Books

A book title that is not exaggerated
He was Galway: Máirtín Mór McDonogh, 1860 -1934, by Jackie Uí Chionna (Open Air/Four Courts Press, €19.95).

J. Anthony Gaughan

This is a valuable biography of a truly remarkable person. The book’s title does not exaggerate. Máirtín Mór McDonogh (1860–1934) was a central figure in the civic life of Galway city and county for most of his life.

Máirtín Mór was born on the island of Lettermullan in one of the remotest parts of Connemara to parents who had a general grocery store. His father moved his family and business in the early 1860s to Galway city, where he took up a position as foreman in a saw-mill. 

Máirtín was educated at the Jesuits’ St Ignatius College and later at the order’s St Stanislaus College in Tullabeg in Co Offaly. 

On completing his secondary education he registered as a law student at the Queen’s College, Galway. Within a year, however, he had abandoned his intention to be a lawyer and had joined his father in the family business.

Decisive and with a unique talent for business, he established a number of extraordinary successful commercial and industrial enterprises during the following three decades. 

These included an export and import company at Galway docks, a fertiliser factory, a flour-mill, a saw-mill, a fleet of fishing trawlers and a string of thriving shops. In addition he had farms in Galway, Meath, Dublin and Limerick. 

Although Mártín’s hand was never far from any of his business undertakings, he did not neglect his civic responsibilities. 

He was a member of the Galway Chamber of Commerce, Galway County Council, Board of the Galway Harbour Commissioners, and Galway Urban District Council. And by virtue of his dominant personality and commercial reach across the city he exercised considerable influence on the decisions taken at these meetings.

Maírtín was as pragmatic with regard to politics as he was in his business dealings. He supported Parnell, but after the fall of the revered leader he withdrew that support. 

With other nationalists in Galway he joined the Volunteers in 1913. At the outbreak of the The Great War he joined John Redmond in urging recruitment to the British army. 

Like the overwhelming majority of the citizens of Galway he was taken unawares by the Easter Rising in 1916. With some of the other leading citizens of Galway he organised a meeting at which Special Constables were appointed to assist the RIC and the army to maintain order. 

Subsequently Máirtín followed Redmond’s lead in condemning the Rising and appealed for clemency for all but significantly not for the ‘ringleaders’. Uncharacteristically, he remained in the background during the War of Independence and contented himself with merely condemning the atrocities committed in the city by the IRA and the crown forces.

Máirtín supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the Provisional Government, the nascent Irish Free State and to that end joined the Cumannnan Gaedheal Party. 

His intervention was regarded by observers as having significant influence in gaining support for the Treaty Party across Connacht. Máirtín successfully stood in Galway for election to Dáil Éireann in June 1927, was re-elected in September 1927, lost his seat in 1932 but was re-elected in 1933.

Lynch-pin

Máirtín found attendance in Dáil Éireann time-consuming and tiresome. It was the opposite with regard to horse-racing. For most of his life he was the lynch-pin of the Galway Races festival, serving as chairman of the stewards from 1967 until he died in 1934. 

He had his own stable, owned several winning race horses and was appointed by the Irish Racecourse Executives Association to represent that organisation on the board of the Tote.

Máirtín was a friend of many members of the racing fraternity but his closest friend was the unconventional Fr John Flatley. Curiously the obituaries of both of them listed their outstanding qualities as a tendency to be outspoken and a genuine and practical concern for the poor and those in distress. 

Máirtín’s obituary in the Connacht Sentinel in 1934 concluded ‘for half a century he was Galway’!

Apart from the comprehensive account of the ‘larger than life Máirtín Mór McDonogh, in this study Jackie Uí Chionna’s provides fascinating asides on the Galway of his time.