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Maureen Sweeney is presented with a medal for her role in the success of the Allies on WWII, by John J Kelly, a frequent visitor to Mountshannon.

Clare link to honour for WWII fateful forecaster

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CONNECTIONS between Mountshannon and the United States were instrumental in honouring a woman who played a central role in the success of the Allies in World War II.
On Saturday last, Maureen Sweeney, who was a post office attendant at Blacksod lighthouse and post office in North Mayo, received a commemorative medal from the US House of Representatives for ‘laudable actions’ during the war.
Producing hourly forecasts was a routine part of the Maureen’s duties in the post office, but the one that issued at 1am on June 3, 1944, changed the course of history.
Maureen, who had just turned 21 that day, issued the fateful forecast predicting an impending Atlantic storm. The dispatch prompted General Dwight D Eisenhower to delay the planned invasion of Normandy.
Maureen’s role was marked after a long process that began with a chance meeting in Mountshannon.
Holidaying in Mountshannon, John J Kelly, an Irish-American, who led the design and production of modern lunar landing craft, struck up a friendship with Scariff’s Eoin O’Hagan.
“I had seen a documentary, made by RTÉ, about the role of the Sweeney family in World War II,” he said.
“On one of his visits to Mountshannon, I told John about Maureen and he was fascinated with her role, because that forecast saved many thousands of lives. If the invasion of Normandy had gone ahead on the date originally planned, we would now be living in a very different world.
“John asked me to do the research and I interviewed Maureen’s son Vincent who runs Blacksod Lighthouse, and he told me how the family had been tasked with taking readings and making hour forecasts, 24/7, 365 days a year.
“That was a big responsibility for the Sweeney family and they had no idea, for many years, of the role that forecast played in the course of the war.
“They were doing the forecasts manually until an automatic met station came into operation in Belmullet in 1956. Only then did the Sweeney family find out about the history-changing Met report.”
Now in her 99th year, and living at Tí Áire Nursing Home in Belmullet, Maureen was honoured last Saturday with poetry, song and citations, in a ceremony that was livestreamed globally.
“My wife Ruth sang Amhrán na bhFiann and read a poem that she wrote for Maureen,” said Eoin, who was MC at the ceremony.
“There was a blessing from Fr Kevin Hegarty. John had requested official recognition for Maureen and the Sweeney family from the World War Two Museum in New Orleans.
“They sent a letter which John read to Maureen. He also read her a personal note from US Congressman Jack Bergman, who is the highest ranking veteran to ever serve in Congress. Congressman Bergman took a huge interest in Maureen’s story. A distinguished award, rarely given, and obtained by Congressman Bergman was also read and presented to Maureen and the Sweeney family by John.”
The Chief Justice of Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal and former President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) James F McKay, was also centrally involved in the organisation of Maureen’s tribute, which also included letters from US families whose loved-ones were saved as a result of the successful D-Day landing. Many of them watched the livestream of the ceremony which was recorded by Matt Purcell.
“The highlight was when John pinned a special commemorative medal onto Maureen’s lapel,” said Eoin.
“It was crafted into a brooch and her eyes lit up when she saw it. She is a gorgeous lady, the queen of Belmullet, and very much deserving of this honour.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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