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Choir scales new heights on cusp of 30th year

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Date Published: {J}

There they were, 27 Galway choristers rehearsing in the august surroundings of Casa De Pilatos, a 15th century palace in the picturesque southern Spanish city of Seville.

It doesn’t get much better than this, thought the director of the Cois Cladaigh Chamber Choir, Brendan O’Connor, who was struck by the splendour of the building , famous for its Italian Renaissance and Spanish Mudéjar styles and held up as the quintessential Andalusian palace.

Its permanent resident, the Duke of Medinaceli, had just introduced himself to the group and had spoken about how one of his ancestors was an O’Connor.

Then the phone rang. Brendan was told to hang on the line for a call from the Department of the Taoiseach. He thought there must have been a problem with a lost passport among the group of 55 who had travelled for the tour of Seville and Córdoba.

“When he asked would we like to sing at Michael D’s inauguration I was flabbergasted. I said to the group it’s all very well to be singing for the Duke and all his Dukey friends but we’re now in a different league,” he laughed.

As it happened the moment is captured on camera for posterity. The group had travelled with two cameramen who are recording footage of the choir for a film to mark its 30th anniversary next year.

The impending engagement gave an added frisson of excitement to the three-date tour. They were told almost immediately what the repertoire would be at the ceremony so they were able to sneak in auditions in the November Andalusian sunshine.

Performing alongside the Defence Forces School of Music at St Patrick’s Hall in Dublin Castle, they were to perform Be Thou My Vision, Make Me a Channel, Amhrán na bhFiann and The Deer’s Cry, which was written by Shaun Davey and sang by his wife Rita Connolly.

At the request of Michael D, they would also do a rendition of Beannacht, the poem written by the late Galway based philosopher John O’Donohue, with music by Éamonn Murray, who is the choir’s répétiteur (musician who helps the singers to learn their parts on the piano).

At first the Department stipulated that only be 20 singers could be used for the occasion.

Brendan was adamant that they could only do justice to the Beannacht piece with no less than 25. In the end he cheated and sneaked in 27 singers, but even culling the numbers down to that from 42 members was a fraught task.

“It broke my heart,” sighs Brendan.

“The first thing I insisted was that only the people who’d sang it before made the first cut. For the second cut I gave first preference to those who made the effort to go to Spain.

“Even at that some people couldn’t go. One member was a surgeon who couldn’t come because of a patient and another was a mother who couldn’t bear to be away from her young baby. It was tough.”

The result was a pure triumph. The choir was singled out as a highlight for much of audience who attended the inauguration and it marked the single biggest occasion for the choir, whose roots lie in Michael D’s old alma mater.

“We had three rehearsals and one on the final day with the Army Band and Rita. It was particularly stress free which I was surprised at because we hadn’t worked with either of them before. At the end of it they were just buzzing. Some of them started sitting in Michael D’s chair so there was a lot of giggling. We had an impromptu session in one of the side rooms when it was all over,” recalls Brendan.

“It still hasn’t sunk in yet what we were part of. The response has been amazing.”

Brendan became the director of the UCG (now NUIG) choir while studying marine biology in 1972 after just two years as a member when the previous director left to study. But by 1980 he had to give it up to concentrate on his PhD, which was a study of the animals who lived in Galway Bay.

Two years later, one of the singers from the college choir, Maura Mathews, told him she was going set up a new choir and asked him to be the director.

“I had no musical training, I couldn’t read music at all. I was a total chancer. I’ve got a bit better at it now,” he explains.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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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

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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