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Back in the football trenches after tour of Chad

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: {J}

AFTER nearly a two-year sabbatical – during which time she served a tour of duty with the Irish Defence Forces in Chad – Ballygar native and 2004 All-Ireland medallist Aine Gilmore has returned to the Galway senior ladies football fold in an effort to revive the fortunes of the maroon and white.

On this day, though, Gilmore sits in a modernised office overlooking the expansive courtyard of Custume Barracks in Athlone, where she has been succinctly compiling the results of fitness tests she carried out the previous day in Donegal. It’s time consuming work, but work she clearly enjoys.

As Gilmore says – unashamedly quoting that well-worn cliché – it is a life less ordinary and her tour of duty in Chad between June and October 2008 certainly bears testament to that. “It was completely different. It was a major culture shock,” says the army lieutenant of her arrival in the landlocked, war-torn African country.

Gilmore was one of approximately 500 soldiers from the 97th Infantry Battalion who made the journey to Chad that Summer – the second largest contingent of soldiers, after France, to assist in efforts to establish peace in Chad and Darfur. The duty of the Irish soldiers was to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, protect civilians, and ensure the safety of UN personnel.

“In fairness, the people of Chad took to us very well,” recalls Gilmore. “We created employment in the area and we created a safe and secure environment for the people. They were delighted that we were there and there has been plenty of need for us to be there in the last couple of years.

“It is an extremely poor country while the weather is anything up to between 40 and 50 degrees every day. It took a while to adapt to that. It was definitely a worthwhile experience. It was great to have the opportunity to do something like that. You felt like you were making a difference in people’s lives.”

Gilmore, herself, was primarily based in Goz Beida, the main town in the south-east region of Ouaddai and home to thousands of Sudanese refugees who had fled from nearby Darfur. Consequently, the area saw much conflict, which included attacks from the Chadian rebel group, the Union of Forces, who were trying to topple the Government, led by President Idriss Deby.

In June 2008, not long after the arrival of Irish forces, Chadian rebels attacked Goz Beida, injuring at least 25 people. The rebels and the Chadian army were subsequently involved in a fire fight, with the Irish army among those caught in the crossfire.

“It was the kind of place that would be grand for a while, nice and quiet, and then all of a sudden there was the potential for mayhem,” says the 26-year-old, who missed the incident as she was in the capital of N’Djamena, where a small Irish contingent was based.

“When that kicked off, though, our lads were deployed to protect the refugees and that was fairly tense because they were fired upon. For the weeks that followed, we were on high alert. So, it was stressful.”

High drama, but Gilmore says her role was a varied one. One of her duties was to act as Welfare Officer, which meant securing some home comforts for the troops and keeping the morale high.

“So, I had to set up the shop over there, along with the gym and recreation areas. I was also organising all the fun events, such as the table quizzes, the poker nights and the fun runs. All those sort of things. It was very challenging.

“Really, it is the small things in life that you get to appreciate, be it a simple can of coke after coming in off patrol. I mean, we take so much for granted over here, but by God, it makes such a difference over there when you are out in 40 or 50 degree heat.”

For the Galway ladies football star, the toughest days were the Sundays. It was those days the home sickness kicked in. “Yeah, the worst days were definitely the Sundays, especially when I knew the girls were playing. We used to be able to get the Irish radio stations through the satellite. Depending on what games were on, say if it was Galway and Mayo, then we would tune in to Galway Bay FM and it was gas. You were sitting in the sweltering heat out in Africa and the next thing you would hear Ollie Turner on the radio.”

Meanwhile, when Gilmore returned to Ireland in October of ‘08, she was designated to fulfil a new role. “I am now in charge of all the sport, physical fitness, and testing in the Western Brigade. That is Donegal, Cavan, Mullingar, Galway and Athlone. So, there is a lot of travelling involved.”

Frequently on the road, Gilmore – who had featured in Galway’s National League campaign of 2008 – felt it was incumbent on her to settle into her new job before making a return to the county panel. As a result, she did not feature in the maroon and white in 2009.

“I also felt I could not commit to training when I didn’t know where I would be from day to day. One day you would be in Donegal, the next day you would be in Cavan, and the next day you could be in Galway. So, I couldn’t really commit.

