Michael Fox Singer & Radio Presenter

You can rely on Old Moore

You Can Rely on Old Moore!


In the course of a recent “pre-Spring Spring Clean” I came across a somewhat yellowed copy of the 1967 edition of “The Genuine Irish Old Moore’s Almanac”.

 Many readers of “The Harp” who may have spent their formative years this side of what is sometimes called here “the little pond” (but otherwise known as the Irish Sea), may have, at some time or other, come into contact with this publication. My subsequent researches have revealed that “Old Moore’s” has been published annually inIrelandand continuously since its inception in the year 1764.

What if walls had mouths as well as ears?

What if walls had mouths as well as ears?

A strange title for a story?

It’s actually a qualification of the often heard expression “If only walls had ears, what tales would they tell?” Of course, although not specifically stated, walls would need to have, additionally, mouths if they are to articulate what they have learned through silent eavesdropping!

Where is all this leading then, you might ask? Read on.

The trains don't stop here anymore

The Trains Don’t Stop Here Anymore


“Would you like a spin up to Claremorris?”


by Michael Fox



A journey recently from Castlebar to Claremorris, on a wet and miserable day, took me through thevillageofBalla(which must have one of the widest main streets in the west ofIreland).


Memories of an earlier visit to Balla, some 25 years or so ago, came to mind. On that occasion, on a sunny August day whilst on holiday in the west ofIreland, I was exploring the Mayo highways and byways, “wherever my nose took me” so to speak. A right turn at the top end of the main street took me past the local chapel, down a long windy lane and up a short incline to a hump back bridge. Pausing on the brow of the bridge I could see that this straddled a railway track stretching into the distance, with the well polished rails glinting in the bright afternoon sunshine.


As I looked down from the bridge my gaze fell upon a small country railway station. This comprised of, on one platform, a cluster of single storey stone built slated buildings adjacent to a brick built goods shed and, on the platform opposite, a wooden signal box alongside some steel railed cattle pens now somewhat overgrown. Clearly, these pens had not been used for many years since the days of the live export of cattle from fair days in the west ofIrelandtoEnglandand elsewhere.


The Times - and the words - They are a-changingg



 The “Big 30”, “Big 40”, “Big 50” et al! We continually hear such references to these age milestones (or potential millstones, depending upon one’s individual outlook on life!), aka “significant birthdays”.

For those striving to keep at bay the relentless march of time these birthdays will loom large in the journey of life. Yet for many of us who have attained loftier years, musing at the fixation of those younger than us upon the approaching “Big 30”, the “Big 40” etc, might wonder, perhaps, what the fuss is all about, particularly as many of us may not have paused to draw our breath as we hurtled through these age benchmarks. Where, in fact, we might ask ourselves, did all the years go, and so quickly? We also experience that unique “gearing” of attained years and time which ensures, or so it seems, that the older you get, the faster the year goes around.  



An integral part of the Sligo to Limerick “Western Rail Corridor” is the still extant but long disused rail line from Collooney Junction, located on the Sligo to Dublin main line, running through the towns of Tobercurry, Charlestown, Swinford and Kiltimagh, to the junction with the Westport/Ballina to Dublin rail line at Claremorris. This stretch of line, which opened on 1st October 1895, is known more recently as “The Burma Road”, about which descriptive term more later. 

Communities along this rail route are growing rapidly in terms of population and business, with increasing passenger and freight traffic volumes, and it is now the opinion of a great many people that the towns concerned and their hinterlands would benefit greatly from the reopening of the line, as part of a new Western Rail Corridor running from Sligo to Galway, Limerick, and beyond.

Readers will note that in the heyday of the line a journey from Sligo to Claremorris, was described in railway parlance as being in the “up” direction, with travel in the opposite direction being designated as “down the line”. Hence the term “down to Sligo”.




The demise of the traditional Post Office in rural Ireland


The country post office, so long an institution of rural Ireland, is fast disappearing. Sadly, this mirrors what has become a feature of the British postal landscape, and with the current trend there is a very real possibility that many smaller towns and villages in Ireland will also lose what has been for a great many years a familiar, enduring, focal point for the local community.

For some time now, amongst those involved in the postal sector in Ireland, and indeed in the local communities they serve, there has been considerable disquiet at the attitude of Government to post offices in rural towns and communities. It is the perception of many, indeed the accusation by those informed in such matters, that Governments have hindered all reasonable attempts by Irish post offices to expand their activities, thus, and hopefully, ensuring their survival as essential and valued components, indeed icons, of Irish country life.

The End Of An Era – But A Phoenix Will Rise From The Ashes!

The End Of An Era – But A Phoenix Will Rise From The Ashes!


Demolition of Mayo’s ‘Ballroom of Romance’


By Jimmy Convey

One often hears the, perhaps overworked, expression “the end of an era”, characterising the closure, demise, or disappearance of something which it almost seemed, had “always been there”, its passing seen as bringing about a finality of some significant proportion.

Insofar as concerns the Mayo county town of Castlebar and those living in and around this fast growing centre of population (these days tagged “little Galway) the “end of an era” has indeed arrived, with the demolition of Mayo’s “Ballroom of Romance”, previously known as the Royal Ballroom, more latterly as the TF Royal Theatre, and attached to the local TF Royal Hotel, originally known as the Travellers Friend Hotel.

Sweeney's Travelling Shop

The Travelling Shop Revisited – A Story of a Family Business – Part 1


“What are you paying for eggs today?”

