Date Published: 05-Nov-2009
This may come as a surprise – the Internet is 40 years old this autumn. Doesn’t seem that long, does it?
Well of course it depends on what you call ‘Internet’. It’s really more the anniversary of the grandmother of the Net we know.
In 1969, all that existed was an experiment to prove that decentralised, distributed communication could work. Sounds complex, but it could hardly be more simple. Conventional communications are hierarchical.
Think of the 1916 Rising. (An unexpected example, but bear with me. . .) I’m not sure if it was part of the plan, but because the GPO was the nerve-centre of the postal system, its occupation by the volunteers stopped virtually everything except local mail throughout the country.
The military lesson was obvious – a centralised communication system is terribly vulnerable. Local mail is harder to stop. So, can a nationwide system be at the same time entirely local? Surprisingly, yes. If you connect every sub-post office to its nearest neighbours, and those to their neighbours and so on.
A message is not sent into the centre to be routed back out again, but passed from one local office to another ‘across country’ until it reaches its destination. The brilliant part is that this still functions even if you occupy or blow up the majority of the offices; your letter just has to take a longer route. But the Internet as we know it took shape gradually over the ’70s and ’80s, as they allowed first universities and eventually the general public to play.
Thanks to e-mail and chat rooms – and thanks particularly to cheap local call rates – it quickly took off in America. But it was from Europe that the next big change was to come. In the ’80s, Europe was experimenting with online public information systems.
France had the Minitel for sending data over phone lines, Britain was doing it using broadcast TV. But these ideas were still essentially hierarchical.
All that changed at the start of the ’90s when the World Wide Web first appeared. The Web took advantage of the distributed nature of the Internet – and took it further.
Any modern personal computer can read websites; what fewer people realise is that it can also be a website. You can host your own site on your home computer and open it to the public. And as every page on the Web can link to any other, it is the most distributed, non-hierarchical form of communication ever invented. (Though to reward the inventor, the British promoted him to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, which I can’t help think was missing the point.)
The ball was back in America’s court then, where a university in Illinois made the breakthrough which created the Web we know today: Pictures! Sound, animation and full video quickly followed, and soon we had an all-singing, all-dancing Web that now becomes hard to distinguish from television or the general media avalanche.
And though this is great, it is also perhaps a shame – because it makes it easy to forget that the Internet is the first truly two-way form of mass communication, accessible to around a quarter of all people on Earth, yet owned by nobody except the people who use it. It’s the world’s biggest exercise in democracy.
And that was never part of the plan. Richard.Chapman@gmail.com
The way we were – Protecting archives of our past
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
Corinthians inflict a first home defeat of season on Banbridge
Date Published: 29-Jan-2013
Corinthians inflicted a first home defeat of the season on Banbridge in Rifle Park on Saturday, and in the process leap-frogged the Ulster club in the standings to move third in the table.
Both sides were testing each other early in the contest with the ground been very heavy and the two packs evenly matched. The visitors were first on the score board after 18 minutes with number eight Aaron Conneely driving his pack forward, allowing evergreen scrum-half Steve Bruce to get the ball out to his outside-half, Mick O’Flynn. The number 10 linked-up first centre Cian Begley and he in turn released to right winger Darrin Classens, who touched down in the corner for an unconverted try.
Banbridge had their opportunities also with second centre Andy Morrison having a go, but Begley stopped him in his tracks with the try-line at his mercy. O’Flynn then extended Corinthians’ lead with a penalty after Banbridge’s flanker Dale Carson was pulled for loitering in an offside position by IRFU referee Eddie Hogan O’Connor.
The Ulster side were punished again just before the break after a great turnover in the lineout by flanker Colin Parker with locks Gary Warde and Ultan Dillane doing the donkey work. Centre James Buckley was the one to benefit, pouncing on the loose ball and getting in for the try, with O’Flynn missing the conversion in what were very difficult conditions.
The home side got on to the score board five minutes with a penalty after Corinthians were pinged for pulling down the maul, scrum-half Ian Porter doing the honours from in front of the posts to leave the score at 13-3.
Banbridge upped their game after this and were ably led by their captain veteran second row Simon McKinstry, but the ball was turned over again and Corinthians’ full-back Conor Murphy secured a fine touch to relieve pressure.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.
