Matthew J. Beckett
His Contribution to Community.
His Contribution to Community
Beckett: Matt’s paternal family included Michael Beckett from Kilkenny City. Michael married Anne Phelan. Their licensed premises were adjoined on Watergate Street. Griffith’s Valuation 1850 lists the families that lived at St. John’s, Gardens, St. Canice’s Parish. By the 1901 & 1911 the families had relocated to the City with trades as tailors or bootmakers: https://www.nli.ie/en/griffiths-valuation.aspx
Several Beckett families were referenced i.e. Michael clothes dealer, Watergate in Slaters Directory. P. James Green: B. shoemaker, Lee’s Lane also Thomas shoemaker Irishtown are referenced in Basset’s Kilkenny Guide 1884: https://www.kilkennylibrary.ie/eng/our_services/local_studies/genealogical_sources_for_family_research/trade_directories/
Michael & Anne’s son moved to Westport. They lived at no. 7, The Fairgeen where they established a licensed premises. (a brother of Michael who married into the Woodhouse family of Bridge Street: they had a son & daughter; unfortunately the parents died in an accident then the children were returned to family in Kilkenny City)
Mc Greal: This family may be traced back in the Newforest area to the early 1750’s. Patrick Mc Greal (1752-1799) was granted eighty leases in New Forest Westport by Lord Sligo. He was listed as one of the principle tenants. He is included on Lord Altamont’s Rent Roll 1785 as lessee of no. 11 / 12 Shop Street & no. 7 Mill Street. Griffith’s Valuation cited Domnick Mc Greal as leaser of ‘Herd’s House & Land’ of one hundred acres in Carrabawn from the Marquis of Sligo. Patrick Mc Greal was listed in the Westport Directory 1846 as one of an apothecaries in Westport Town. The Connaught Telegraph 1830-current 26th August 1916 listed recruits for the army in which Dominick McGreal of the Octagon was one. (page 5)
The McGreal / Malone tomb is located on the north side of road in the old church building across from Aughaval Cemetery. Inscription on the gable wall is still visible. (last Malone family member buried there was Patrick Joseph on 27th November 1967)
Malone: Matt’s grandmother Margaret Malone (b. 1836) from Aughagower married Matthew Beckett (1838) She lived in later years with Matt’s family. Her demise occurred during 1921 at age eighty-five years. She is buried in the family plot in Aughagower.
Lavelle: Matt’s grandfather John Lavelle (1940-1907) was a businessman, an auctioneer also a Town Commissioner. His parents were Patrick Lavelle & Catherine (nee Staunton) He was a committed patriot of Shop Street. He addressed a Repeal of the Union Meeting at Sheaune outside Westport on 13th December 1830. He served on the Board of Guardians. During 1847 John Lavelle was a member of Westport Relief & Vicinity of Westport committee. He personally arranged accommodation for families during the famine in Westport area. John Lavelle was listed among members of Westport Rural District Council who attended a meeting on 18th August 1900. Rev. Fr. Patrick Lavelle the infamous ‘Patriot Priest of Partry’ was a member of this family.
His mother Catherine (Kate) (1890) was the youngest daughter of Bridget Mc Greal (1846-1921) Newforest & John Lavelle. She married Matthew Beckett (b.1873) on 3rd February 1913.
Matt’s father was born on 28th April 1893 at Altamont Street Westport. He was employed part-time as a postman. He is listed in the Westport Free State national recruits of 1922. (Matthew known as Matt) with his wife were proprietors of a licensed premises on the Fairgreen (sold by Beckett family to Gibbon’s family during 1907: now called Toby’s Pub) His demise occurred on 11th December 1913 of influenza at the County Hospital, Castlebar. He is buried at Aughavale cemetery outside Westport.
Matthew John Beckett was born on 27th January 1914 in no. 3, Davitt Terrace, Westport. His parents were Matthew & Catherine (Kate) Beckett. He was the eldest son. Matt had one brother John (known as Jack 1915- 2ndJune 1993). The family lived at Davitt’s Terrace.
Matt received his initial schooling at the Quay School, Westport prior to a move to the Christian Brother’s School on Castlebar Street when he lived with his mother’s family in the town. His attended St. Jarlath’s College in Tuam, Co. Galway for further studies.
