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Connacht Tribune

Getting to root of Coole’s legendary tree

Judy Murphy

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William Henry outside the house on Dominick Street where Lady Gregory, her grandchildren and daughter-in-law were staying in January 1918 when they learned that Robert Gregory had been killed in the Great War. The house, now Galway Arts Centre, was owned by Lady Gregory's sister. PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

Lifestyle – Family visits to Coole Park through the years gave historian William Henry the inspiration for his latest work. When he realised nobody had ever written a book profiling those who had signed Coole’s famous Autograph Tree, he undertook the task. The result offers a new insight into one of Galway’s best-loved attractions and into a crucial period in Irish history. He tells JUDY MURPHY about it.

When historian William Henry handed a copy of his latest book, The Autograph Tree, to his daughter Lisa recently, she admired the cover before skimming through the contents.

“And her eyes welled up,” her father recalls. Because what he hadn’t told 21-year-old Lisa was that the book was dedicated to her, in memory of the many happy days the family had spent in Coole Park with friends when she was a child.

It was those trips to the historic nature park near Gort that inspired this book, which gives an insight into the men and women who signed the famous Autograph Tree in Coole’s walled garden.

Back then though, William’s main concern was stopping the kids from swinging from the legendary tree and damaging it, he says with a laugh.

Over the years, the historian and author was constantly being asked about the men and women whose names were engraved on the famous copper beech.

Many of the questions came from his children, Lisa, Patrick and David, and inspired this book. Published by Cork-based Mercier Books, The Autograph Tree gives an account of some 27 men and women who were invited by Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932), the owner of Coole Park, to leave their mark on the beech.

A playwright and folklorist, Lady Gregory was a leading light of the Irish Literary Revival and most of her invitees were also deeply involved in the movement to revive and promote Irish language and literature and, most importantly, to establish a national theatre.

WB and Jack Yeats, JM Synge, and Seán O’Casey carved their initials on the tree, as did the Faye Brothers, whose role in founding the Abbey Theatre is often overlooked now, according to William.

Douglas Hyde, later to become Ireland’s first president, signed it. John Masefield who later became England’s poet laureate is there too, as is Robert Ross, Oscar Wilde’s first homosexual lover and lifelong friend, especially after Wilde’s fall from grace.

Dame Ethel Smyth, Violet Martin, Sara Allgood, Lady Margaret Sackville and the Countess of Cromartie are among the female writers and actors whose initials are carved on the tree.

Lady Gregory signed it, and her son Robert, who was later killed in World War I, carved his name too. William’s Henry’s book contains a brilliant account of Robert Gregory’s dislike for Yeats, whom he regarded as a freeloader taking advantage of his mother’s hospitality.

It was a ‘lightbulb moment’ for William the day he realised that nobody had ever written an account of Coole Park’s autograph tree.

Previous books on Coole and its role in the Irish Literary Revival focused mostly on Yeats or Lady Gregory, he says. This left a serious gap and when William approached Mercier with his idea for this book, they were enthusiastic.

“It was a simple idea but it wasn’t simple to execute it,” he says with a laugh of the research and the cross-referencing involved.

“By the time I was writing the 13th or 14th biography, I was saying to myself, ‘am I doing the right thing at all? Why didn’t I do something simpler?’ It was a difficult but a good book to write.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Packed like sardines in Salthill and only 200 allowed gather at a game

John McIntyre

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John McIntyre

Inside Track with John McIntyre – sports@ctribune.ie

IN a moment of madness, I decided to take a cycle out to Salthill last Saturday. By the time I got to the Blackrock Diving Tower, I thought I had just come through Torremolinos or one of those sun hot spots on the Costa Del Sol. There were cars and people everywhere.

The first inkling that Salthill would be heaving came when there was a traffic-jam halfway back the Lough Atalia Road leading to the Docks. Such were the number of cars, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Pearse Stadium was hosting a Connacht football final that afternoon.

If the people of Offaly, Laois and Kildare – all currently under partial Covid-19 lockdown – could see the carefree holiday mood in one of the West’s favourite tourist attractions, they’d be wondering had they stumbled on a parallel universe.

As readers will know from previous columns, I have a jaundiced view of NPHET and the Government’s cautious approach to relaxing the coronavirus restrictions. The scaremongering continues at frightening levels and many people are living in a climate of fear – though few of them were in Salthill.

NPHET must be immune to what’s really happening on the ground. If it thinks that there is widespread compliance, the group is living in cloud cuckoo land. All over Ireland’s favourite tourist attractions, there are thousands of holiday makers with little or no observance of social distancing.

My frustration over this scenario is fuelled by the way sport and its followers have been so badly compromised by the Covid-19 restrictions. My club Lorrha was playing in the Tipperary hurling championship last Friday evening and many of our diehard supporters couldn’t get a ticket to the match.

It’s the same in every GAA parish. So much unnecessary agitation and frustration. On Sunday evening, reporting duties took me to Ballinasloe for an attractive derby clash between Tommy Larkins and Tynagh/Abbey-Duniry. In a nutshell, there was nearly as many people inside as outside the wire. The ‘gathering’ limit of 200 annoyingly remains, especially in the context of the throngs in places like Salthill.

