Lifestyle – Judy Murphy meets multi-faceted Gerard Hanberry who explains the stories behind our romantic ballads
Sometimes an idea is so good when it’s finally been executed, you wonder why nobody had thought of doing it before.
On Raglan Road: Great Irish love songs and the Women who inspired them, a new book by Galway teacher, writer and musician, Gerard (Gerry) Hanberry certainly ticks the ‘good idea’ box.
It tells the stories behind 15 great Irish songs, from Danny Boy to Raglan Road and Grace, as well as later works including After All from the Frank and Walters and Steve Earle’s Galway Girl.
The range is broad and Gerard’s only stipulation was that each song had been inspired by a real and identifiable woman, he explains.
Gerard, whose previous books include a biography of Oscar Wilde’s family, as well as four collections of poetry, hit upon the idea for this book after being asked to participate in a concert a few years ago that was organised by the Galway Percy French Society.
The event, at An Taibhdhearc, included works by the renowned songwriter and painter, French, as well as other well-known Irish songs and ballads. It was a sell-out. Gerard narrated the concert and afterwards was approached by audience members who wanted to learn more about the songs.
Initially, he felt the concept could be developed into a touring show, but as he mulled over the idea, Gerard realised that if he selected songs based around a particular theme – namely, love – he could produce a book.
That’s what he did. All the songs in On Raglan Road are about women – Gerard says that’s because women tended to be the subjects of love songs, rather than their authors – and the material covers a huge span of time and genres, from the 40-verse Una Bhán to Johnny Duhan’s The Voyage. The lyrics of the songs are also included, with an abridged version of Úna Bhán.
That broad embrace was something Gerard, a singer himself, was keen to achieve.
“It brings together all my circles and my interests,” he says of the book, which took him some two years to research and write – with great help from freelance researcher and music journalist, Kevin Maguire, he adds.
“I live a very compartmentalised life,” Gerard observes. “I’m a published poet, a biographer, a working musician and a teacher, so I seem to have these circles that don’t intersect. But this book brings them together – music, writing lyrics and poetry and education.”
For the songs by living writers, Gerard conducted interviews using an old dictaphone to record the men’s insights. In the case of the older songs, he did extensive research in the National Library.
Gerard shares the fascinating stories behind songs such as Danny Boy, which was written to a traditional tune following extensive work by two women, although it was a man, Frederic Weatherly, who finally put words to the air.
The much-loved song Nancy Spain, made famous by Christy Moore, was written in the 1960s by Dublin-man Barney Rushe when he was just 18. Its subject was a young woman from the Irish midlands, but her name was not Nancy Spain.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Galway’s Golden Girls mark big birthdays!
Two of Galway’s Golden Girls celebrates milestone birthdays on either side of the county this week – racking up a magnificent 210 years between them.
Oughterard’s Phyl Furness celebrated her 107th birthday this week – and Mary O’Leary marked her mere 103rd birthday in Ardrahan!
Phyl, who is originally from Nottinghamshire in England, moved to Ireland in the 1980s – and has been a wonderful part of her Oughterard community ever since.
Mary was born Mary Quinn on May 23 1919 in Ballinlisheen, Tubber, Co. Clare, to John Quinn and Mary Kate McKague. She never saw her father as he passed away before she was born, leaving her an only child.
She attended Boston National School and Gort Secondary School, and from a young age worked on the family farm.
Mary married her husband Joe O’ Leary in Tubber church in 1948. They lived in Ballinlisheen until Joe passed away in July 1997 – and Mary then moved to Gort town.
She moved to the Little Flower Nursing Home, Labane, Ardrahan, on October 14 2011 where she has enjoyed a very fulfilled few years since.
Mary is an avid reader; she loves thrillers and romance, according to Joan Gardiner Surman, Proprietor of the Little Flower Nursing Home.
“She keeps herself informed by reading the daily paper and loves Hello magazine, she has a huge interest in the Royal family,” she said.
She celebrated her birthday in the Little Flower Nursing Home a day early on Sunday – surrounded by her family, the staff who take such great care of her and all the residents of the Little Flower.
