Fr. Conway was born in Scardane, Claremorrris, the second youngest of eight children of William and Peggy Conway. His oldest brother Pat was ordained a Priest in 1859 for the Diocese of Killala where their grand uncle Dr Thomas Feeney was Bishop. Walter was ordained in 1874 and worked in Clifden, Aughamore and Clonbur. He was appointed Parish Priest of Carraroe in 1883 and of Glenamaddy in 1896. In 1919 he retired to St Anne’s Convent, Musselburgh, Scotland, where he died on the 25th September 1941 at the age of 92 years.
He was a noted Irish speaker and writer and a friend and correspondent of Dr Douglas Hyde. He translated the Maynooth short catechism into Irish and compiled an Irish/English prayer book (at least one copy has survived in the area). While in Scotland he wrote an account of the parish of Boyounagh which shows a deep knowledge of place names and local history.
He was an eloquent preacher in the Gaelic language. “On Good Friday in 1883 Rev Conway C.C. Aughamore preached in Irish in Castlebar and rarely was there heard in this Church an Irish sermon more effective or impressive or delivered with so true a rendering of the Irish language”. (Connacht Telegraph 24.3.1883). The older people here too remember such sermons and also his prayers in Irish before and after Mass. On his visits to schools he liked to hear the children greet him in Irish.
He was very concerned to provide adequate schooling for the children under his care. He appointed the best teachers available and he exercised his managerial authority with a strong hand. “He performed wonders with regard to school building in far distant Connemara. He was a thoroughly energetic and zealous priest and has left enduring monuments of his work in every part of his extensive parish (Tuam Herald 1896). He built St. Joseph’s School, Ballymoe Road, Glenamaddy (1900) and Lisheen and Ardeevin schools (1914). These he visited regularly and endeared himself to the children who still remember the pocket full of sweets and pennies he brought the day they got holidays.
Fr. Conway was a fearless champion of the people during the land war. On a number of occasions he faced arrest and imprisonment. Once according to the Ballinrobe Chronicle (Nov. 1881) “when stepping off a boat on Lough Corrib he was taken by surprise and handed a summons. “With his walking stick he laid the Bailiff low”.
In this Parish he is remembered with gratitude for getting grants from the Congested Districts Board to get roads made, housing improved, outhouses built etc. He is said to have come to the aid of many parishioners who were trying to get their “passage” to America and in his will he left what he had to be divided among the poor. During the “Black Flu” of 1918, both he and the local doctor – Dr O’Malley, were the only ones to be seen on the roads of the parish as they went from house to house aiding and consoling the sick and the dying. He was responsible for bringing the Bon Secours nuns to this Diocese to work in the Hospital which was part of the workhouse in Glenamaddy. They worked there till the workhouse was burned during the War of Independence, then they moved to Tuam. The present convent was also built by Fr Conway as a Parochial house – Árd Mhuire – in 1897.
Father Conway will be remembered above all in Glenamaddy as a church builder. In the poor days of 75 years ago it was a great achievement to collect the cost of our fine gothic Church built in 1904-1905 without burdening the parishioners. Donations from America and proceeds of Concerts at which he is remembered singing his favourite song ‘A Nation Once Again’ as well as other fundraising activities, as well as voluntary labour built St. Patrick’s Church.
His last exhortation to the people of the parish as he bade them goodbye in 1919 was to “continue to say the Rosary”. Like many other valiant men and women Father Conway may not have received the appreciation he deserved during his lifetime.
Perhaps now as our Parish Hall, which he built in 1907-1908 is being renovated or replaced, might the new building in his memory be given his name.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam,
(Míle Buíochas to Rev. Archdeacon Heaney, Castlebar and to many Glenamaddy parishioners [contemporaries] for memories of Father Conway)
Author: Sr. Theresa Killilea, Glan to Glan, Christmas edition 1979