I have previously chronicled the unique story of the travelling shop in the rural western parts of Ireland some 40 years or so ago. 

Subsequently, I was delighted to be contacted by Sweeney’s Shop & Store in Claremorris. Vincent Sweeney enlightened me that the Sweeney family still have a travelling shop on the road in the outlying areas of Claremorris, Ballinrobe and Balla, the origins of this business dating back, uninterrupted, to the early 1930’s. Some pedigree indeed! 

Indeed, he informed me, there are still a small number of businesses still operating in the Claremorris, Ballinrobe and Tourmakeady areas and he was also aware of a similar number travelling the roads of North Mayo. Admittedly, however, the future for this type of selling, and the unique services provided to the rural communities, historically and up to the present day, is uncertain given the greater enlightenment and mobility of the rural populace, broader tastes, and increased spending power.

In its hayday the travelling shop was a familiar sight in the west of Ireland, “from Donegal down to Kerry”.

I invited him, and indeed I could see this as providing a fitting sequel to my earlier tale, to relate to me the story of the Sweeney travelling shop business. 

The Sweeney travelling shop, in fact, has its origins in a business established in Claremorris in 1932 by Dick Sweeney and John Staunton. Both would have “served their time”, as was the custom in those times, in a shop in that town prior to “going out on their own”, operating one vehicle initially. 

A barter system existed in those early days with the travelling shop taking eggs and other produce from largely self-sufficient rural smallholders with relatively “simple” needs, in exchange for staple commodities such as, for example, maize meal for cattle, pig rations and basic food items.

Saving The Turf



Saving the turf - or you can’t beat the peat

The following reflects in part an article which appeared in a recent edition of the Ballina, Co Mayo-based journal, the “Western People” (and with due acknowledgment to them), and may be of interest to those of our readers who in the past have enjoyed the experience of “working in the bog”.

The gas source quite recently discovered off the north coast of Mayo may never makes its way to the smaller communities of Co Mayo but that will not leave them with fuel-sourcing problems, for the timebeing at least. They are surrounded by bogland which has served their heating and other fuel needs very well down the years!

Michael Davitt, Irish Patriot – 100 Years On

Michael Davitt, Irish Patriot – 100 Years On

Foxford Railway Station, County Mayo, on the very warm and humid afternoon of Saturday 15 July this year, was the backdrop to the re-enactment of a dramatic scene which had taken place there one hundred years previously.

But, firstly, let us take a step back in time to the early part of the 20th Century, to an early summer day in 1906.

On that day, Foxford Station witnessed the arrival of a funeral train from Dublin conveying the mortal remains of that great Irish patriot, Michael Davitt, from Dublin en route to the nearby village of Straide, where he was born in 1846, for interment in the graveyard adjoining the local church.

The Hulk In The River

The Hulk in the River

Rising in the Ox Mountain Range, which parallels a good part of the border between the counties of Mayo and Sligo, the River Moy” flows on through the towns of Foxford and Ballina to meet the warming Gulf Stream waters of the Atlantic Ocean near Bartra Island.



The Moy, the longest river in County Mayo, and with an enviable international reputation for the quality of its fishing, each year attracts fishermen from all over the world. The “Grand Old River Moy” is memorably celebrated in a song of the same name composed by local Ballina men Seamus Foody and Jack Ruane, and was a very successful recording by the popular Jack Ruane Showband during the golden Irish Showband era of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Lying on the west bank of the River Moy a mile or so to the north of Ballina, a town on the old Sligo to Castlebar mailcoach road, and at a point where the river widens out before narrowing again on its way out to the Atlantic, is Ballina Quay. While once a place of bustling activity, the quay area is now a tranquil beauteous location providing a safe haven for the mooring of a variety of small pleasure craft and fishing boats. The extensive woodland and forestry of Belleek Woods on the opposite bank of the Moy shroud the 15th Century Belleek Castle, the ancestral home of the Earl of Arran.

Ramblin' Around Christmas


Ramblin’ Around Christmas

 No, this is not an account of Yuletide perambulations down Irish country lanes (or boreens as they are more commonly known here in the west ofIreland) but a Christmas snapshot of the live music scene here, from my own personal perspective.


 As I write, the Christmas and New Year festivities have drawn to a close for another year (although there are some who would suggest, sardonically, that given the good fortune now enjoyed by a great many of the populace here in the wake of the Celtic Tiger, bounding as it did through the 90’s and into the New Millenium, it is for them “Christmas every day”!).

Rambling or Visiting Houses

Rambling or Visiting Houses

 By Michael Fox



Growing up, the son of Co Mayo born parents, in a closely knit Irish community in a major city of the English Midlands, and with a growing interest in Irish history and heritage (fuelled by many visits to the land of my forebears), I encountered quite early on references to “rambling houses” or “visiting houses” in overheard conversations between my parents and others amongst their circle of relations and friends.

Pontoon Hall

Pontoon Hall

 My Ballroom of Romance – well, it could have been!


 By Michael Fox



To drive today from Foxford or Ballina to Castlebar, through the beautiful and breathtaking scenery of Pontoon and along the winding road from Healy’s Hotel skirting Lough Cullin, the smaller of the two lakes comprisingPontoonLakes, one will find no trace whatsoever, indeed not a brick remaining, of the famous west ofIrelanddancehall that once stood here.

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