Matt’s mother’s demise occurred on 14th June 1923. Matt was just nine years old. His aunt Margaret Lavelle (b. 9th June 1872 , married John O ‘Malley) assisted his father with caring for the two young siblings.
Matt was proficient at whist card games. He won several whist drives in the town. Remember his green baize table at home during the years. His foldup table was in use up to the late 1960’s. He loved the songs of Mario Lanza, Count John Mc Cormack, Percy French also the music of Rogers & Hammerstein musicals. His record player (as children it was a treat to turn the old handle!) was in constant use through the years with 45’s, singles & L.P’s.
Matt married Maura Dunne daughter of John Dunne & Agnes (nee Brandon Blackrock) Dublin on 4th October 1947 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Marino. The wedding breakfast was held at the bride’s home no. 8, Shelmartin Avenue, Marino. Their first home was at no. 2, John’s Row prior to a move to no. 21, St. Mary’s Crescent. They reared a family of five daughters also two sons.
Matt was an avid reader with an immense library at his home. He catalogued his collection from the early 1930’s. Matt was an Intellectual who during his lifetime contributed numerous articles under his pen-name Emjay to local & Irish newspapers within Ireland. He was published in American & various foreign newspapers.
His personal writings were a gift to his family (diaries discovered following his demise) that included his personal experiences on various topics his beliefs, his family, civic committees, Spanish Civil War also world politics. Matt documented considerable world events or reports of his time.
Matt’s careen path began as clerk in Hugh Staunton’s & Co. James St. He was employed during from the early 1930’s to the position of manager in Mc Ging’s Mills on James St. He was employed at Westport Textiles as storeman prior to promotion as purchasing officer with Seafield Gentex in Westport Demesne.
The Irish Brigade
As a young man Matt went to Spain to fight on O’ Duffy’s side in the Spanish Civil War. In his diaries he penned that ‘We went to Spain to support Christian’s (Catholic) if you will call for aid against Communistic Anarchy.’ He travelled alone by train to Dublin then by sea to Lisbon from Liverpool. He crossed overland to join the Irish Brigade, the ‘Bandera’ in Careces. While in Spain he became a Corporal. He later served as Quartermaster’s Clerk. Matt acted as secretarial assistant to Captain Paddy Quinn in one of the Four ‘Comparios‘ in which the ‘Bandera’ was organized. During June 1937 the Irish Brigade returned home to public appreciation in Westport. Matt recalled the splendid reception that he & his compadres received in Westport when the town band met them at the railway station for a parade through the town.
Matt reported that ‘We were attacked by a Brigade from the Canary Islands who mistook us for Reds’ at this link: https://www.theirishstory.com/2018/10/24/gods-battle-oduffys-irish-brigade-in-the-spanish-civil-war/#.YmPdyNrMK00
His personal effects from the Spanish War are held within the Clew Bay Heritage Centre, The Quay, Westport. Two pages that documented his experiences in Spain are included along with a flag in the collection: https://www.westportheritage.com/
Corporal Beckett (3,4,11) is listed among a partial list of the Irish Members of Franco forces at this link: https://spanishcivilwar.tripod.com/dufflist.htm
Matt Beckett is featured on the front cover of the Westport Historical Journal 1995 no. 15. An article by Stradling Robert A War of Ideals? Irish Volunteers in Spanish Civil War is featured on page 110. The cover image may be viewed at this link: https://www.westportheritage.com/
The following links may be of interest:
Stradling Professor Robert detailed an account of Matt’s experiences in Spain at this site: https://specialcollections.ul.ie/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/P13_Stradling.pdf
Unique & Distinctive PDF may be downloaded at this link: https://specialcollections.ul.ie/projects/robert-stradling/
This PDF (Matthew Beckett (page 7) may be viewed at this site:
Wharton B. & Berry R. Catalogue to the Stradling Collection 2003:
Matt was an active member of the Westport L.D.F. (the forerunner of the FCÁ ) For several years he served as an Officer in Charge of the Westport unit.