“I also had to do a course during the middle of last Summer which was slap bang in the middle of the championship and it was extremely physically demanding. So, I don’t think I would have been able to combine the two anyway. I definitely missed it though. You do take it for granted.”

For more, read page 51 of this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Henshaw and McSharry set to field for Irish Wolfhounds in clash with England Saxons

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

CONNACHT’S rising stars Robbie Henshaw and Dave McSharry look set to named in the starting xv for the Ireland Wolfhounds who face the England Saxons in Galway this weekend when the team is announced later today (Thursday).

Robbie Henshaw is the only out-and-out full-back that was named Tuesday in the 23-man squad that will take on the English at the Sportsground this Friday (7.45pm).

Connacht’s centre McSharry and Ulster’s Darren Cave are the only two specialist centres named in the 23 man squad, which would also suggest the two youngsters are in line for a starting place.

Former Connacht out-half, Ian Keatley, Leinster’s second out-half Ian Madigan and Ulster’s number 10 Paddy Jackson and winger Andrew Trimble, although not specialist full-backs or centres, can all slot into the 12, 13 and 15 jerseys, however you’d expect the Irish management will hand debuts to Henshaw and McSharry given that they’ll be playing on their home turf.

Aged 19, Henshaw was still playing Schools Cup rugby last season. The Athlone born Connacht Academy back burst onto the scene at the beginning of the season when he filled the number 15 position for injured captain Gavin Duffy.

The Marist College and former Ireland U19 representative was so assured under the high ball, so impressive on the counter-attack and astute with the boot, that he retained the full-back position when Duffy returned from injury.

Connacht coach Eric Elwood should be commended for giving the young Buccaneers clubman a chance to shine and Henshaw has grasped that opportunity with both hands, lighting up the RaboDirect PRO 12 and Heineken Cup campaigns for the Westerners this season.

Henshaw has played in all 19 of Connacht’s games this season and his man-of-the-match display last weekend in the Heineken Cup against Zebre caught the eye of Irish attack coach, Les Kiss.

“We’re really excited about his development. He had to step into the breach when Connacht lost Gavin Duffy, and he was playing 13 earlier in the year. When he had to put his hand up for that, he’s done an exceptional job,” Kiss said.

The 22-year-old McSharry was desperately unlucky to miss out on Declan Kidney’s Ireland squad for the autumn internationals and the Dubliner will relish the opportunity this Friday night to show-off his speed, turn of foot, deft hands and finishing prowess that has been a mark of this season, in particular, with Connacht.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Drinks battle brewing as kettle sales go off the boil

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

You’d have thought there might have been three certainties in Irish life – death, taxes and the cup of tea – but it now seems that our post-tiger sophistication in endangering the consumption of the nation’s second favourite beverage.

Because with all of our new-fangled coffee machines, percolators, cappuccino and expresso makers, sales of the humble kettle are falling faster than our hopes of a write-off on the promissory note.

And even when we do make tea, we don’t need a tea pot – it’s all tea bags these days because nobody wants a mouthful of tea leaves, unless they’re planning to have their fortune told.

Sales of kettles are in decline as consumers opt for fancy coffee makers, hot water dispensers and other methods to make their beverages – at least that’s the case in the UK and there’s no reason to think it’s any different here.

And it’s only seems like yesterday when, if the hearth was the heart of every home, the kettle that hung over the inglenook fireplace or whistled gently on the range, was the soul.

You’d see groups gathered in bogs, footing turf and then breaking off to boil the battered old kettle for a well-earned break.

The first thing that happened when you dropped into someone’s home was the host saying: “Hold on until I stick on the kettle.”

When the prodigal son arrived home for the Christmas, first item on the agenda was a cup of tea; when bad news was delivered, the pain was eased with a cuppa; last thing at night was tea with a biscuit.

The arrival of electric kettles meant there was no longer an eternal search for matches to light the gas; we even had little electric coils that would boil water into tea in our cup if you were mean enough or unlucky enough to be making tea for one.

We went away on sun holidays, armed with an ocean of lotion and a suitcase full of Denny’s sausages and Barry’s Tea. Spanish tea just wasn’t the same and there was nothing like a nice brew to lift the sagging spirits.

We even coped with the arrival of coffee because for a long time it was just Maxwell House or Nescafe granules which might have seemed like the height of sophistication – but they still required a kettle.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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