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Fergus takes the growing pains out of gardening



Date Published: {J}

Fergus Whitney gestures out the window to the pristine small lawn of the house he rents in Renmore. “You wouldn’t believe how much you could grow in that small space,” says the organic gardener, who hopes, with his landlord’s permission, to use the area as a showcase for his fledgling business.

Fergus, a former quantity surveyor, changed direction three years ago as a result of the recession, and now offers a service to people who want to grow their own fruit and vegetables but don’t know where to start.

The young Leitrim man who trades as The Organic Gardener, isn’t just for vegetables – he will also cut grass, trim hedges and do general work, with an eco friendly approach.

“If you want a gardener, I can do all the jobs that need doing,” says Fergus whose clients locally include an 80-year-old man, for whom he has installed raised beds where they grow vegetables, which the man uses for juicing. In a small city back garden they are growing spinach, garlic, carrots, red and green cabbage, kale, red and white onions, beetroot, and a range of herbs including sage, coriander, flat-leafed and curly parsley, tarragon, rosemary and thyme.

It’s all about “growing things that are practical, to maximise your returns in a small garden”, Fergus points out.

That’s where his knowledge can help.

“Your garden can be an asset, and can be good for you health-wise.”

Fergus’s background prepared the ground for his current career. He was born on a 75-acre farm in South Leitrim, which has now been converted by his brother into an organic holding, specialising in beef. But organic farming wasn’t his first calling.

After leaving school, he did a Diploma in Construction Economics in Sligo IT, graduating in 2002 and getting work pretty much straight away with Intel in Leixlip, where he stayed for over a year before going to work for a company in Dublin. There Fergus worked with clients who were building houses, ensuring their projected costs were being adhered to. It was in the middle of the boom and he was working with very wealthy clients.

“But I found I wasn’t learning; I was just thrown in at the deep end.”

His final job in the construction industry involved working on Dublin’s Smithfield Regeneration Project and converting the top floor of the Four Seasons Hotel into penthouse apartments.

However, he could see that work was beginning to slow down and he faced a choice.

“If I wanted to stick with it, I’d have to move abroad. At that stage I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to be in Dublin. I was friendly with the people I worked with and socialised with them. But apart from that, it was just going to work and coming home. And you didn’t even know your neighbours. I felt I needed a change.”

Fergus went to FÁS for a chat about possible options and filled in a questionnaire which pointed him in the direction of organic horticulture. Then he was lucky enough to get a place in the Rossinver Organic Centre in North Leitrim, one of the country’s oldest and most successful organic farms.

“Eighty of us went for an interview for 15 places in 2009 and they gave preference to people who were local. It’s one of the best courses in the country and I wasn’t sure I’d get it.”

Training lasted a full year, from January 2009 to January 2010 and was a totally different experience from his time in Sligo IT.

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

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



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



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

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



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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