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Galway mourns passing of remarkable centenarian

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Date Published: {J}

Galway is mourning the loss of one of its most remarkable citizens after former army captain and NUIG lecturer Alasdar MacCana passed away last week. He would have been 102 years old on Tuesday.

 

The Oughterard centenarian earned acclaim last year when completed a Certificate in Computing at Moycullen VEC at the age of 101 with a view to starting his own business.

 

He had previously participated in the 100-mile Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage in Northern Spain at the age of 97 and recently turned his attention to studying Ancient Greek before he died at his home in Portacarron, Oughterard last Monday.

 

Alasdar was born in Glasgow in 1908 and embarked on a teaching career in 1931 that was to span 59 years. He developed an interest in the Irish language and came to Spiddal to study the native tongue in 1938 when he met his wife, Magdalene Conlon.

 

When Churchill threatened to seize the Irish ports to aid the British war effort in 1940, Alasdar decided to enlist in the Irish Army and joined the Ordinance Corps, of which he was promoted to captain within a few short months.

 

He remained in Spiddal for a time after the War before returning to Scotland with Magdalene, where he became Head of Physics and later Principal of Our Lady’s High School in Motherwell. He was headmaster and rector at All Hallows School in Manchester from 1957 until his ‘retirement’ in 1973, at which point he returned to Galway.

 

He accepted a teaching post at St Catherine’s Secondary School in Armagh upon his return and commuted each week from his home in Spiddal until he began lecturing Experimental Physics at University College Galway (NUIG).

He taught first year practical classes there for 15 years and became involved with the Education Department prior to his retirement at the age of 90. He was received an honorary masters degree from the University in 2007 at the age of 99 years and eight months.

 

Alasdar had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and completed a computer course last year driven by an ambition to start his own business as an educational adviser. He had also started to learn Ancient Greek.

 

He remained physically adroit and could regularly be seen walking from his home at Portacarron into the village of Oughterard. He travelled to Northern Spain with his son to complete the 100-mile Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage at the age of 97, covering ten miles a day over ten days.

 

Alasdar was a keen traveller and spent two weeks in Malta in 2008, which the 100-year-old enjoyed but said that he wouldn’t be bothered going back there “for another seven or eight years at least”. He featured on the national airwaves a few years ago when his plans to visit the Holy Land were hindered by the refusal by an insurance company to grant him travel insurance due to his age.

 

He also challenged a motor insurance firm when they attempted to “age-weight” the cost of his policy on his 90th birthday, and he succeeded in having his premium reduced.

 

Described as a spiritual man of deep faith, Alasdar attributed his remarkable longevity to “everything in moderation” and habitually enjoyed cigars, a glass of red wine before dinner and a glass of whiskey before bed.

 

Loving father of Maureen, Eithne, Liam, Padraig, Philip, Ciaran, Finian and the late Barbara; Alasdar is survived by seven children, 30 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. His passing was mourned and his remarkable life celebrated at a funeral in Oughterard last Sunday and he was laid to rest in Coilleach Cemetery in Spiddal.

 

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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