NPHET have justified not increasing crowd limits to beyond 200 over fears that people will congregate afterwards and the assumption that individuals from different families are travelling together in the one car. Frankly, it’s a load of nonsense and just irrational justification for not being prepared to compromise.

Of course, if the Government had any backbone instead of acting like a lapdog, it would never have come to this. I am fed up of hearing the line, in the interests of ‘public health’, as if people are dying from nothing else other than the coronavirus. The reality is that there have only been a handful of fatalities from the disease over the past fortnight. In the same period, how many have passed away from cancer and cardiac issues when their standard of care wasn’t what it should have been due to the fixation with Covid-19 over the past four months?

There’s now a genuine health and safety issue at play as well in relation to sporting fixtures. We have all images of fans hanging off trees and ladders, and others on rust-laden roofs, in their desperation to support their local teams. Furthermore, does NPHET have any idea what their draconian approach is doing to the mental health of some people?

There was no justification for stopping sporting activity in Laois, Offaly and Kildare last Friday. Locking down the affected towns where there was a surge of new infections in local meat processing plants would have made more sense. There have been no clusters spread through sport so why should codes like GAA and soccer be punished?

We all appreciate that the virus hasn’t gone away and there is an obligation on all of us to act responsibly, but only making the use of masks compulsory for most indoor settings from last Monday takes the biscuit altogether. Why has it taken so long? The pandemic has been with us since last March and only now is this measure deemed appropriate.

Over the past few weeks, I have observed individuals wearing masks travelling alone in cars, while cycling, and outdoors where there’s hardly a sinner in sight. What’s that all about? It’s not as if you can pass on the virus to yourself! Horse racing is going to extremes altogether. Now everybody at a meeting has to wear a mask outdoors. Suffice to say, they all look ridiculous walking around in what is the equivalent of big open fields.

I have absolutely no issue with our civil liberties being compromised in the ongoing quest to supress the virus, but logic is being repeatedly thrown out the window. NPHET’s ‘one size fits all’ approach must be urgently reviewed and the Government needs to stand back and make up its own mind about what activity constitutes genuine risk.

Though I believe the horse has long since bolted when it comes to wearing masks in indoor centres, I am willingly obeying the rule while as team manager of Lorrha, all our players have their temperatures checked before each training session; there are hand santisers supplied; and the training props are disinfected.

The primary focus should be on sorting out meat processing plants and the direct provision centres, while travel in and out of the country ought to be restricted to emergencies or on compassionate grounds. House parties also need to be clamped down on. Everything else is hardly worth a hill of beans in tackling this pandemic.

Keeping gatherings at 200 and not allowing pubs to reopen are soft targets. I am not proposing anarchy or anything like that, but the powers that be need to wise up and concentrate their efforts on the places where outbreaks of the virus are occurring. Everything else is just window dressing.

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Connacht Tribune

Old mills set for new life as distillery

Declan Tierney

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An artist's impression of the new distillery.

An old corn mill in East Galway is set to be transformed into a €6 million whiskey and gin manufacturing distillery – once planning permission has been granted for the development.

And if approved, the distillery has the potential to create more than 15 new jobs directly in the village of Ahascragh, providing a huge economic boost to the area – and rescuing the old corn mill which ceased operation in the 1950s.

A planning application for the new brewery has just been submitted by Gareth and Michelle McAllister of McAllister Distillers in North Dublin, with a decision due before the end of the year.

Gareth McAllister told The Connacht Tribune that he intended to renovate the old building while retaining some of the old features such as a mill wheel, and utilise the stream that runs through the property.

The complex, as well as producing various styles of Irish whiskey and gin, will also include a visitor centre, rooms for hospitality events, a retail shop and cafe.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. You can also purchase a digital edition here.

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Connacht Tribune

Wait is over for frontman’s first solo venture

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John Martin Tierney

Multi-instrumentalist John Martin Tierney has been a recognisable face on Galway’s music scene for several years – but up to now, largely as the focal point in a band setting.  Comfortable operating as both energetic frontman and rhythm-setting guitarist, he has featured in an array of impressive local outfits; most notably, his work with Dead Horse Jive has seen the five-piece develop into one of the city’s top live acts.

But with all of that experience in a collaborative setting, John’s solo work has sometimes been put to the side.

That’s about to change – if just temporarily – as John releases his debut single, I Will Wait, this Friday; a three-and-a-half-minute ballad, the song incorporates piano and acoustic guitar more than much of his band work has done.

Though the track has existed in some form for a long time, its subject matter was particularly pertinent over lockdown.

“Around the start of June, I started properly putting energy into something that would have an end product,” John recalls.

“I wanted something I could be proud of, even if I wasn’t going to release it while lockd I Will Waitown was going on. I had an earlier version of it but I was never happy with it. I started rewriting it in about May or June.

“It kind of talks about missing people that you love. It’s from the point of view of not being able to see someone physically because of whatever restrictions are in place. That’s where it came from anyway and I think it translates well… I hope it does.”

For full interview, read the Groove Tube in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in all shops now – or purchase the digital edition; full details on this website.

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