Piper Noel Leads the Way to 1921 Commemoration

Bonn-Doherty Sinn Féin Cumann 1921 Commenoration 22-7-2016
Piper Noel O’Mahony leading the colour party to the monument at Rice’s Height, Castle View in Castleisland on Friday evening. ©Photograph: John Reidy

Noel O’Mahony is the first to admit that he has been involved in a prolonged struggle over the past couple of decades. His struggle is of an artistic nature and he knows exactly the source of his demons.

They have all come about in the course of his endless striving for piping perfection.

If it wasn’t the bellows it could be the chanters or the reeds. The latter, almost always, behaving badly in the ever changing weather conditions under which this struggle must be played out.

On Friday evening, Noel overcame all the piping demons that ever bedeviled him.

A Man Possessed

He played like a man possessed as he led the Sinn Féin colour party and members of the locally based Bonn / Doherty Sinn Féin Cumann all the way through Castleisland’s wide Main Street from the old railway yard to Rice’s Height.

I waited at the old library at the top-of-the-town and I heard Noel’s piping before he and the marchers rounded the gentle bend on the street and before I could catch a glimpse of them.

I was well aware of where I was standing and the role the historic old building played on that fateful night of July 10th 1921.

St. Patrick's Day Parade 17-3-1994
Noel O’Mahony piping at the 1994 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Castleisland with Joe Martin as St. Patrick. ©Photograph: John Reidy

Fellow Volunteers

From Den Prendiville’s account, a handful of his fellow volunteers were entrenched in the burnt out shell of the library and ready for the engagement with an evening patrol of British soldiers from the barracks at the bottom of the town.

The strains of Noel’s pipes bounced and echoed their way up along the house-defined Main Street to my position – much like the gunfire of that fateful night must have sounded as all hell broke loose and nine men in total lost their lives.

Colour Party

The colour party, the visitors and the onlooking locals were there to remember three of the fallen Irish Volunteers: Jack Flynn, Jack Prendiville and Richard Shanahan in an annual commemoration.

Cumann member, John Breen read the local volunteer roll of honour and wreaths were placed on the plinth of the monument.

The gathering was addressed by Cllr. Toiréasa Ferris. She read Den Prendiville’s account of the night he lost his brother and two more of his comrades and friends in one of the bloodiest battles in the locality during that dark period of our history.

Sacrifices Made

Cllr. Ferris stressed the importance of remembering the sacrifices made by the likes of the men being honoured. She complimented the Bonn / Doherty Cumann for its input and the gathering – which included relatives of those active at the time – for playing its part in the event.

The evening was brought to a close by Noel O’Mahony’s playing of Amhrán na bFiann.

Noel hadn’t played the pipes in that kind of public forum in Castleisland since he did so at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade back in 1994.

Practicing Mad

“I wasn’t too bad that day because I had Joe Martin dressed like St. Patrick beside me and he kept me going.

“I was practising mad for this evening and I had a good variety of tunes – but ’tis still very hard to play on your own – and things can go wrong with the pipes – you know,” said Noel and the eyes dancing in his head.

They danced with the satisfaction of a man who knew he had cleared a major musical hurdle, that he had paid his tribute to the dead with the magic of his music and that he had just achieved the ever elusive pitch of piping perfection in doing so.

The evening ended on a high note also as many in the crowd adjourned to the River Island Hotel for refreshments and they were joined by concert goers and fans of ‘The Druids’ to wrap up a hugely successful event for the Bonn-Doherty Cumann.

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