Irish-American author, Richard O’Prey, has a fond family connection with the townland of Kilcummin on the north coast of Mayo, and when we were in contact recently, he offered to share an extract about Kilcummin from his memoir Immigrants’ Son with us. He describes the selection as “my interpretation of the neighborhood from which my mother, Catherine Duggan, came”. We thank Richard for permission to share this account of Kilcummin, a place close to his heart over a lifetime. He tells us: “As an eight year old, I spent three months in Ballygarry and the experience has remained with me all these years later. Since those formative years, I have returned with my family several times, [and] the beauty of the area continues to impress me….”. The following memoir extract about Kilcummin appears in his book Immigrants’ Son (2001), which Richard wrote as a tribute to his “Irish born parents and the legacy they created in America”. They emigrated from Ireland to the USA in the late 1920s.
Image credits: Michael Callander
Across Ireland at the northern section of Mayo where the turbulent, unpredictable, occasionally raging North Atlantic competes with the placid waters of Killala Bay, lies the homeland of my mother, Kitty Duggan. It is a region of Ireland where contradictions abound, offering a sense of dynamic equilibrium among many contending forces. The very sun wages daily battle with the sea mists and rain for climate supremacy. The innumerable rocks and stones of the land struggle against the fertile fields for dominion of the soil. Fingers of cliffs extend into the sea supplicating help in supporting the people.
Christian saints and pagan druids have left trails and legends among the people. There is a struggle for the minds and the beliefs of traditional lore. Each rock formation or stone structure competes with science, geology, and oral heritage for interpretation. Bards clash with archeologists and historians to interpret the topography of the region. In some places, many tread warily, if at all, in deference to the reputation of a peculiar formation, or unresolved legends concerning it.
Fact or fiction, history or myth, legend or reality, each presents its case for understanding among a curious and literate people. Reverence and superstition are partners in learning. The poverty and want of many, complemented by the wealth and luxury of a few, have produced energetic farmers who are also sedentary philosophers. The people are extremely gregarious, friendly, and hospitable, yet circumspect about strangers who may not understand their past.
They are masters of mythology and history, and are not above confusing the two. Excellent narrators, who know how to embellish a story, their tales do not remain unchanged for long. They live on a land they have tamed and claimed, loved and revered, honored in legend and song. The birthright of its people is a literary gift and exuberant style that hypnotizes and enthralls. Kilcummin is a land where mystery, mysticism, and myth contend with history and reality, but all play interchangeable roles-sort of a Gloccamora by the sea.
A short walk directly west from the front door of my mother’s birthplace, one finds Kilcummin pier and a series of cliffs, rock barriers to the Atlantic Ocean and its tempestuous moods, and weather conditions. Walking north from her cottage, one finds the Lacken strand and the peaceful waters of Killala Bay. Between the two geographical features lies Kilcummin Head. The vicinity is as rich in legend and myth as it is poor in food and nourishment for its inhabitants.
Like much of Ireland, the scenery is breathtaking when the sun permits an unimpeded view. The ferocity of the ocean waters and the fury of the surf are great contrasts to the gentle flowing Moy River into the Lacken strand in the area around Rathfran Abbey. Kilcummin used to be the parish delineation for the Catholic population, but it also had a civil status too. Because of its strategic location near the ancient ports of Killala and Ballina, it has also seen its share of strife.
Extract about Kilcummin: Richard O’Prey, Immigrants’ Son: A Memoir and Essay, (2001), chapter 4, pages 24-25
The book Immigrants’ Son (published in 2001) is available to order online, via Amazon, and is printed on demand under its ISBN number 0-7596-9657-8. It is a touching tribute to the parents of Richard O’Prey who created a life in America.
The above memoir extract about Kilcummin reminds us of the special links that can exist between seemingly separate places and generations. It brings to mind that small Atlantic villages on Mayo’s northern coast find echo in North American towns and cities due to courageous stories of migration and new pathways chosen. We hope you enjoy the extract above.