Westport and the 1916 Rising

    Westport had a tradition of radicalisation before the events of 1916. The 1880s brought the struggle for tenants' rights and the Land War. The United Irish League, formed in Westport in 1898 to fight for tenants' right to land, soon spread throughout the country and became the constituency arm of the reinvigorated Irish Parliamentary Party.

    In 1913 the Irish Volunteers were formed and many young Westport men, already members of the Na Fianna Éireann (origin of the Irish Boy Scouts), joined the Volunteers. A strong branch of Cumann na mBan was also active in the town by 1915. The local paper, the Mayo News, reported weekly on progress in the nationalist organisations in the town. The split in the Irish Volunteers over British Army recruitment during the First World War was minimal in Westport. Those wishing to serve in the British Forces travelled to other centres to join up.

    The Rising on Easter Monday, 24th April, 1916, came as a complete surprise to the nationalist organisations in the town. A benefit concert in aid of the Irish Volunteers had been organised for that day, and Joe McBride, brother of Major John MacBride, one of the leaders executed after the Rising, had not been informed of the preparations for the Rising, even though he was the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) organiser for Mayo.

    In Westport the nationalist organisations met at Farnaught Hill outside the town, where their leaders gave them the news and they pledged to support the Republic that had been declared. The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) took note of all this, and a few days later the military from Castlebar blocked the roads out of the town, while the RIC arrested as many of those present at the Farnaught meeting as they could. These men and youths were sent by rail to Dublin and on to Frongoch in Wales, where they were interned, until released at Christmas 1916.

    Major John MacBride had not lived in Westport since going to South Africa, where he acquired military experience in the Boer War, followed by his marriage to Maud Gonne. He was involved in the Rising purely accidentally. As he strolled through Dublin that morning, he encountered units of the Irish Citizen Army as well as the Volunteers, of whom he was nominally a member, and felt obliged to join them and share his military experience.

    John MacBride is remembered in Westport by a bronze bust on the Mall opposite St. Mary's Church; by a plaque on the wall of the Helm pub on the Quay, formerly the McBride family home; by the McBride Nursing Home in St. Mary's Crescent; and by the name MacBride Terrace in the housing estate on the Quay road, built in 1934.

    Westport Civic Trust Aims

    Promote and initiate the preservation and protection, renewal and improvement of the buildings and other features of the natural, historical, cultural, scientific and architectural interest of the area, for the benefit of the community.

    Westport Civic Trust


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