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Galwayman proves there’s gold in them thar’ turf fires !

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Date Published: 17-Sep-2009

It is one of those hairbrained ideas that is so simple that you could kick yourself for not thinking of it first.
When Galway city man Dermot Ryan attended a family christening last February, a DVD of a log fire was playing on the flatscreen TV over the fire place.
Everyone remarked on the relaxing ambience it created and Dermot wondered aloud if there was an Irish turf fire version.
There were guffaws of laughter but it stuck in the salesman’s head and he went off to research the product that could just capture the imagination of the lucrative Irish American market which boasts 60 million consumers.
The colours of a turf fire are different to a log fire, he reasoned. It’s a much slower burn, the sounds are certainly more relaxed and overall the atmosphere created by turf burning on a hearth is uniquely Irish.
He set about sourcing some hand cut turf but found it a difficult task. Well over 95% of turf in the country is cut by machine and those who continue to use the sleán were reluctant to give it away. Eventually James O’Donnell harvested a load for him in Sean Amhac in Carraroe. He then ran up against a hurdle when trying to find a traditional fire place in which to set his peat alight, with almost all the fireplaces in the city closed up.
They ended up filming in the Tower Room of the 15th Century Cloonacauneen Castle, just off the N17 near Claregalway. The film records the fire from when it kicks into a blaze and then dies down with smouldering embers over the course of 65 minutes.
He had the DVDs manufactured in Castlebar and packaged them himself. He sought help from all the local enterprise agencies but none were willing to give a hand. Eventually he decided to take the bull by the horns and went to a show in New Jersey, where all the Irish and Celtic shops in the US do their buying for the year. He rented a room in a hotel and sat there for four days with his fire DVD playing on a cheap player he had bought waiting for a knock at the door.
Dermot hit the jackpot on the first knock – and Dianne O’Connor, who owns Creative Irish Gifts, the biggest seller of Irish products in the world, was so impressed by the DVD she asked that it be included in their Autumn catalogue, of which five million are sent around the US.
After that it was sales of tens and 20s by individual shops until in arrived three women representing the TV shopping channel QVC, which is beamed into 94 million homes across the States. He was invited to come on and sell the product from their headquarters in Pennsylvania during the Rose of Tralee special, which features Irish products exclusively for 24 hours.
The shopping channel is a peculiarly American phenomenon, located on the dial between two of the biggest channel, CBS and NBC. The research shows that when the average person switches between these prime channels, they are likely to take in two minutes of QVC, so in six minutes there are three sets of audiences.
Prior to Dermot performing on his live broadcast, he was given a full-day’s workshop in which he learned to treat the exercise as a chat over the back fence. There should be no hard sell, as this was the job of the host. You are talking with only one person, which is the host.
His five-and-a-half minutes of fame came early on a Wednesday morning when he had to entice millions of Americans to invest in an “Irish peat turf fire”.
“The main thing is to talk about the product and with the three audiences you have to repeat the same thing over and over again,” reflects Dermot.
“I was very nervous before going on, but once you are on, you are put at your ease by the host. There are cameras but no cameramen as it’s all done by remote control. You have this thing in your ear where you are told to repeat certain spike words that produce more orders. In my case it was family gathering and anything to do with family.”
This tiny stint on live TV can make or break a product. An Irish knitwear company sold €2 million of clothes over 12 hours on the same show. In total €11 million of Irish goods were flogged over the 24-hour period. Recently Whitney Houston released her new album exclusively on the channel.
Just under 2,000 units of his DVD sold, with more orders coming in through QVC’s online shop. He was immediately contacted by the Irish Tourist Board in New York, which wants to include the DVD in all their promotional gift packs, and the Alzheimers Society, who believe it could be a great product for older people who love fires. Most of the DVDs come with peat incense, which evokes the all-important smell of the burning sods.
Dermot is convinced there is big business ahead with his turf on film. Afterall, this is a country which sells Irish soil in a bowl with shamrock seeds and soil in a canister to throw over a coffin. A tiny bail of briquettes can fetch $29.
He has another equally simple project up his sleeve that could tap into the massive religious market. His next goal is to get onto the channel’s St Patrick’s Day Show.
For the man who worked in the family travel business in town and then sold property in Spain, this is perhaps the easiest sell of them all.
“It just shows that if you have an idea, you should run with it even if you are on your own,” he says with a belly laugh.
The DVD is available from Treasure Chest on Shop Street and online at www.irishturffire.com

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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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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