Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Michael Cavanagh Society

The photograph shows Cavanagh Society members.
Front row from left:Ann Kiely, Imelda Cavanagh, Very Rev. Fr Robert Arthure.
Back row from left: Brendan Kiely, Kevin McCarthy, Tony McCarthy, Tom Cavanagh.

The launch of a new book, “Michael Cavanagh His Life & Selected Works” in the Cappoquin Community Centre’s Cavanagh Hall on Saturday, 27th. November, 2010 was testament to the large number of hardy souls who braved snow and ice to pay tribute to one of the town’s most illustrious sons. No greater contrast could have been had than with that of the gloriously sunny June day in 2001 when Cappoquin was at its most splendid for the unveiling of the Michael Cavanagh Monument at the Square.

However, the bright lights of the Cavanagh Hall, the welcome heat, and the food and hot drinks supplied by Barron’s Bakery and served by Victoria and Elaine quickly dispersed the misfortune of a too-early winter.

Secretary of the Michael Cavanagh Society, Ann Kiely, got proceedings underway and the Society’s President, Tony McCarthy, gave a brief resumé of the work of the Society. He told the audience that the Society was formed to honour Michael Cavanagh (1822-1900) and that it was truly a joint Irish and American organisation, as it drew its membership from both sides of the Atlantic. In its early years it ran a number of literary competitions in both Irish and English and can claim justly to be the cause of several post-primary school students in the West Waterford area writing their first poem or story.

Tony McCarthy went on to explain that in later years the Society decided to tackle the arduous task of compiling and making available a fitting cross-section of Michael Cavanagh’s own work and that the fruits of that endeavour were now to be unveiled. He particularly recommended one of Michael’s prose pieces, the Midnight Mass in Mount Melleray, as being appropriate to the season and a very enjoyable read.

The guest speaker, Very Rev. Father Robert Arthure, A.P., then took the floor. Fr. Arthure is an historian in his own right whose biography of the distinguished 19th. century churchman, Fr. Patrick Fogarty of Lismore, has been particularly well received. (This biography covers the period of the Young Ireland and Fenian Revolutionaries such as Michael Cavanagh, but Fr. Fogarty was a great supporter of Daniel O’Connell and a strong and determined opponent of all physical force movements. His views and that of Michael Cavanagh and his peers would not have coincided!) Fr. Arthure is well-known for being a thought-provoking religious columnist and a man whose sermons always leave an impact on his audience. On this particular night he came to the Cavanagh Hall having celebrated the vigil Mass in St. Mary’s Church, across the road, and had put in a good word for “Hope”, something that it is short supply in the Ireland of 2010.

Fr. Arthure took the audience in the Cavanagh Hall gently through Michael Cavanagh’s life and made the point that though he spent the majority of his life in America, his engagement with his native place and the friends and neighbours of his boyhood and young adulthood never faltered. In the best book-launch tradition, Fr. Arthure interspersed his remarks with the exhortation “to find out what happened next you must buy the book!”. On a more sober note, he referred to Michael Cavanagh’s description of the poor dying people he saw in Lismore, victims of the Famine and a landlord lacking in charity. He went on to recite extracts from some of Michael Cavanagh’s poems and referred to the lighter prose pieces. As he came to the end of his talk he humorously referred to Michael’s story about Petticoat Loose and then reluctantly (well, that is what he said!) mentioned the story about Madra an Droichead and the need for the audience to be careful going home. This infamous Madra used to patrol around the old Wooden Bridge of Cappoquin and made nightly forays into Twig Bog, to an old well, near which now stands the Cavanagh Hall! (Thankfully, as far as we know, everyone got home safely and the possible inspiration for the Hound of the Baskervilles -Arthur Conan Doyle’s mother was Mary Foley of Lismore- chose not to appear.)

Fr. Arthure declared the book launched and the night was brought to a close after Ann Kiely expressed the Society’s sincere gratitude to the many people who had helped in its production.

The Cavanagh family was represented at the occasion by Tommy and Imelda Cavanagh of Fermoy. The American branch, who could not be present on the night, will be able to get a flavour of the event, courtesy of a DVD recording kindly made by Mary McGrath.

About the book itself: it is a handsome, hardcover edition, published by Original Writing of Dublin, with a striking dustcover. It is a substantial volume, running to almost 400 pages and includes several, interesting plates. It is of wide interest and would make a very acceptable gift to anyone with an interest in Irish and local history. It also contains social commentary and some very good yarns! Michael Cavanagh’s writing is firmly in the tradition of the Irish storyteller, not to mention that of the Victorian greats, and his fine sense of humour does not go amiss in these tough times.

The book costs €20 and is available from most shops in Cappoquin, Lismore Heritage Centre shop and from the bookshops and County Museum in Dungarvan. Emailed orders can be taken by Cappoquin Heritage Group via the website www.cappoquin.net . All profits will be given to the primary school in Cappoquin, Bunscoil Gleann Sídheáin.

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