A little book about a big county

One of my abiding childhood memories of family journeys to Erris was stopping off at the Musical Bridge in Bellacorick to run a stone along the parapet to hear it draw musical notes from the bridge.

Why the bridge behaves like a musical instrument I cannot explain, but I was delighted to discover the story of Bellacorick Bridge in a new book about the county, The Little Book of Mayo.

The Musical Bridge is just one of many colourful stories about Mayo in The Little Book of Mayo, written by Swinford native and retired teacher, Eamonn Henry.

Eamonn is keeping alive a proud family tradition of writing about Mayo’s past started by his late father John Henry (1905-1986), historian and folklorist. I can recall interviewing Mr. Henry Senior many years ago as a young journalist.

The Little Book of Mayo is a sometimes quirky and concise pocket-guide that mixes Mayo folklore and historical fact in a way that will appeal to visitors looking for a quick reference book to County Mayo. The book is both informative and at the same time entertaining.

The factual information is spiced up with some colourful tales like the night the devil appeared in Tooreen.

On a more serious note, the author explores Mayo’s rich heritage, evidenced by its many monastic sites and the 5000 year old neolithic Céide Fields and takes the reader on an enjoyable journey through its principal towns and villages bringing the story of Mayo up to date with a chapter on the county’s significant advances in agriculture, industry and tourism.

A quirky guide to Mayo

Eamonn Henry tells the colourful stories of Mayo’s many famous sons and daughters, including current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, UN envoy Mary Robinson and the Pirate Queen Granuaile and her encounter with Queen Elizabeth 1 of England.

The Little Book of Mayo, written by Swinford native and retired teacher, Eamonn Henry
The Little Book of Mayo, written by Swinford native and retired teacher, Eamonn Henry

The book is dedicated to the Mayo football team’s never-ending “Quest for Sam” – another topic addressed by the author. This loyalty to the Green and Red of Mayo may seem strange to those from outside the county – but it’s something that binds Mayo people to their birthplace wherever they are in the world.

In a foreword to The Little Book of Mayo, Tom McAndrew ponders on what might be bottled and labelled “Essence of Mayo” – those deep emotional bonds that Mayo people feel for their native county.

The Bard of Ballycarry, James Orr, in his poem The Irishman, must have been thinking about something similar when he wrote:

“The savage loves his native shore,
Though rude the soil and chill the air;
Then well may Erin’s sons adore
Their isle, which nature formed so fair.
What flood reflects a shore so sweet
As Shannon great, or pastoral Bann?
Or who a friend or foe can meet
So generous as an Irishman?”

Eamonn Henry’s book may not have set out to answer that great question, but The Little Book of Mayo certainly succeeds in revealing a little about the county’s rich heritage, natural beauty and distinct character that will go some way to informing visitors as to what is so unique and wonderful about Mayo.

The Little Book of Mayo is published by The History Press Ireland. ISBN 978 1 85488 892 3

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.