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Hidden gem of a holiday off beaten tourist track

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Date Published: 16-Aug-2012

 If you were in Canada and came across this place, you’d think you were in heaven,” says Gurteeny man Garry Gorman, as he gives a brief tour of the mountainous area lying behind the small village in South East Galway.

It’s high and wild, and for the most part it’s uninhabited, with fantastic views over Lough Derg and the fertile lands of Tipperary. On the Galway side, however, the terrain is mostly bogland, with wild flowers and heather in abundance along the narrow mountainy roads of Sliabh Aughty.

Garry is part of a community group in Gurteeny that is campaigning to increase people’s awareness of how much this part of South East Galway has to offer visitors. When it comes to tourism, this area has long been overshadowed by the more spectacular landscape of Connemara, but as Garry points out, people who go to the effort to move off the beaten tourist track find that this is a place packed with culture, history, wildlife, sporting activities – and breathtaking views.

“It’s when you go up the hills off the main road that you realise how beautiful it is,” says Garry, pointing out the impressive views across Lough Derg from the hills, where the distinct smell of boggy soil pervades the air.

The locality is home to two plantations, Derrycrag Wood which is a nature reserve and Millennium Wood, but the parish of Looscaun, of which Gurteeny is part, is such a well kept secret that most people don’t even know these woodlands exist, according to Garry.

Local people feel Gurteeny has been largely ignored by the political powers that be – and that’s one reason why it’s not being promoted as a tourist destination.

“I think people will have to help themselves,” Garry observes. “We live in a sliver of land, between Sliabh Aughty and the lake where there are very few votes.”

He’s spot on with that observation. The village of Gurteeny consists of two pubs, a post office and a health centre at the heart of the tiny village – the school is a mile away at one end and the church is a mile in the other direction.

Garry owns one of the pubs, which has a small shop in front where his mother Breda helps out during the day. There is an excellent relationship between the two premises he says, and supporting each other is proving to be the best way to survive in tough times. These are tough times in Gurteeny.

“The young people are going,” says Breda. “The place has been ruined with young people going. Every single family has had someone leaving. That’s why locals are getting together and trying to get things going, and getting funding where they can.”

Under a Galway Rural Development Scheme, people have cut grass along the roadside, planted trees, and laid a pathway to a newly developed picnic area beside a stream, where information boards allow visitors to check out details of local attractions.

Surrounded on one side by Lough Derg and on the other by the hills of Sliabh Aughty, this is undoubtedly a beautiful area, plentiful in wildlife. Animals spotted here include the rarely seen pinemarten as well as fallow deer, pygmy shrews, foxes, badgers, red squirrels and otters, to name just a few.

The bogs and mountains behind the village are home to kestrels, merlins, pheasants, hen harriers, grouse and black grouse may be seen. The rare cream-coloured thrush has also been sighted locally.

No wonder it’s Garry’s dream that the sort of tourism that will be developed here will be low impact. Because there has been so little development locally, the Gurteeny community are starting from a good position. And they are determined to make their mark.

For more of Judy Murphy’s piece on Gurteeny see this week’s Tribune

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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