Grave humour in a quirky story from Martin McDonagh trilogy
Date Published: 31-Jan-2013
Theatre director Andrew Flynn who has just been nominated for an Irish Times Theatre award for his most recent production, Port Authority, is currently preparing his next show, Martin McDonagh’s A Skull in Connemara.
“He’s working us like slaves,” jokes actor John Olohan, who doesn’t look a bit stressed as the cast enter the final week of rehearsals with Andrew’s company, Decadent Theatre.
A Skull in Connemara is the central play in McDonagh’s Leenane Trilogy which was premiered by Druid Theatre in the late 1990s. It’s set in a graveyard, and centres around a Connemara man Mick O’Dowd whose job it is to exhume skeletons in an overcrowded graveyard. His newest customer is the wife he was accused of killing years before.
“It’s a very quirky situation – and funny, we hope,” says John, who plays Mick. “Martin’s plays are so at the edge of reality – they keep within the bounds but with a mad streak. And so it’s easy to play because everything fits in.”
John, one of the country’s busiest theatre actors, is a regular visitor to Galway. He most recently worked with Druid on that company’s DruidMurphy trilogy, appearing in Famine, the final of the three plays featured. Rehearsals began in Galway in April for DruidMurphy and, apart from a brief time in England, the company was here until the Arts Festival, after which they went on tour to locations from Clifden to Washington.
He was back on stage at the Town Hall in November in Living Dred’s production of the play Ride On.
He has previously performed in the Lieutenant of Inishmore and The Lonesome West with Decadent Theatre.
“It’s got to the stage that every time I walk into the Town Hall Theatre the girls say ‘welcome back John’,” he laughs.
John, who is married to actor, Catherine Byrne who plays Judith in Fair City – the couple have two adult sons – is one of the busiest actors in the country and has been working almost non-stop for the past 18 months.
“I can’t say I haven’t been lucky,” he says. But there’s more to it than luck – talent also plays a part.
Last year he won the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards Best Supporting Actor Award for his performance as Byrne Druid’s production of John B Keane’s Big Maggie.
The Meath born actor worked on the TV series Glenroe for 10 years, having spent the previous decade working with the Abbey Theatre; he is a graduate of the Abbey School of Acting from the 1960s, having taken up drama after a brief period in a band. After graduating, he worked with Young Abbey company, doing work for schools and then joined the Irish Theatre Company, a national company dedicated to touring. So in a profession renowned for its insecurity, he has been busy all his life.
And he has no plans to retire. “I’m having a great time. And actors don’t retire,” he laughs.
These days, he usually gets called upon to play Irish characters, generally from a rural background and says that’s partly because there aren’t too many actors around to take on these roles.
“A lot of them gave up the game a long time ago and some are dead.”
Working in a black comedy such as A Skull in Connemara might seem a million miles away from his most recent role in Famine, Tom Murphy’s play about the great hunger of the 1840s, set in Mayo. But that’s not strictly true, he feels.
“Martin McDonagh is a different kind of writer to Tom, but there’s a kind of savagery and grittiness and roughness to his plays too, that becomes more apparent the more you delve into it.”
And there’s a lot of delving, literally as well as metaphorically. Owen McCarthy’s set, which he says is magnificent, has several graves dug and some to be dug.
“The set is straight out of [director] Tim Burton, it’s so gothic”.
John is joined by Bríd Ni Neachtain, a regular with the Abbey Theatre, who was most recently seen with Decadent in its production of Doubt early last year. Patrick Ryan and Jarlath Tivnan also feature in A Skull in Connemara.
The production opens in Galway on Monday and then goes on an extensive tour of the country.
John came late to touring, but he loves it. You are well looked after, he says. The shows are on at night, so you get to sightsee by day, if the weather is fine, otherwise you spend time in the hotel’s leisure centre. He sees no reason to complain about that.
He wouldn’t mind having a few weeks off before the next job, although he hopes saying that isn’t tempting fate.
For him, acting is like any other job – there’s no mystery to it.
“If you work hard at the business, it pays off. It’s like anything else, if you keep trying things, it will work out for you.”
A Skull in Connemara previews at the Town Hall from this Thursday January 31 until Saturday, February 2. It opens on Monday, February 4 and runs until February 9 before going on the road.
For tickets telephone 09156977 or online at www.tht.ie