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Conflict, drama and hope

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: {J}

Tom Murphy has never been afraid of addressing the sacred cows of Irish society in his plays and The Sanctuary Lamp, which runs at the Town Hall Theatre from Tuesday next, May 4 to Friday, May 7, is no exception. This new production, which is directed by the writer, is presented by B*spoke Theatre Company and comes highly recommended from Dublin and London.

But the play wasn’t always so warmly received. When it premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 1975, The Sanctuary Lamp caused a furore for its anti-clerical stance, earning the Tuam-born playwright several attacks from the altar.

However, even in those days, when the Catholic Church dominated Irish society, there were people who saw the bigger picture. The then President of Ireland Cearbhaill Ó Dálaigh stated that The Sanctuary Lamp was one of the greatest achievements of the Abbey Theatre since The Playboy of the Western World and Juno and the Peacock, putting Tom Murphy in excellent company.

Murphy subsequently redrafted the play and this latest production, directed by the writer, which opened in Dublin in 2008 is now widely regarded as the definitive version of this work. The Sunday Independent described it as “a stunning revival”, while The Sunday Tribune called it “a shining piece of theatre”.

Following the hugely successful Dublin run, it was revived this year and transferred to London where it received more critical acclaim, with The Sunday Times praising the “excellent production” of this “fascinating but not easily fathomable play”.

In these changed times, Murphy’s play, which centres on three lost souls and their quest for spiritual fulfilment, is now regarded as anti-clerical rather than anti-religious.

Harry is an ex-circus strongman who finds himself in a run-down Catholic Church, angry at what life has thrown him. The church’s bumbling monsignor sees this stranger hanging around and offers Harry the job of church clerk.

As clerk, one of his tasks is to tend to the candle in the sanctuary lamp in front of the altar. For Harry, the shining light of this lamp represents God. He prays to it, not just to seek a divine explanation for his weaknesses, but also looking for revenge on those who have harmed him. Fifteen-year-old Maudie, a runaway waif who is haunted by the death of her illegitimate child, is also hanging around this Gothic church. The two take up squatters’ rights, turning the confessional box on its side to make a pair of sleeping bunks, using the priests’ vestments as bed linen. When they are hungry, they enjoy a snack while sitting on the pews.

But the arrival of Harry’s one-time circus colleague, the sinister Francisco brings the affairs of the past into sharp focus. Francisco’s vehement stance against priests contrasts with Harry’s religious longings. Francisco’s anger against the Jesuits, who destroyed his younger days, is fuelled by altar wine which he robs from the church.

These are “three precarious survivors in a world where institutionalised religion has failed,” according to The Guardian’s critic Michael Billington in his recent review of the work. “But,” he adds, “the tone is affirmative, and the writing richly textured.”


Richly textured writing is a given from Murphy, whose monumental body of work includes A Whistle in the Dark, The Morning After Optimism, Bailegangaire and The Gigli Concert (which was last year revived in a major success by Druid Theatre)

The cast for this B*spoke production includes Kate Brennan, Declan Conlon, Bosco Hogan and Robert O’Mahoney. The set design is by Monica Frawley.

Booking is now open at the Town Hall Box Office, by phone at 091-569777 or on the web at

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

BallinasloeÕs young squad aiming to floor Armagh junior champs

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

A new chapter in the history of Ballinasloe football will be written at Breffni Park, Cavan, on Sunday when Sean Riddell’s young side take on Ulster champions An Port Mor of Armagh in the All-Ireland Junior semi-final (2pm).

It’s the first competitive game outside the province of Connacht in 33 years for Galway football’s ‘sleeping giant’ with the enticing prospect of an appearance at Croke Park on February 9 on offer for the winners of what should be a competitive tie.

Ballinasloe have romped through Connacht since overcoming a couple of tricky hurdles on their way to collecting the Galway junior title, which was their target for the campaign this time last year.

With a return to Intermediate football secured, Riddell’s youngsters really have nothing to lose – while their triumphant march to county and provincial titles has revived memories of the club’s glory days when they contested three Galway senior finals in a row between 1979 and ’81.

Intriguingly, the seniors of St Grellan’s never got to play in Croke Park when they reached the All-Ireland final back in 1980 – they lost by 3-9 to 0-8 to St Finbarr’s of Cork in Tipperary Town.

This team’s progression has provided rich rewards for an abundance of hard work at underage levels in the past ten to 15 years and the current side’s ‘do or die’ attitude was very much in evidence in the cliffhanger wins over Tuam and Clifden in the domestic championship.


They are a well-balanced side who really never know when they are beaten and have an inspirational leader in county panelist Keith Kelly, whose exploits at centre back have been among the key components in their dramatic run to reach the All-Ireland series.

Riddell, who recalls playing senior football with the club during their heyday, is determined to get Ballinasloe back among the county’s leading clubs but, for the moment, he is delighted just to have a shot at getting to Croke Park in a bid to emulate Clonbur’s achievement in winning the title outright last year.

Riddell went to Newry on a ‘spying mission’ to see the Armagh champions overcome Brackaville of Tyrone by 2-9 to 0-11 in November – and was impressed by the quality of the football produced by An Port Mor in the Ulster final.

“They are a nicely balanced side who play good football,” he said. “There was a bit of the physical stuff you’d expect from two Ulster side, but I was impressed by their performance.”

An Port Mor became the first Armagh side to win the provincial junior decider. First half goals from Shane Nugent and Christopher Lennon sent them on the road to victory, before a red card for Brackaville captain Cahir McGuinness eased their progress to the All-Ireland series.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Coalition promised an ocean of reform Ð but the wind has gone out of its sails

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 30-Jan-2013


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