Thursday 15 November 2018

Mullaghmore author has played many parts in his life


If there is truth in the saying that ' a man in his life plays many parts' then this adage is surely epitomised by Sligo author and historian Joe Mc Gowan.

Farmer, soldier, builder, fisherman, now turned writer, his latest work "A Bitter Wind" was unveiled recently at an Irish night starring Sligo's own Sandy Kelly in the Pier Head Hotel Mullaghmore.

Born on the family farm at Mullaghmore, Joe lived the life of a small farmer on the family holding until emigrating to the U.S.A. in the '60s.

Drafted into the U.S. Army ten months after arriving in Yorktown Heights, New York, he underwent infantry training in Fort Dix, New Jersey.

On graduation he was stationed with the 87th Engineer Bn. in Fort Belvoir, Virginia where he served during President Kennedy's stand-off with the Russians, known as the ' Cuban Crisis'. The balance of active service was with the 557 Quartermaster Co. on Evreux-Fauville airbase in France.

This being the period of the Vietnam war, the 557th's mission, composed mostly of 82nd and 101st Airborne troops, was the delivery of supplies and personnel to the combat zone in Vietnam.

Following discharge from the Army, Joe lived and worked in the U.S. in commercial and residential construction for many years. When he returned with his family to Ireland in the mid 70s the 'Celtic Tiger' was not yet born so scarcity of work dictated a career change.

Looking around for opportunity Joe purchased a half-decker fishing boat, the 'Connaught Ranger', and took up sea-angling, salmon and lobster fishing off the Sligo coast. Retaining his interest in the sea, he still conducts boat trips, with associate Keith Clarke, to Inishmurray Island aboard mv 'Excalibur'.

On his return to Ireland, Joe, becoming keenly aware of the accelerating pace of change in the Irish countryside, decided to record the old lore before it vanished completely. Since that time he has been dedicated to preserving, visually and orally, Ireland's disappearing traditions and customs.

Given his keen interest in heritage it is not surprising that he was the driving force behind the erection of the famine monuments 'The Famine Family' on the quayside in Sligo and the 'Faoin Sceach' in the famine graveyard behind St John's Hospital.

Asked what he felt was his greatest achievement Joe said: 'My proudest moment was the day of unveiling the Markievicz Memorial in Rathcormack. This tribute to Sligo and Ireland's greatest heroine is an appropriate memorial to Constance Markievicz's lifetime of struggle for Irish freedom and for the poor of Ireland. It is fitting too that a plaque there also memorialises the local men who fought in the War of Independence and the Civil War. We owe to them all the freedoms we enjoy today."

Realising that the new order of transmitting information is on the world wide web Joe set up Sligo's first and only heritage information website in 2005. It is replete with local news and information as well as articles on history and heritage. Now a full-time writer, his books, backed by meticulous archival research, are inspired by countless nights spent visiting the older generation and listening to their tales. His short stories, usually cameos of Irish life both past and present, feature frequently in magazines and on RTE radio.

He is also a Heritage Specialist with the Irish National Teachers Organisation 'Heritage in Schools Scheme'.

"This initiative by the Heritage Council is a golden opportunity for people of my generation to pass on the lore of past generations to schoolchildren who otherwise might never learn of the old customs and practices and what it was like to live in simpler times without electricity and all the luxuries we enjoy today," said Joe.

His publications include the classic In the Shadow of Benbulben; Echoes of a Savage Land; Constance Markievicz, the People's Countess; Co. Sligo Famine Book; Inishmurray, Gale, Stone and Fire; Island Voices; Sligo, Land of Destiny; A Fairy Wind CD, and now A Bitter Wind.

The days of the fireside story-tellers are gone, but their stories and lore, happily, live on in Joe McGowan's books, and on his SligoHeritage website.