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Deeply personal dance show explores nature of AlzheimerÕs

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 02-May-2012

When a gentle, loving father turns into an angry, aggressive man as a result of dementia, it takes its toll on a family.

That’s what happened with Tom Hayes, father of Galway based dancer and choreographer Judith Sibley.

Between the ages of 60 and 70, the man who she can never remember saying a cross word to anybody, or swearing, “even in the car”, suffered a series of ‘mini-strokes’ and with every one, “he lost a little bit more of himself”.

Just before his 70th birthday, Tom had a massive stroke and although he recovered physically, he became very violent shortly afterwards, leaving his wife Sheelagh “a prisoner in her home”.

His journey through Alzheimer’s and the impact on his family has now been captured by Judith in a new dance piece, The Space Where Thought Once Was. This piece, which she has created and choreographed, will be performed by her company, Chrysalis Dance in Galway’s Black Box Theatre on Friday next, May 11 as part of a double bill.

“The cast are phenomenal,” she says of the four dancers who are performing this piece. “They have taken full responsibility for everything I have given them and don’t throw anything away.”

It’s very personal to take something as real as Alzheimer’s and turn it into a dance piece and, to ensure that Judith had captured the essence of the story, Chrysalis – which is one of Ireland’s leading dance company’s – first rehearsed it and staged it last summer in front of an invited audience at the Town Hall Theatre studio. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Now it’s on a national tour, and Judith feels the subject matter means it will appeal to people who wouldn’t normally go to dance shows.

Sometimes this piece is a representation of the people who are watching the person with Alzheimer’s; at other times it’s following the person with the illness.

“I’ve watched my dad with the illness and since he has gone into care in Athenry, I have watched other people,” explains Judith of the creative process.

She noticed that many people with Alzheimer’s have a particular walk, where they carry their weight on the balls of their feet. And they will walk around in circles for ever. Some homes have circular walkways for that reason.

There are also particular tics; for instance “dad would rub his leg with one finger, like you’d rub a cat”, Judith recalls.

The piece also explores the distress caused to a family when a sufferer becomes violent as happened in Tom’s case.

“For the last few months before he went into care, it was very stressful,” Judith recalls. He kept escaping from the family home in Lackagh and telling everybody her mother was mad. Because he looked fit and respectable, strangers would believe him. More worryingly, he also pushed and beat Sheelagh, behaviour that was totally out of character from the man she had married. Judith believes this may have been his rage at not being able to understand what was happening to him. Her own baby daughter, who was just over a year at the time, was learning new words while Tom was losing his grip on language. It was all very distressing, especially as he had been such a vibrant person – in his youth Tom had managed the Dubliners.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy

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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

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

images/files/images/x3_Courthouse.jpg

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Archive News

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

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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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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