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Hidden gem of a holiday off beaten tourist track



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



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!



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



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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