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John steers Community Games into a new era



Date Published: {J}

For a small population base relative to the country as a whole, Galway has regularly punched above its weight in terms of sports administration on this island.

Billy Glynn, for example, is the present Senior Vice-President of the IRFU, which means he will automatically become President in May or June of this year, the seventh Galwegians RFC member to hold that particular honour.

Just over a decade ago, it was Joe McDonagh who – as President of the GAA – set in motion the removal of the ban on security forces, all football games to be played in one calendar year, and a minimum of two championship games for every inter-county team.

Going further back in time, Henry St John Blake (known as Harry Blake) served four terms as President of the Irish Lawn Tennis Association, as well as being heavily involved with the Irish Amateur Swimming Association.

Now another Galway man is in a top post in the sporting world, with John Byrne having begun life this week as Chief Executive Officer of the Community Games.

The Henry Street native, who is also a member of the Irish Sports Council, is well-known in sporting circles, particularly in relation to soccer – he worked as Planning and Development Manager with the FAI for 10 years, a role that only ended late last year when the position was one of many made redundant by the association as a result of cutbacks.

John was the middle of 11 children – six boys and five girls – born to Michael and Lily Byrne of Henry Street, two people who were steeped in sport. Michael – who worked as a Housing Assistance Officer with Galway County Council – was secretary of both the Galway FA and the Connacht FA for many years, and the annual Michael Byrne Cup is named after him.

Lily was one of the O’Connors from Bohermore and she came from a GAA background – her father was a substitute on the 1923 Galway side that claimed the county’s first All-Ireland hurling title, and trained the Castlegar team that won five consecutive county titles from 1936.

John played soccer with Galway Bohs and West United, as well as Gaelic football with Fr Griffins and Western Stars in the City League, but he readily admits that soccer was always his first love.

He attended St Patrick’s National School, making the natural progression to the Bish for his secondary schooling, and he is quick to point to the massive role played by the Patrician Brothers to the education of tens of thousands of boys in the city since they first began teaching in the city in 1827.

The school on Lombard Street came to be the largest National School in Ireland, and during the Famine provided a free breakfast for up to 1,000 pupils each day, as well as distributing clothing.

“Half of Galway would have been educated by the Patrician Brothers down through the years, and I think it is a shame that their role in this city has never been really acknowledged or appreciated,” he says.

One of the lasting friendships he formed was with Br Justin Madden, who is now living in Mountrath in Laois, and their friendship extended beyond the school walls.

“He was in charge of the soccer team in St Pats, and he had some great players, fellas like Kieran Joyce, Ray Flaherty and Jimmy Laffey, but he didn’t know how to keep them together and develop a really strong team.

“He was talking to my father about it one day, and Dad said to him ‘just form a club yourself’, so we sat down together and established Corrib Shamrocks in 1973, and two years later that team of Laffey, Joyce and Flaherty won the U-13 Connacht Cup, ” he recalls.

“When I went to the Bish, Eugene Dunleavy asked myself and Eamon Brennan (brother of the late TD and Minister, Seamus Brennan) to look after the First Year team. At the time there was no primary school competition, so we used to play St Pats, and they beat us two years on the trot,” he says.

In the same year as helping to form Corrib Shamrocks, John was also a central figure in setting up the Galway Junior Soccer Committee along with the likes of Br Justin, Joe Keating, Mike Killeen, Frank O’Connell, Mike O’Connor and Bernard Shapiro, who was helping to form Renmore AFC at the same time.

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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