“She received a lovely letter of congratulations from President Michael D. Higgins along with a beautiful commemorative medal,” added Joan.
Photos: Mary O’Leary celebrating her 103rd birthday and (right) Oughterard’s Phyl Furness, who celebrated a magnificent 107th birthday this week.
Ombudsman hears of 125 allegations against Galway Gardaí
A total of 125 allegations were made against Gardaí in Galway last year, according to a report by Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).
There were 105 allegations made against Galway Gardaí in 2020, and so the figure of 125 last year represents a yearly increase of 19%.
It is also higher than the figure of 103 allegations in GSOC’s 2019 report.
The increase in complaints made to GSOC about Gardaí in Galway mirrors a national trend. In 2021, according to GSOC, 12% more complaints and allegations were lodged against Gardaí.
Among the most common complaints were neglect of duty, which ranges in seriousness from not returning a phone call or not properly investigating a crime; abuse of authority, which could include excessive force; non-fatal offences, which could include assault; and discourtesy, which relates to the manner in which a Garda spoke or behaved towards a person.
Meanwhile, complaints to the recently appointed Public Service Ombudsman Ger Deering reached a new high of 4,004 last year – a 17% increase on 2020, and the highest ever in the 38-year history of the Ombudsman.
And 208 of these complaints came from people in Galway; 53 were made about Galway County Council and the Ombudsman received 42 about Galway City Council. NUIG was the subject of six complaints.
Two complaints were received about Galway Mayo Institute of Technology while the Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board was the subject of one complaint.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see the May 27 edition of the Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Flexibility needed on designation of Connemara bogs
A Galway senator has called for flexibility to make ‘small local changes’ over the coming years in relation to the SAC designation of the massive Connemara Bog complex.
Senator Seán Kyne told the Connacht Tribune that such flexibility could make a big difference to local families and communities within this SAC (Special Area of Conservation).
“There are a lot of local issues that arise. For example, people from the area can find it difficult to get planning on their own land and allowance could be made for small community projects that mightn’t necessarily tie in with the SAC requirements,” said Seán Kyne.
He said that in cases like those, where a small area could be taken out of the SAC, it should be possible to compensate with the inclusion of another similar sized portion of land on the fringes of the designation.
Senator Kyne – who raised the matter with Minister of State (Local Government) Peter Burke in a recent Seanad debate – said that the size of the Connemara Bog complex site was very large, approximately 50,000 hectares (c. 125,000 acres).
He added that there was a long-running history to the SAC application dating back to 1997 with a lot of appeals to parts of the designation for an area bounded to the north by Galway-Clifden Road (N59) and to the south by the Moycullen-Spiddal road (L1320).
“The Department is engaging in the final signing off of the SAC. I am inquiring in regard to clarification on the appeals. Will there be any future opportunities in regard to appeals?
“I am not talking about large-scale changes. In some cases, there may be a request for some minor changes to the boundaries of the SAC in the future.
“It could be to rectify some issues where there may be mistakes on the mapping, for example, or there could be areas which are commercially sensitive to somebody, and it may make sense to make a slight change in the boundary and that could be compensated elsewhere with the inclusion of another area . . .
“Can there be minor, but perhaps important, changes in the future which would benefit society, the economy and local communities, whether it is a requirement to remove a small piece to allow for a piece of amenity or commercial infrastructure? Clarification on the processes into the future is important,” said Senator Kyne in the Seanad debate.
Minister of State, Peter Burke, said in reply that the criteria used to set the boundaries of the SAC sites were purely scientific as was required in the nature directives.
He said that since the first public notification of the designation back in 1997, there were 60 appeals or objections received – nine of those were successful; 12 were partially successful; 21 were unsuccessful; and 18 were deemed invalid.
“The appeals process for this site has now concluded and the site has moved onto the final stage of the process which requires the publication of a statutory instrument, formally designating the site.
“The statutory instrument includes a description of the site, a detailed map showing the area, a complete list of habitats and species for which the area was selected and a list of activities which require the consent of the Minister before they can be undertaken in a way that affects the site.
“It is important to note that all relevant protections under Irish law apply to the site from the time  it was publicly notified as proposed for designation,” said Minister of State, Peter Burke.