Matt is referenced on 13th March 1943 as Chairman of the LDF in The Mayo News: https://www.mayonews.ie/
The Mayo News 17th February 1945 referenced Matt Beckett District Staff Officer at a meeting of Westport Command Staff at HQ: https://www.mayonews.ie/
The Connaught Telegraph 3rd June 1944 in an article on local death notice referenced Mrs. Margaret O ‘Malley: daughter of John Lavelle Auctioneer & aunt of Mr. Matt Beckett O/C ‘A’ Coy, Westport LDF to whom sympathy was extended (page3): https://www.con-telegraph.ie/
The Mayo News 1893-2004 12th October 1968 in an article Down Memory Lane stated that Westport promotions included Sergeant M. Beckett to Assistant Coy Leader. (page 2)
The strength of the LDF within Ireland during March 1941 was over 88,000. The highest enlistment numbers for the LDF occurred during June 1943 when a total 106,034 served. Western area LDF comprised of eight areas, thirty-seven districts one battalion. The numbers distributed throughout the western command area on the 31st March 1941 to 1945 was as follows: 23,782 (1941), 28,391 (1942), 30,669 (1943), 32,885 (1944) also 26,851 during 1945: http://www.csn.ul.ie/~dan/war/ldf.htm
Rev. Fr. Malone’s clip of the Westport Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (FCA) or Local Defence Force on ‘Maneuvers’ during the early1960’s outside Westport was uploaded on 19th December 2016. (edit by Idle Wall) It may be viewed at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aqtKW1uHo4
The LDF was formed during 1941 as a part-time force to support the permanent Defence Force (PDF), the Regular Army also Air Corps. In 1943 Force numbered over 100,000 members. The LDF existed under a ‘semi-military’ status with its organization of particularly ranks. Battalions were organized in towns or cities. A few specialist units were established: https://www.historyireland.com/the-fca-1946-2005/
In September 1939 during the outbreak of World War II the Irish Defence Forces mobilized at a strength of less than 20,000 men. Recruiting campaign began to secure an effective fighting Force. During June 1943 the Local Defence Force (FCÁ) had reached a strength of 106,000. In 1959 the FCÁ was integrated with the Regular Army during 1959. Six brigades of mixed regular & FCÁ units, each with just one regular infantry battalion were established: https://www.military.ie/en/public-information/defence-forces-museums/defence-forces-history/history-of-the-army/
This site provides a brief description of the National L D F Local Security Force (LSF) that was formed on 24th May 1940 under the control of An Garda Síochána (Lar Joye Heritage Officer Dublin Port): https://www.historyireland.com/the-irish-army-and-the-emergency/
During his lifetime Matt’s civic duties were of immense importance to him. He has left a legacy to each organization that he participated in. Matt provided his time generously to citizens he encountered within the following organizations: The Pioneer Association, the Legion of Mary, St. Joseph’s Young Priest’s Society also the St. Vincent De Paul Fraternity. During the 1960’s Matt served on Westport Industrial Development Council: They were instrumental in the establishment of Westport Textiles Manufacturing Plant.
The Connaught Telegraph 1830-current 30th December 1933 in an article Irish Ireland Winning in Mayo stated that affairs were in extremely capable hands of several members from The Gaelic League, G. A. A. Temperance Society, Fainne, Dramatic Club & Catholic Boy Scouts also Matthew Beckett of Cumann na N -Og. (page 5): https://www.con-telegraph.ie/
The Irish Independent 15th January 1965 featured an image that included Matt at a Westport Chamber of Commerce reception in The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin: https://www.independent.ie/
A founder member of Westport Credit Union set up during 1964: Matt fulfilled several positions that included treasurer. He was elected to the panel of the Supervisory Committee. Subsequently he attained the position of Director. Up to his untimely demise Matt attended weekly meetings of Westport Credit Union. On that 9th April 1991 he proved his commitment as he had so done for the previous twenty – seven years!
Matt is included in The Credit Union Journal 30th Anniversary 14th September 1994 edition on page 19.
In the Credit Union Annual Report 1964-1985 Matt is referenced in photos on page 1, (Committee) 13 ( Board of Directors) as a (Director for twenty-one years) on page 14. In the Report Matt was referenced on page 1 as Founder member & Director also on page 4 as secretary of Credit Committee.
The Credit Union Silver Jubilee Booklet featured Matt as Treasurer page 2 & 13. He provided a Treasurer’s Report on page 62. He was elected President during 1981. Then treasurer for four years from 1986.
Matt is included in this photo by Liam Lyons (0015260jpg) among Credit Union Officers during February 1985 at this link: https://library.mayo.ie/media/Lyons%20Collection/Lyons%20Photographic%20Collection/album/Mayo%20places/Westport/Westport/slides/Lyons0015260.html
The first Irish Credit Union was founded in 1958. Westport Credit Union was set up on 16th September 1964 in Westport.
