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Galwayman to return to Haiti to help rebuilding

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Date Published: 19-Jan-2010

A GALWAY man who volunteered with an Irish charity in Haiti last year is preparing to return to the devastated country to help rebuild it from the rubble.

Myles McHugh, originally from Galway city but now living in Oranmore, travelled to Haiti as a volunteer last October with the NGO Haven; which works to build homes for the impoverished people of the Caribbean island.

He was distressed when news reached Ireland last week that a catastrophic earthquake had struck Haiti, causing widespread destruction and a death toll that is estimated to exceed 100,000.

However, the service planning manager with Iarnród Éireann was relieved to discover that his many friends among both the volunteers and the indigenous population had survived the disaster.

“The part of the island that I visited is slightly to the north of Port-au-Prince and was relatively unaffected by the earthquake; although the people there did feel the tremors and are obviously distraught at the plight of their countrymen,” said Mr McHugh.

“Thankfully the friends that I made in the orphanage, in the school and the local people in the houses we built seem to be safe and sound and the buildings that we worked on are still standing.”

He was one of 260 volunteers who raised €4,000 each and succeeded in building 40 houses, a children’s playground and an additional classroom at the adjoining school during ‘Build It’ week in the town of Ouanaminthe last October.

Undeterred by the current chaos and tragedy, Mr McHugh plans to return to Haiti later this year, when Haven will have begun a new project in the south of the island; closer to the devastated capital of Port-au-Prince.

The Irish NGO has suspended its building projects in the wake of the disaster and refocused its efforts on assisting with humanitarian aid. It dispatched two of its emergency response team from Dublin on Sunday, while its founder Leslie Buckley also left for Haiti yesterday.

Mr McHugh described the current situation as “absolutely shocking” and said that the pre-existing lack of basic healthcare facilities and infrastructure was exacerbating the country’s troubles.

“The first thing that strikes you when you cross the border from the Dominican Republic into Haiti is the unimaginable level of poverty. The country already had an almost a ‘fourth world’ standard of living before this horrific earthquake struck at all,” he said.

He said that the makeshift standard of housing that he witnessed when he was there would have offered no resistance to the violent tremors of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

“Many of the houses are little more than 15’ by 10’ and constructed of dried mud walls and a straw roof, which would have simply crumbled during the events of the last week.”

Haven has entered partnership with GOAL and is accepting donations at www.havenpartnership. com.

Another Galway man is currently on the frontline of the humanitarian effort in Haiti. Head of External Communications for the International Red Cross, Paul Conneally from Ballinasloe is the main English-speaking spokesperson for the organisation and is assisting in the running of a field hospital in Port-au-Prince.

The Harvard Law graduate is normally based in Geneva but has been working tirelessly on the ground in Haiti since the disaster struck a week ago. He has been sleeping outdoors in the Haitian capital and has reported experiencing heavy aftershocks on the website Twitter.

“This is the single worst disaster in the history of the organisation,” he said. “The aid effort is undeniably slower than we would want but the reality is what it is.”

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

WeÕve perfected the art of circular talking!

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Date Published: 16-May-2013

 I’m over in England for a few days, so my mum and I are heading to Delisserie for some lunch. Calling itself a ‘New York Deli’, both the majority of its clientele and the food on offer are Jewish.

Even though my family could not be more English, the fact that we are descended from a Mediterranean culture is never more evident than when we sit down to eat. The Australian Aboriginals have mastered the art of circular breathing, enabling them to blow into their didgeridoos while at the same time as inhaling through their noses.

Jewish people have mastered the art of circular talking, whereby we are able to simultaneously talk to several people at once, whilst assimilating and generally interfering in what several other different people are talking about at the same time.

In an inspired moment, my brother once declared that if the Adleys had a coat of arms, our family motto should be: “Stop Talking While I’m Interrupting”.

The last time my mum and I went to Delisserie for lunch we’d rather foolishly waited until after 1 o’clock, and sure enough the place had been packed. Like all other Mediterranean cultures, Jewish people love taking their kids out with them; the more the better.

Trouble is, the generation now giving birth to babies were themselves raised by Baby Boomer parents with liberal ideas about boundaries and behaviour, as in no boundaries and who cares about behaviour?

Without role models, these young parents now let their kids run amok, screaming and shouting and wailing as if their collective din had the audible quality of honey.

With the adults having to shout at each other so that they could be heard over their kids’ cacophony, I sat there feeling very far removed from my County Galway back garden. I’ve been to countless Ramones gigs and still cannot imagine a more intense and energetic noise than a full Jewish restaurant.

This time we arrive earlier, and lovely, there are only six or seven other people in. We sit and pick up the menus, look at each other and smile. How can so few people make such an incredible noise? Do they design delis so that every word spoken is bounced around to maximise the latent Jewish atmosphere? Is screeching chatter the Jewish muzak of choice?

My mum reaches both hands to her head and announces she’s going to take off her hearing aids. I tell her I think that’s a stroke of pure genius. Placing the two tiny plastic gizmos on the table, she sits back and exhales with relief.

“Oh, that’s so much better!” she laughs.

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

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Archive News

Call for poets to enter new competition

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Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust is seeking entries for a new poetry competition.

The winner will have her or his poem published and displayed on the Arts Corridor of University Hospital Galway as part of the 2013 Poems for Patience. This is a long-running series which has previously featured work by leading Irish and international poets including Seamus Heaney, Philip Schultz, Michael Longley, Vona Groarke, Jane Hirschfield and Tess Gallagher.

The winner will be invited to read her or his winning poem in April, at the launch of the Poems for Patience during the Cúirt International Festival. Prizes also include accommodation in Galway for one night during Cúirt.

Poems should be less than 30 lines long and must be the entrant’s original work. The entry fee for one poem is €10. For two or more, the entry fee is €7.50 per poem. Payment should be made by cheque or postal order to Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust. The closing date is Friday, March 1.

The judge is Kevin Higgins author of several books of poetry and Writer-in-Residence with Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust.

Entries should be posted to Margaret Flannery, Arts Director, Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust, Galway University Hospitals, University Hospital, Newcastle Road, Galway. Entrants should put their names and contact details on a separate sheet.

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