When Anita McMahon arrived on Achill in 1912 to learn Irish she could not have imagined that the Island would become her home for most of her life. Fate stepped in and put her in the way of the people and events that would shape her life from there on in.
Emily Weddall was one of those people,Eva O’Flaherty was another, Darrell Figgis, Paul Henry and Claud Chavasse would have their influence on her too. No only did she make friends with this group of people she also collaborated on many things with her Achill cohorts.
Shortly after Anita arrived on Achill in late 1912 early 1913 the Achill Land Wars were in full swing. Again she put her journalistic skills into practice, reporting on the event and writing letters to the Mayo News supporting those affected by the agitation. Emily, herself was a Protestant tenant of the Achill Mission Estate, the one at the centre of the controversy.
This event in history was recorded for the National Folklore Commission; The Schools’ Collection in 1937/38. The informant was by Pádhraic Mac Pháidín, the headmaster of Tonatavally, on Achill.
About 30 years ago the C. D. B. [Congested District Board] was buying up the estates in the poorest part of the West. The people wanted the “Achill Mission” to sell and they refused. An agitation was commenced and eventually they agreed but wanted to retain the lands of the Colony and other Protestant Settlements in the Island. the Protestants became infuriated at this juggling and the Catholics promised them support moral and material. This was in 1912. the leaders were Rev. Fr. Colleran, Darrell Figgis and William Egan, a Protestant gentleman of Slievemore.To these must be added the name of Walter Bourke another Protestant, who by verse and organising ability gave impetus to the movement…
…A system of boycotting was adopted, and Grierson was compelled to get two “Emergency men” from outside. A mass meeting was convened and the people marched in a body to the Rent office and demanded that the land should be sold…
Master Mac Pháidín remembers that the Agitation went on for the entire winter of 1912/13, but was resolved eventually in the Spring. With the perseverance of the locals and under the guidance of Fr. Colleran the Land Wars ended quietly, the people of Achill the victors.
Mr Scott sold out immediately at the commencement of the agitation and Mr Pike did likewise a short time afterward. the Achill Mission and Mrs McDonnell did so at last.
The remarkable thing about the whole saga was it disproved the popular opinion that Catholics and Protestants were on opposite sides. In a letter to the Mayo News Anita tells of how the people of Achill from different backgrounds and religion united to sort out the situation for the good of all.
In conclusion it is pleasant to be able to state that Achill offers an emphatic denial of the much talked of division between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. In Achill, if anywhere for reasons too long to explain here we might expect to find sectarian feeling very strong. Yet today, in striking vindication the Irish Protestant from the Irish Catholic we find the Protestant Dugort tennants united with their Catholic neighbours, and as anxious as they are to free Achill Island from the blighting influence of the Achill Mission trusteeship…
The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0086, Page 318 Tonatanvally, Co. Mayo
The Mayo News, April 12 1913