The first business session was held on the 3rd October that same year: https://www.westportcu.ie/About-Us#:~:text=The%20first%20Irish%20Credit%20Union,our%20ever%20growing%2013%2C500%20members.
G. A. A.
Matt served on all positions of Westport G.A.A. Board. Matt was Chairman of Mayo County Board. He was a Mayo Team Selector for the winning Mayo Teams of the 1950’s.
Matt was honoured during 2022 on the ‘Laochra Mhaigh Eo’ memorial wall with a tile at Mc Hale Park, Castlebar.
The story of the Westport G.A.A. Club is a proud story of devotion to the greatest amateur association in the world. Since the G.A.A. was founded during 1884 in West Mayo Westport Gaelic Athletic Association had various name changes that included: Aughagower / Derry, Murrisk / Louisburg, Westport Quay etc. On the 24th March 1936 The Quay & Westport Town amalgamated. The first account of a club meeting was recorded during 1905 with an election of officers & committee. (Matt’s father Matthew Beckett was listed among committee members) Efforts to secure its own playing field in Westport town was not successful until 1935 when ‘The Rifle Range’ was bought from The Marquess of Sligo by club officials: https://clubforce.com/news/brief-history-of-westport-gaa-club/
An article titled Travels Through Time in The Mayo News during 1951 referenced Matt Beckett as secretary West Mayo Board also a Board Member of Westport G. A. A. Club: https://www.mayonews.ie/
Lydon J. F. The Sunday Independent 11th November 1951 published an article No 2 Westport. It featured an image of Matt Beckett honorary secretary West Mayo Board & a Co. Mayo Gaelic Football Selector. (page 9): https://www.independent.ie/
The Irish Press 13th December 1958 issue featured an image of Matt Beckett chairman of Westport Urban Council who had been elected president of West Mayo G.A.A. Board. He has fulfilled every office in Westport G.A.A. Club. He was been a member of West Mayo County Board. He served a term as Mayo County Board President: https://www.irishnewsarchive.com/irish-press-newspaper-archive
Matt Beckett was the nominee on the Mayo Vocational Board for over twenty years. He served as Chairman of Westport Vocational School Board of Management.
This PDF by M. Mulvey includes the information that the transition from Technical Instruction Committees to Vocational Education Committees (VECs) transpired during late Autumn 1930: https://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/25110/1/Further%20Education%20and%20Training%20in%20Ireland%20M%20Mulvey%20(1).pdf
Additional information is available at this link: https://www.accs.ie/history-of-accs
Matt Beckett was a committed member of the Fine Gael Party. During the 1950’s / 1960’s he addressed election issues from various platforms throughout Westport district etc. He provided support to election candidates. He attended selection conventions also numerous conferences. He assisted with church gate collections of that time.
U. D. C.
Matt was a Fine Gael member on Westport Urban District Council for considerable number of years. His personal position was that politics had no place at the council table: it was the for the betterment of the town that they all served. During his time as a councillor at U.D.C. Matt served eleven terms as Chairman. He retired from the council during 1973.
Matt is included in an image in The Mayo News 2nd September 1961 of UDC councillors in an address to welcome Cardinal Brown to Westport: https://www.mayonews.ie/
Municipal Authorities of Ireland
Matt was appointed as a delegate to The Municipal Authorities of Ireland for numerous years. He was the first Westport man to become the Associations President elected on 19th September 1970. He was instrumental in the Association’s Annual Conference being held in Westport town. Matt became an Associated Life Member.
The Western People 24th April 1991 stated that the fifty-seventh conference of The Municipal Authorities of Ireland was held in Westport during 1970: https://westernpeople.ie/
Matt Beckett was instrumental in obtaining a civic library situated at the Demesne for Westport, in which he suggested it be called St. Mary’s Library, due to its close proximity to St. Mary’s Crescent.
During his retirement Matt served as a Town Peace Commissioner. He assisted with numerous voluntary commitments.
He maintained his close interest in all matters that related to the town also its people. During his later years Matt was involved with several church activities. He contributed to the local Patrician meetings. Matt was a Minister of the Eucharist in St. Mary’s Church. He attended daily Mass throughout his life. Matt served on several local neighbourhood committees.
