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How seafaring areas have been left stranded by history of neglect



Date Published: {J}

Times change. So do fashions. To Irish people in the miserable mid years of the 20th century fish was a food to be endured on Fridays, a symbol of abstinence and deprivation.

Today, fish is cool – something that’s enjoyable and good for us, a product of the rich waters around our shores and of our many lakes and rivers.

Irish people’s attitude to the sea and its riches is a complicated one, says Dr Jim Mac Laughlin, whose new book Troubled Waters is a fascinating account of Ireland’s coastal communities through the ages.

Galway features strongly in the book, unsurprising perhaps given the prominence of Galway City as an international trading centre for many centuries, and given the importance of fishing and seaweed to the economy of the county.

“It’s a new take on Irish history – it looks on Ireland as a maritime nation that has been failed by the political culture and the political elite,” says Jim of Troubled Waters.

It took four years to research and write this comprehensive book. He had to go all over the place to look for proof of what he was writing about, and to research the work of writers and artists who documented the lives of people living on Ireland’s coasts and offshore islands.

Local newspapers and histories were also helpful as Jim tried to raise the bar and give an overview of Irish coastal history, the first of its kind in Ireland.

Jim is a political geographer, which means he examines political events in relation to the places where they happen. Donegal born, he is now based in Cork and has long had an interest in people who have been marginalised in society.

Ireland’s coastal communities come under that category, mostly for historic reasons, he explains. The growth of nationalism in Ireland in the 19th century tended to prioritise the interests of people who worked the land rather than those who lived off the sea. The late 1800s saw the rise of rural fundamentalism and fundamental Catholicism – not good for coastal dwellers who were seen as hard to control, he adds.

Because of their way of life, fishing communities traditionally had their own social systems, such as existed in the Claddagh for generations.

“They lived in a separate part of town, in a different way with a different moral economy and living in a far wider world, with the sea and the openness of it,” explains Jim.

“One of the things I’ve always been interested in as a social scientist and writer is diversity. There was a great deal of colour and ingenuity in coastal Ireland.”

But the “diversity, ingenuity and joie de vivre” of these coastal people was recognised by very few landlocked residents, he says.

In fact, it was something that made the 19th century Catholic Church in Ireland very uncomfortable. “At the time, it was engaged in a civilising mission, taming alcoholic Ireland down and dressing sexual Ireland up.”

That didn’t tally with the macho world of fishermen.

Another development that didn’t help fishermen was Charles Darwin’s theory about ‘the survival of the fittest’, which was also gaining in popularity in the 19th century. This became a time when powerful people were revered and less powerful ones were sent to the margins of society. Ireland’s particular history and the Great Famine of the 1840s, may have contributed to this outlook, but it wasn’t something that was confined to Ireland, says Jim. It was a European phenomenon, where the poor were regarded as wards of state, people to be cared for but not given much say.


For more, read this week’s Galway City 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

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



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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