Michael Feeney M.B.E.

Photo:Mayo Peace Park & Gardens

Mayo Peace Park & Gardens

Martin C

Photo:Mayo Peace Park & Gardens

Mayo Peace Park & Gardens

Martin C

A Mayo Man Through & True

By Martin C. Coyle

Michael Feeney is by his own admission is “a Mayo man through and true” was born at McHale Road, Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland, the youngest of a family of Seven of Winifred (nee Burke) and Martin Feeney. His father died when he was just three years of age. Despite this, his memory of his father was a strong influence on his life, and shaped his desire and commitment to do something for his hometown. He was educated at St. Patrick’s National School, Castlebar up to the age of fourteen. He held a number of jobs and worked for Seventeen years at the Castlebar bacon company, this was followed by Twenty-Six years with the Health Service Executive and also worked in Great Britain for a year. He is married to Mary ? from Glenhest and has two children Patrick and Ana and lives in Milebush, Castlebar.

Love of Soccer

Michael's UK experience furthered his own love of soccer. “When he returned home at Christmas 1966, he was soon back playing both gaelic and soccer. I loved Gaelic, but because of the ban, soccer was off limits for GAA players. In the end, it was soccer that won the young Michael over he played for Castlebar Mitchel’s at minor, junior and senior levels. He has supported the development of soccer in Mayo and was Secretary of the Mayo League until 1986, when he helped to establish the opening of the Milebush Park facility. When Michael Feeney stepped down as Secretary of the League in the mid-eighties, he put the development of the Leagues own ground as his priority. Ably supported by Henry Downes, Pat Quigley and Joe Butler, the trio checked out available lands in the immediate Castlebar area, and eventually a home was found in Milebush, Castlebar. Milebush Park is now a regional center for the FAI.

Installed Memorial to Mayo’s War Dead

Michaels next project and a lifetime passion was to install a Memorial to Mayo’s War dead. The County Mayo Peace Park and Garden of Remembrance Committee was established to document people from County Mayo who lost their lives in both World Wars and conflicts up to the present day. In 1988, He wrote an article for the Parish Magazine, calling for the erection of a monument to Mayo's war dead. In 1999, He wrote a public letter to The Connaught Telegraph, calling for a Millennium Project to remember the war dead. We produced a list of hundreds of names and in November of that year, held the first ever Mayo Remembrance Mass at the Church of the Holy Rosary. That Mass raised awareness of the project.

Relatives in the Great War

Michael Feeney's grandfather Patrick, fought in the first world war so did his brother. Private Patrick Feeney, No: 5547 of the 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers was a professional soldier and served in the South Africa Campaign, Patrick signing up around age Sixteen he had left the British Army in 1911. He returned to Castlebar where he married and then when the Great War came, he was called up and returned to the Colours to serve with the Connaught Rangers once more. He was killed in action on Thursday 22nd July 1915, aged Thirty Two, near Rue-Tilleroy France and buried in the Royal Irish Graveyard in Laventie, France. Michael went to see the battle sites of northern France and found his grandfather’s grave there. Michael spent several years in the Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCÁ) (local defence force), based at Castlebar.

Photo of His Grandfather in Uniform Fascinated Him

In his childhood home there was a photo of his grandfather in his uniform and it always fascinated him. Michael was a young man when his mother gave him his records and documents. Nobody ever really spoke about how the war affected people from Mayo. “There were many too who served and survived to return home, but who died soon afterwards. Many of them inhaled chlorine gas in the trenches and their lungs were never right again. They too were victims of the war, and so were the men who were left with what we might now call Post Traumatic Stress. They never got over what they saw and had to live through.

Began Collecting Information

Michael said “When I first began to do some research, I couldn't find my grandfather’s name listed in any of the Mayo articles written about the War dead. If he wasn't included, I knew there must be so many others whose names were not recorded either. I was amazed that nobody seemed to be looking into why this was. He began gathering the names of immediate neighbours who had served or died in the wars”. None of this work could have been done without the support and skills of my wife Mary. She kept the database and the records up-to-date. She typed up every single piece of information - mountains of material that we kept filing away for future use. Over 1300 so far (2016) Names of the fallen from County Mayo have being recorded so far. Also are understanding children, son Patrick and daughter Ana for their patience.

