The 1916-2016 MacBride Connection – The Major from Westport
By Bernardine MacBride Walsh , PRO Mayo Association Dublin
Brief, brave and glorious was his young career, and he kept the whiteness of his soul, and thus men o’er him wept.” These lines of Lord Byron could be quoted to describe the life of my great granduncle Major John MacBride.
More than any other Mayo man of his time, a time of political turmoil and social upheaval, MacBride was known for his integrity and his charity. In 1897 he organised the West of Ireland Famine Relief Fund. He was also
commissioned with the rank of Major in the Boer army and given Boer citizenship. It is said that the West produces capable,
kind, masterful and forceful people. Certainly, being a part of the Mayo Association Dublin has confirmed this to me;
Mayo is a place that has produced formidable characters none more so than our founding father Major John MacBride.
He and Mr Edward Lavelle from Belcarra among others founded the Mayo Association
in 1905. It is with interest and passion I continue in his footsteps and carry on my involvement with the association.
I was seven years old when I began to realise and slowly digest my family history. It was at the time of Seán MacBride’s funeral in January 1988. I, along with my sister, Úna (Godchild of Seán MacBride) brought up the
gifts at Seán’s funeral Mass in The Pro- Cathedral, Dublin. It was at this point I knew we would no longer have his visits to look forward to at our family home in Westport. My Great Grand Uncle, Major John MacBride,
was born and bred at The Quay in Westport, County Mayo, 1868. He was married to Maud Gonne MacBride (1903). In fact, Maud Gonne and her half-sister Eileen married two Westport brothers being Major John and his brother Joseph MacBride, who was my great grandfather. Maud Gonne’s sister, Eileen MacBride was my mum’s granny. My mum
recalls her Aunt, Úna MacBride, a nun, reminiscing about the much anticipated visits from Major John when visiting his
brother Joseph and wife Eileen in Mallow Cottage, Westport. The Major always brought sweets and was a great man for
telling funny stories! Major John MacBride and Maud Gonne gave birth to their only son, Seán, in 1904 in
Paris. Seán MacBride was an Irish government minister for external affairs in 1948, a prominent international politician
and a former Chief of Staff of the IRA. He founded and participated in many international organisations of the 20th
century, including the United Nations, the Council of Europe and Amnesty International. He received the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1974, the Lenin Peace Prize for 1975–1976 and the UNESCO Silver Medal for Service in 1980. Although Seán and his father did not know one another very well (Seán was 12 years old when Major John was
executed) there is no doubt that his dad would have been a very proud man to see his son follow in his brave footsteps.
My mother, Mary MacBride Walsh, instilled in the family an appreciation and respect for our family heritage. This appreciation and interest lent itself to hearing and learning much about my ancestors, in particular the
brave, courageous and noble Major John MacBride who died for this country and its people on the 5th of May 1916 for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising. The Major knew no fear. Not only was this heroic man executed but he asked not to be blindfolded, adding, “I’ve often looked down their guns before”. As well as being brave and fearless, The Major, Seán Mac Giolla Bhríde was a kind and spiritual man. He was a man of very deep faith. He said confession and received Holy Communion minutes before his execution on that fateful day. There has been much commentary on Major John but
perhaps the most evocative piece; one which has stuck with me, is an account recorded by Father Augustine, O.F.M. Cap., from the publication entitled “Letters and statements of the leaders executed after the Rising at Easter 1916 – Last Words”, “Piaras F Mac Lochlainn.
“….He emptied his pockets of whatever silver and coppers he had and asked me to give it to the poor. Finally, placing his Rosary tenderly in my hand, he uttered a little sentence that thrilled me: And give that to my Mother” (Honoria Gill). Father Augustine recalls a silent signal, a loud volley, and Major John’s last breath. After he witnessed the fearless and noble MacBride collapse in a heap at Kilmainham Jail he rushed over and anointed his soul.
The richness and diversity of the 2016 commemorations will remain with my family and I for a lifetime. All seven of us along with relatives from Ireland and the States, commemorated with pride our famous ancestor MacBride. We attended a wide ranging programme of events including the Garden of Remembrance, the GPO on Easter Sunday, Arbour Hill Cemetery, the old Jacobs Biscuit Factory grounds and Dublin Castle. The army bands, defence forces and military brought such honour, discipline and dignity to each commemoration. From the sound of the beating drums to the reading of the proclamation it is safe to say Ireland has produced some of the finest men and women and long may our Irish Tricolour fly.
This past while has been a time of great historical reflection. We gave thanks for a man who is remembered with distinction and valour, but also a man whose vision and ideals of nation and independence are as acceptable a definition now as they were almost one hundred years ago.
On Sunday, 8th May, there were 1916 commemorations in my hometown, Westport. The commemorations included
The Centenary of the execution of Major John MacBride and Centenary of the arrest of 31 men most of them sent to Frongoch internment camp and the naming of a bridge after William Doris MP and PJ Doris, founders of the Mayo News Newspaper and both imprisoned for their political activities. There was chaos in Westport over a period of 10 days from 2nd to 12th May, 1916, as the authorities arrested 31 men. These men included:
Joseph Ring, grand uncle of Minister
Michael Ring TD
Tom Derrig, TD, later Minister for
Education in the 1930’s
Charles Hughes, chairman of Westport
UDC for 16 years
Joseph MacBride, TD, brother of
Major John MacBride. (Grandfather of Mary MacBride-Walsh)
My mum and the Westport Historical Society will welcome President Michael D Higgins and his wife, First Lady Sabina, to
these 1916 commemorations. President Higgins will unveil a plaque in memory of the 31 men arrested and Mary MacBride
Walsh will read the proclamation of independence in honour of Major John MacBride. President Eamon de Valera came
to Westport in 1966 to unveil a plaque at the home of Major John MacBride. President Patrick Hillery came to Westport in 1983 to unveil a monument to Major John MacBride. I would like to close with a few lines from
a poem entitled “Going Home to Mayo, Winter, 1949″ written by my cousin, Paul Durcan. Paul is an esteemed Irish poet and the great nephew of Major John MacBride.
“Each town we passed through was another milestone and their names were magic passwords into eternity:
Kilcock, Kinnegad, Strokestown, Elphin, Tarmonbarry, Tulsk, Ballaghaderreen, Ballavarry;
Now we were in Mayo …”