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How music brought joy in humanity’s darkest days

Judy Murphy

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Diarmuid de Faoite, actor, Anne Ó Máille, Chairperson, Music for Galway and Finghin Collins, Musical Director, Music for Galway, in Tí Neachtain, at the launch of the Music for Galway Midwinter Festival "Captive – Music from the Abyss". Photo: Iain McDonald.

Lifestyle – Judy Murphy hears about a Galway festival that will put the focus on music from captivity

Watching the news these days isn’t exactly good for the soul, given the endless accounts of atrocities and inhuman behaviour coming from all parts of the world, especially the Middle East.

But even in the most horrendous of circumstances people are capable of great resilience and acts of kindness. And resilience and decency will be among the themes explored next weekend, January 22-24, when Music for Galway hosts its annual Midwinter Festival.

The theme of this year’s festival is Captive – Music from the Abyss and it mixes Oscar Wilde’s moving poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, with songs from a Nazi concentration camp, while throwing in an extra-terrestrial alien just for good measure. There’s also a talk from one of the world’s leading experts in human rights law, William Schabas, professor emeritus at NUIG, now at the University of Middlesex in England.

Captive – Music from the Abyss is the brainchild of Music for Galway’s Artistic Director, Finghin Collins. The idea was planted when he attended a concert in at Dublin’s Royal Hospital in Kilmainham in 2011, part of the Festival of Music in Great Irish Houses.

Irish Soprano Lynda Lee sang a series of songs from the Nazis’ ‘model ghetto’, Theresienstadt, at that event and “it moved me”, Finghin says simply. He explains that many of the songs would have been sung to children in the camp at this fortress town some 30 miles from Prague, where thousands met their death.

The Theresienstadt/Terezín ghetto, set up in 1941 by the Nazis was cited in their propaganda as ‘The Fuhrer’s gift to the Jews’. It was some gift. In 1942, half of its 32,000 population died from disease and malnourishment as it served as a holding station for camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the gas chambers killed millions.

But, despite massive overcrowding, appalling sanitation, and food shortages, it had its own orchestra, theatre group and soccer teams.

As much as possible, the adults in Theresienstadt – many of them from an artistic background – tried to make life bearable for the younger residents. Among those who shone in this regard was Ilse Weber, whose songs will feature in the Music for Galway festival. Ilse, her husband and young son were sent to the camp in 1942. There the poet and musician worked as a night nurse in the children’s infirmary and did everything in her power for the young patients in a place where medicine was forbidden. She wrote around 60 poems during her imprisonment and set many of them to music.

At the 2011 concert in Kilmainham, Lynda Lee performed some of the lullabies Ilse sang to the children of Theresienstadt, as well as songs written by other composers in the camp.

Lynda will also sing at Captive – Music from the Abyss, and she and Finghin have selected material specifically for her performance next Saturday night, when she will be accompanied by Finghin and members of the US-based chamber ensemble, Decoda. While much of the music at Theresienstadt was composed under duress for Nazi propaganda, it also offered comfort to prisoners and the recital will reflect that.

As Finghin built a festival around that music, he decided to broaden its remit and have it include literature, theatre and film.  This marks a new departure for Music for Galway’s Midwinter Festival, which has been a fixture on Galway’s arts scene for several years.

Other elements in this year’s programme include the screening of a  39-minute Oscar-nominated film The Lady in No 6, about Alice Herz-Sommer, who was 110 when she died in 2014 – the oldest known survivor of the Holocaust. It will be screened on Saturday night alongside the programme of Music from Theresienstadt/Terezín.

The Lady in No 6 was made when Alice was 109 and it explored her extraordinary life. A talented concert pianist, from Prague, she was sent to Theresienstadt in 1943 with her husband and small son.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

CITY TRIBUNE

Galway City publican in heroic River Corrib rescue

Francis Farragher

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A city publican who last week helped save the life of a woman who had entered the waters of the Corrib off Wolfe Tone Bridge has made an appeal for young people to ‘look out for each other’.

Fergus McGinn, proprietor of McGinn’s Hop House in Woodquay, had been walking close to Jury’s Inn when he saw the young woman enter the river.

He then rushed to the riverbank on the Long Walk side of the bridge, jumped into the water, spoke to the woman and stayed with her until the emergency services arrived.

The incident occurred at about 3.45pm on Friday last, and a short time later the emergency services were on the scene to safely rescue the woman.

“She was lucky in that the river level was very low and she didn’t injure herself on the rocks and stones just under the water.”

He also appealed to the public to support in whatever they could the work being done by groups like the Claddagh Watch volunteers.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Pubs face court – for serving booze on their doorsteps!

Dara Bradley

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Gardaí have warned city publicans that alcohol cannot be served outside their own premises – even in newly-created on-street spaces designated by Galway City Council as suitable for outdoor dining.

Councillor Mike Crowe (FF) said three Gardaí visited a number of city centre pubs on Thursday afternoon informing them that drinking outdoors was not allowed under licensing laws.

“They warned publicans and restaurants that the area outside their premises is not covered by the licence, and therefore under national legislation, they are breaking the law, because they are not entitled to sell alcohol in non-licensed areas.

“The operators were told that this was an official warning, and they will be back again in a few days and if it persisted, they [Gardaí] would have no option but to issue a charge and forward files to the Director of Public Prosecution. You could not make this up.

“All of the big operators were visited, and received an official warning, and they will be charged if they persist. According to the guards, they’re getting instructions from [Garda headquarters in] Phoenix Park,” he said.

The matter will be raised at a meeting of the Galway City Joint Policing Committee on Monday.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Call for 50% affordable homes in new Galway City Council estates

Stephen Corrigan

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The next Galway City Development Plan should include a greater provision for affordable housing than that recommended by Government, a meeting of the City Council has heard.

Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) told the meeting that while it was the Government’s intention to introduce a stipulation that new estates should have 10% affordable housing, Galway should go further – building anything up to 50% affordable in developments that are led by the local authority.

The Affordable Housing Bill, which is currently working its way through the Oireachtas, proposes that all developments should have 10% affordable and 10% social housing as a condition of their approval.

Affordable housing schemes help lower-income households buy their own houses or apartments in new developments at significantly less than their open market value, while social housing is provided by local authorities and housing agencies to those who cannot afford their own accommodation.

The Council meeting, part of the pre-draft stage of forming the Development Plan to run from 2023 to 2029, was to examine the overarching strategies that will inform the draft plan to come before councillors by the end of the year and Cllr McDonnell said a more ambitious target for affordable housing was absolutely necessary.

“It must be included that at least 50% of housing must be affordable [in social housing developments],” he said.

This sentiment was echoed by Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) who questioned if the City Council was ‘tied down’ by national guidelines, or if it could increase the minimum percentage of affordable housing required locally.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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