Awarded The MBE

Michael Feeney was awarded the MBE due to his services in promoting British-Irish relations mainly for the creation of the Mayo Peace Park by Queen Elizabeth II at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in the Queen's New Year Honours List in 2010. Michael Feeney said when receiving the news “I was taken aback, I knew that international sources had submitted a nomination and this had then to be approved by a committee and later signed-off by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown,” Michael Feeney explained. “Of course, they then have to check if you are willing to accept the honour. I have been a dual citizen for many years and I am proud to accept it. Many of my relatives, on both side of my family, emigrated to Britain in the past,” he continued. “I believe the honour reflects well on the county and the park. But I must stress that it is a shared honour with the committee and, of course, Castlebar Town Council and Mayo County Council.”

The County Mayo Peace Park and Garden of Remembrance became a reality and was officially opened by the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese on the 7th October 2008.

Trojan Work

Michael Feeney has received congratulations from emigrant groups for his Trojan work from all over the world, he told the Mayo News, the park is the culmination of two decades of work and is now an important symbol dedicated to the cause of the forgotten war dead. On that historic day of the official opening, 7th October 2008. Michael welcomed families of the fallen, who had travelled to the ceremony from Hong Kong, Australia, the USA, Britain, Canada and other parts of the globe. “Today the families have respect and dignity given back to them as their years of silent grief can be committed to the past,” he said on the day. “This is a day for the people of Mayo, and to all who have shown up here today, I thank you for showing respect for the work that has been done, but most of all, for showing respect for our fallen.”

County Mayo Peace Park and Garden of Remembrance

The County Mayo Peace Park and Garden of Remembrance situated Castlebar is a non political, non sectarian, non profit endeavour created for the singular aim of providing recognition to the significant Irish contribution to World Peace from County Mayo, Connaught, Ireland. The members of the committee have collectively undertaken the project on a voluntary basis with no expectation of individual or collective reward, financial or otherwise. Michael was honoured and made an MBE by Queen Elizabeth the second in recognition of his service to Ireland-Britain relations through the County Mayo Peace Park and Garden of Remembrance project. The memorial park is situated in the centre of Castlebar fronting the old town cemetery. Michael Feeney was honoured with the Mayo Person of the Year award at the annual Muintir Mhaigh Eo dinner dance in the Burlington Hotel, Dublin on 2nd February 2013. The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International has recognized Michael achievements and he holds its Paul Harris Fellowship Award.

Place of Commemoration

The County Mayo Peace Park and Garden of Remembrance commemorates all those who served and died in the major world wars & conflicts of the past century as well as in other wars & conflicts. It was developed to remember a forgotten generation of brave heroic local people from every town and village of the county, whose service & sacrifice had been ignored and forgotten, indeed airbrushed out of modern Irish history until recent times. They had served with the Allied Forces in the world wars, in particular with the Australian, Canadian, United States, United Kingdom and Commonwealth, New Zealand and South African Forces. Two of the Mayo men to die in foreign conflicts were soldiers of the Irish Defence Forces, Private William 'Billy' Kedian from Ballyhaunis and Corporal Fintan Heneghan, from Ballinrobe, they died as part of UNIFIL Forces on United Nations peacekeeping operations in the Lebanon. The Mayo Peace Park committee erected a special memorial in their memory, it was the first memorial to commemorate them. The most recent Mayo soldier to die in action, was a Royal Marine named Robert McKibben from Westport, he died in Afghanistan on the 12th of November 2008, his funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Westport, this had a profound effect on the whole community, it really brought home to everyone the brutal reality of war and a better appreciation of those who died for the peace we enjoy in our world. Robert McKibben was a long time member of the Irish Defence Force Reserves before he joined the Royal Marines. There is a special memorial dedicated to Robert in the park, he was the first Mayo soldier to be killed in action since the park was opened.

Special Memorial

There is also a special memorial dedicated in memory of all those who died for Irish Freedom in the park. It also honours the memory of all the officers of An Gárda Síochána who gave their lives in the service of Ireland. The Mayo Peace Park, remembers all those brave people, in a most respectful manner, it is a tranquil oasis of peace and respect, it offers the families of the fallen, a place to say a silent prayer and reflect on the lives and sacrifice of their loved ones. The Mayo Peace Park has consigned the ignorance and bitterness of the past into history. It does not attempt to glorify or justify any war, its purpose is to commemorate the memory of the people of County Mayo who died in them.

Dóibh siúd a cealleadh.

 Remarks By President McAleese at The Official Opening of The Mayo Peace Park, Garden of Remembrance, Castlebar Tuesday the 7th October 2008.

Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen,

Dia dhíbh a chairde. Tá an áthas orm bheith i bhur measc ar on ocáid seo. Míle bhuíochas díbh as an gcuireadh agus an fáilte a thug sibh dom

This is a very special occasion for the people of Mayo as we gather to officially open this beautiful Mayo Memorial Peace Park Garden of Remembrance. I am very grateful to Michael Feeney, the Chairman of the Mayo Peace Park Committee and instigator of the project for the invitation to be here. This place is a simple gesture of respect and honoured memory for all those from Mayo who gave their lives in the unselfish service of others. Some gave service in the uniform of the Irish Army on service with the United Nations, while others wore the uniforms of other armies, the British Army, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and indeed many others if we cast our minds back over the centuries of our complex history. Some of those who died were destined to be well-remembered. Others, particularly the fifty thousand or more who died in the Great War, were destined to have their memories consigned to shoe-boxes in attics until recent years, when a great longing for reconciliation allowed us to remember differently. The opening of the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines in Belgium over a decade ago showcased this new mood and the opening of the Mayo Peace Park Garden of Remembrance consolidates it, ensuring that we will continue to remember differently, and in remembering all that appalling sacrifice, dedicate ourselves anew to building peace and closing the door forever on conflict. This year we celebrate fifty years of Irish peacekeeping with the United Nations. The people of Ireland have taken enormous pride in the professional, tactful and compassionate way our defence forces provided protection and care of very troubled communities in conflict situations across the world. They have brought hope and dignity to so many anxious and endangered people and they have brought huge credit and international respect to their homeland.

This small island with its embedded tradition of military neutrality has never shirked its responsibilities in the cause of world peace, and Mayo’s sons and daughters have made and continue to make their distinctive contribution. Our first President Douglas Hyde kept the memory of the famous Mayo poet Anthony Raftery alive when he gathered in his words from the oral tradition and collected them in writing for future generations. In his best known poem he wrote in rapturous terms about his Mayo home in words that could have been written of this day and this place: “And if I were standing in the midst of my people, Age would leave me and I'd be young once more' Almost all of those we commemorate here died young. They died wishing they could be back among their people. Here we bring their memories back among their people and they are indeed young once more. We are a very fortunate generation that we can gather in commemoration of all those Irish men and women who gave their lives whether it was for Irish freedom in successive uprisings over centuries of resistance to colonisation or whether it was in the many European uniforms in which the scattered Irish served for causes they felt passionate about, sometimes conflicting causes, whether it was in American, Australian, British, Canadian, South African, or New Zealand uniforms or whether in service with the United Nations. This is probably the first generation to be able to reconcile and revere all those memories.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir.

Remembering Mayo’s Fallen Heroes

Michaels book “Remembering Mayo’s Fallen Heroes” was launched by Mr Peter Oborne the very well known British & international political journalist and award-winning author in the Welcome Inn Hotel, Castlebar on Friday the 26th of September 2008. The book is a remarkable chronicle of articles, facts and stories about those who served & died in the various wars of the past century and includes a comprehensive listing of Mayo’s war dead commemorated. While this book is largely from the author's own work and research, there are many excellent contributions from noted Irish authors Kevin Myers, Myles Dungan, Terry Reilly, Captain Donal Buckley and Basil Burke, together with fine additional contributions from Ethel Corduff, Martin Coyle, John Basquille, Captain Vincent McEllin, Johnny Mee and Eamon Horkan, Ernie Sweeney, it contains interesting articles and stories from family members and from the local Mayo Newspapers of the period. Michael was also Co-Author of “Mayo Comrades of the Great War.”

The Project Continues

The Mayo Peace Park project is still ongoing and Michael is still heavily involved in the Peace Park arranging events for all types of visitors, relatives, overseas groups, military associations etc., and travels to events around all of Ireland North and South, UK, USA, Europe. And also finds time to work on the burial sites of destitute war veterans or for those who had no proper grave and look after his family. The County Mayo Peace Park and Garden of Remembrance project is a Registered Charity No: 17261 in Ireland, donations to the Mayo Peace Park are always needed and welcome. Michael Feeney says, “I am eternally grateful to all of those individuals, the list is too long to mention for their help and contributions, which have been invaluable to the Peace Park.”

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.”

County Mayo (Contae Mhaigh Eo) Motto: (Dia is Muire Linn) (Irish)

"God and Mary be with us"

You Tube link Mayo Peace Park Documentary by Ana Feeney: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwowf_u8__A

By Martin Coyle, London. 2016

 

 

This page was added by Tom Doyle on 17/11/2016.