Matt Beckett’s demise occurred suddenly on 9th April 1991 in his home at 21, St. Mary’s Crescent, Westport. He was aged seventy-seven years. His funeral mass was held at St. Mary’s Church. His coffin was draped in the Westport Flag. A Guard of Honour led the funeral cortege by Commandant Marty Curry, A Company 18th Batt F C A accompanied by representatives from U. D. C. Councillors, Fine Gael members, Credit Union officials also members of West Mayo GAA Board. Matt is buried in his family’s grave at Aughavale.
This unique kind gentleman throughout his life lived by his family motto ‘Prodesse Civibus’ (to do good to one’s fellow Citizens)
‘In his peak years; the fifties and sixties he may have been regarded by many as a ‘Great Man’! He showed many characteristics and qualities which made him a leader. He showed he had the courage to take risks, to confront others, to work out conflicts and to act on his beliefs. He was an active listener, was open and caring and had respect for the people he worked with and represented. He had a personal strength and confidence but was never overbearing. He was also committed to the aims and objectives of each group he was involved with.’ Coyle Mairead daughter from ‘Matt Beckett as a Leader’
‘He wrote in the local Mayo News (under his pen-name Emjay) many articles i.e. As I See It, Down Memory Lane, While I Think Of It.’ Gilligan Una daughter from That Other Great Beckett.
Rev. Fr. Benny Mc Hale paid tribute as Matt had ‘a great broadness of vision-never a narrow sectional or denominational perspective: global in the broadest sense. He had a great reverence for his own church’s teaching and stance and yet could transcend it when he felt the interest of truth were at stake.’
Patrick Shanley on his return to Westport to set up his practice stated that he joined both the Fine Gael Party & was elected to the U D C. At that time there was Controversary within the Town re the Acquisition of Demesne Lands from Lord Sligo for public housing: Patrick Shanley stated that ‘Our Party was also divided & I was among those who believed in the system and so was (Matt) and he was a great supporter of mine in the club and I don’t think I could have remained in the club if he had not supported me. He was a very influential Leader and his greatest gift was silence.’
Jackie Foley stated that he first encountered Matt Beckett as a fifteen – year old when he joined The Junior Legion of Mary. His first impression was of ‘a caring person.’ At Westport Textiles Jackie (in charge of machines Unifils & Matt was the storeman who was ‘methodical’ & trusted by both Management & ‘us young fellows.’ ) Jackie was also involved with Matt at the Credit Union office & meetings. He summed it up as ‘To me Matt Beckett was Intelligent – a good Christian – a good Husband and Father – a Soldier – A Community Man – and a Westport (Covey) all his life.’
Westport UDC Councillor Sean Staunton mentioned on his first day at a council meeting he was nominated for the chairmanship! Matt was one who supported the nomination. ‘That was typical of the man. Although he was a staunch member of the Fine Gael party, he always belied that party politics had little place on local Councils. He was among the first to espouse the idea that such councils, despite their political make – up should operate as community councils and act solely in the best interests of the local people. As an Urban Councillor he always put place before party. His soft-spoken and gentle manner concealed leadership qualities, he had held the Office of Chairman on several occasions, and to great effect. One of Matt Beckett’s great qualities was his commitment to truth. He was always encouraging young people to explore their potential, especially in the area of voluntary service to their local communities, and he did this with considerable success. Unlike many public representatives who ‘try to run with the hare and hunt with the hound’ Matt told it like it was. He served as a public representative at a time when publications had little or no place in political life. As a result he received little of the credit that was due to him for helping to plan for Westport’s future. When the modern history of Westport is written Matt Beckett will undoubtedly be included in it as a good and faithful servant of the people…’
Matt is listed in Thom’s Directory 1958 (page 589) as a Councillor. He is referenced in Thom’s Commercial Directory 1970. (page 408)
Publications & articles / that reference Matt Beckett include the following:
O Cuinneaghán Seósamh Saga of the Irish Brigade to Spain 1936 (November 1937-June 1937)
Ó Cuinneagháin Séosamh The War in Spain (page 24)
Stradling Professor Robert March 1995 History Today vol 45 (3) (pages 40-47)
Mulvey Johnny (ed Rice Séan) Down all the Years History of Westport GAA
Mulvey Johnny Diary of a Century: http://www.castlebar.ie/newsetc/diary.html
Mc Nally Joe The Tear & the Smile
(Photos from Family Archive)
Noelene Beckett Crowe