For Sam the bells toll in St Mary's

August 22nd, 2017 7:10 AM

By Southern Star Team

Reverend Cliff Jeffers with the eight bells being installed in St Mary's Church, Dunmanway as part of the new Sam Maguire Community Bells project.

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Plans to honour the memory of Sam Maguire in his hometown of Dunmanway are gathering pace with a unique community bells project, writes Jackie Keogh

Plans to honour the memory of Sam Maguire in his hometown of Dunmanway are gathering pace with a unique community bells project, writes Jackie Keogh

Sam Maguire was a member of the Church of Ireland and one of the heroes in the fight for Irish independence, having played a central role in the Irish Republican Brotherhood in London.

But when he returned to Ireland, after the Treaty was signed, he ended up at Malabracka, the family home, and it was here in 1927, at the age of 49, that he died in sickness and in poverty.

Standing at his graveside in the churchyard of St Mary's in Dunmanway, Rev Cliff Jeffers described how Sam Maguire was, at that time, considered by some to be a divisive figure, a traitor.

Rev Jeffers said there were not enough men in his community willing to stand up for him and shoulder his coffin out of the house and that women were called on to help.

But, after his death, friends raised £300 and erected a Celtic cross at his grave at St Mary's Churchyard in Dunmanway. 

With the balance of the money, they commissioned a cup in the style of the Ardagh Chalice – a cup that has been awarded to the winners of the All-Ireland Senior Football final every year since 1928.

There is a small commemoration ceremony in Dunmanway, every year on the Sunday before the All-Ireland Football final, in memory of Sam Maguire, but it was at the 1916 celebrations at Boland's Mill in Dublin, last year, that Rev Jeffers was struck by the fact that the Church hadn't done anything to remember him during the centenary celebrations.

Rev Jeffers resolved to remedy the situation and show how Sam Maguire is now, through the passage of time, a unifying figure – a man with whom everyone has a connection.

‘Sam Maguire did go against the traditions of the place he came from, but a hundred years have passed,' said Rev Jeffers, ‘it is time to move on and celebrate Sam Maguire's contribution towards the struggle for Irish freedom.' 

Rev Jeffers came up with the idea for the Sam Maguire Community Bells project and with the support of the parish approached the GAA in Dublin. 

The GAA was happy to support the project and has, so far, contributed almost half of the €60,000 cost of Phase One.

Rev Jeffers said six of the eight bells that were installed in the bell tower of St Mary's on Monday, July 17th last, came out of a church in Wales, but two of the new bells that have been installed by Martin Hough of Drinagh have Sam Maguire's name, his date of his birth, and the date of his death, inscribed on them so every time they ring out over Dunmanway his story will be remembered.

‘Initially,' Rev Jeffers said, ‘we were going to give each of the eight bells a name after historic figures, but we decided to give each bell a theme instead and through them tell the story of Sam Maguire and Dunmanway town.'

Phase One of this project involves the installing and the naming of the bells on the following topics: sport, wars and revolution, agriculture, the people of Dunmanway, migration, religious traditions, education and arts, and industry and commerce. 

Phase Two will involve the publication of a booklet and the creation of storyboards that will be put on public display. 

In this respect, the local historical association is lending its assistance, as is Kieran Connolly, a former DIT lecturer from Dunmanway, whose book about Sam Maguire will be published on September 22nd next.

Phase Three will, in time, see the development of a visitor's centre because, as Rev Jeffers believes, the home of Sam Maguire could become a major tourism destination, particularly for school tours and history groups.

Local primary school students have already visited the churchyard and engaged in a bell-ringing session using a small set of eight bells that are on loan and are being used for practice every Wednesday night.

‘I want the bells at St Mary's to be a place where people can come together to learn a new skill because when people learn together they get to know one another that is why we have called it the Sam Maguire Community Bells project.

‘I am hoping more people will share the vision and develop more ideas and aspects of the Sam Maguire story. 

‘I am also hoping that everyone will feel free to come to our open day from 2pm to 8pm on Sunday, September 3rd next when the church and the tower will be open to the public and they can see how the bells are rung.'

The following weekend – at 2pm on Saturday, September 9th – the Sam Maguire Community Bells project will be officially opened by the President of the GAA, Páraic Duffy.

‘One of the main aims of this project,' said Rev Jeffers, ‘is to provide an amenity that can be used by all of the people of Dunmanway.'

Anyone interested in learning to ring the bells is welcome to come along to St Mary's on Wednesday nights between 8pm and 10pm. People are welcome to come and watch too.'

From September 9th onwards, the new bells will be rung on Sunday mornings and to mark events like St Patrick's Day and New Year's Eve, as well as weddings and funerals, and special occasions in the life of the town.

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