These high rates often resulted in tenants not being able to pay and subsequent eviction.
Anita was qualified journalist and wasted not time in putting pen to paper, writing to the local newspaper The Mayo News requesting a column in the paper. She received a very courteous reply from the manager, telling her she could have “as much space as she wished”, but he could not pay her. She did not wish for payment, only space. So she got down to work to “expose the scandal”. Her work was not in vain her actions gained such momentum, that the following week the Mayo News had blaring headlines on ‘The Achill Scandal’. This was continued the following week, and so on, pouring further light on the conditions under which the Achill people existed.
Emily backed her on her endeavor and the two women became lifelong friends and allies…