Ray Smith and Chris Power MBE in search of Irish roots

Wharfedale Observer: Ray Smith, the former town mayor Ray Smith, the former town mayor

A former town mayor has teamed up with an expert to try to document Otley’s historical links with Ireland.

The scheme was sparked off following research for last year’s Remembrance Day into the lives of the town’s fallen soldiers.

That work, driven by historian Chris Power MBE for an exhibition led to interest in the Irish people whose names are carved on the southern wall of Our Lady & All Saints Catholic Church.

Then Ray Smith, during his year as mayor, discovered more about Otley’s strong links to Mayo and Sligo – the Irish counties where most of those remembered came from – and the project was born.

He said: “This started when I was invited to the then Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Jim McKenna’s, charity ball and I was sitting next to the Mayor of Ballina, in Mayo, and discovered Leeds had created a friendship link with Ballina.

“Then in May I was invited to attend a thanksgiving service at Leeds Cathedral and Chris Power accompanied me. Afterwards I introduced Chris to the Ballina representatives and later we brought the curator of the Ballina museum back to Otley for a ‘whistle-stop tour’.

“Now we have been invited to Ballina at the end of September for a special exhibition featuring Chris’s research and other documentation, which will be sent from Otley.

“It is hoped we will meet Otley Town Council leader Councillor John Eveleigh to discuss this friendship link as I feel it would be excellent for the town. For instance how wonderful would it be to include Irish music and dancing in our folk festival? I am sure that the beer festival would also benefit.”

Mr Power’s research details how people escaping the Irish famine first arrived in the town. It says: “‘Irish fields’ (now part of Otley’s Cambridge estate) is known as the place where people fleeing the famine first settled in tents and huts when they came in the late 1840s and early 1850s.

“The population of Otley was altered by the migration of people from Ireland as a consequence of the Great Famine of 1845 to1849.

“In 1841 there were about 60 out of a total population estimated at 3,423. By 1851 the number had risen to 641 out of 4,751.

“Evidence over later generations indicates they came from an area of Mayo centred on Kiltimagh.”

Anyone with information about Otley’s Irish connections can contact Mr Smith on (01943) 461485.

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