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Karl Shiels giving his all to ‘fast and furious’ Penelope

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Date Published: {J}

By Bernie Ní Fhlatharta

Karl Shiels loves what he does. He loves it so much that when he’s not doing it, he’s thinking about it. And when he does it, it has to be right.

The Dubliner is in Galway rehearsing for the Druid Theatre Company’s production Penelope, an Enda Walsh play directed by Mikel Murfi, that will be part of this year’s Galway Arts Festival, and he is loving every minute of the experience.

This is Karl’s first time appearing in a Druid production and indeed his first time in an Enda Walsh play. But he has been an admirer of the playwright’s work for years, particularly loving The Walworth Farce and Disco Pigs.

Penelope, a contemporary take on Homer’s Odyssey, is “fast and furious” in Karl’s words and a fantastic play that is a hilarious with a dark side.

“It has fantastic logic and I love that about it. Enda said he wrote the play with the actors for the four male characters in mind. One of them was me. There’s also a female character,” he says.

Karl has an acting CV as long as your arm, with an impressive list of stage, film and TV work, that doesn’t seem to tally with his thirty-something years but once he decided he wanted to act, it seems he fell from one job to another.

And he wasn’t always an actor. He is actually a qualified electrician but the draw of the boards was too much for him and in the early nineties he went to the Gaiety School of Acting to learn his craft, having first got the acting bug while still at secondary school.

He played drums in a band and was asked to play the drums in a panto. The rest is history and in 1999 he won the Best Actor Award at the Dublin Theatre Festival for his role in Comedians.

Karl’s film credits include Batman Begins where he played Cillian Murphy’s sidekick but it was duelling with actor Christian Bale on set that was really cool, he says.

He has worked alongside a host of stars including John Hurt (in Meeting Che Guevara and The Man from Maybury Hill) Cate Blanchett (in Veronica Guerin), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) and the star studded cast of Batman Begins.

He had a shot at Hollywood, including meetings with director, Jerry Bruckheimer but they came to nothing when the Actors’ Union put a stop to non-American, non-members getting involved in the project in hand.

He says he has no regrets but he has worked in the US as Artistic Director of Semper Fi (Ireland) when he brought his production of Ladies and Gents to New York where the play was located in the public toilets in Central Park. There was a lot of red tape about that but it was worth it, he said.

He loves performing in unusual spaces but says there are no public toilets large enough in Galway for him to bring that play to the city.

Karl is resourceful. During a dry patch for him and other Dublin based actors, he acquired a space in his native city and called it Theatre Upstairs which produced plays that were critically acclaimed, but that closed when the landlord decided to change the space into apartments.

For more, read this week’s Connacht 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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The tough Galway hurler who stood up to Christy Ring

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Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

FORMER Galway hurler Ned Quinn may be due to celebrate his 90th birthday in May, but his humour and mind is as sharp as ever. Yes, the good days bleed into the bad – and vice versa – but the essence of the Ardrahan man burns brighter than ever.

In the foyer of Kilcolgan Nursing Home, Ned, accompanied by his daughter Irene, sits patiently waiting. He says he is only 5ft10” but he has the aura of man of far greater stature. He later explains that he did a bit of boxing in his youth and, looking at him, it does answer a few questions.

On this day, Ned’s health is betwixt and between but, even so, his humour is truly captivating and, before the interview concludes, he chuckles: “What kind of a cash prize did they give you to talk to me? Ah, I am only joking.”

The answer furnished was quite simple, if not a little on the manipulative side. “They told me you would tell me the truth about Christy Ring?” Ned relaxes with a wry smile.

Do you remember it Ned? “I think I do.”

 

Where you involved? “Maybe a little.” He pauses. “We won’t go back on it.”

Folklore has it that, after Galway’s defeat to Cork in the 1953 All-Ireland final, there was a couple of dust-ups between the respective players back at the Gresham Hotel. The first happened in the aftermath of the game that evening before Ring was left on the seat of his pants in another ‘frank’ exchange the following morning. That was the point Ned was understood to have entered the ‘debate’.

In many respects, it all stemmed from Galway’s disappointment and frustration. Earlier in the day, they were defeated 3-3 to 0-8 by the Leesiders and it still irks the former half-back that they put more scores on the board but lost the game.

“We had no luck on the day,” says the 89-year-old, who alludes to a high profile incident in which Galway defender and captain Mickey Burke was taken out of the game . . . allegedly, by Ring. “He (Ring) got away with murder on the field,” says Ned. “I mean, sure he could knock down anyone he wanted and get away with it.”

Ned believes that, because Ring was such a legend, he was given more leeway by referees and officials. “He was a crowd favourite . . . even with the great Tipp team that time, he could do what he liked with them. And he did do what he liked with them. He would give you a sup of the hurl any way he could – just as he was passing you out. Ah, he could handle himself.”

You get a sense that Ned has come to appreciate that and when it later comes to citing his greatest hurlers of all time, Ring tops the list. No wonder then the Galway game-plan going into that All-Ireland in ’53 was to keep the ball away from him but that was easier said than done.

At any rate, Ned says Galway’s luck was just not in that afternoon. “Every team needs a bit of luck on the day. The first goal was a kind of mystery goal. It went out beside his (goalkeeper Sean Duggan’s) ear and straight into the goal. Then the other two should have been cleared in time.

“I was playing in the half-back line when Burke was knocked down. Ring laid him out. Burke had to go off, he was badly hurt. Teeth or stitches. I was sent out on Ring then and I wasn’t going to stand for the same treatment, no, no. I was ready for him. Of course, we had a few words.”

Ned, who was on the Galway minor squad of 1941 but did not make his senior debut for Galway against Laois until 1949, played against Cork just once after that and he says it was “a cynical game”. He notes, though, that the 1953 final was certainly a missed opportunity to take the Liam McCarthy Cup back West.

That said, the father-of-two – Ena is his other daughter – did enjoy his days in the maroon and white, just as he did in the colours of his native Ardrahan, with whom he appeared in three county finals, winning just the one against favourites Loughrea in 1949.

That 1-9 to 2-2 county final win, played in front of a record hurling final crowd, was Ardrahan’s first senior championship victory in over 40 years and it was built on a rock-solid defence, marshalled by centre-half back Ned. Other prominent figures were Miko McInerney, Colm Corless, Paddy Hoarty, Simon Moylan, Bill Joe Coen, Sean Bermingham and Lowry Murray.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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Killimordaly sunk in a mudbath as Gabriels advance

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Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

St Gabriel’s (London) 2-12

Killimordaly 2-11

(After Extra-Time)

STEPHEN GLENNON AT ST BRENDAN’S PARK, BIRR

London champions St Gabriel’s – backboned by nine former Galway club players – recorded yet another famous win over Galway opposition when defeating Killimordaly in an exciting All-Ireland intermediate club semi-final played in biblical conditions at St Brendan’s Park in Birr on Sunday.

Having overturned Galway teams like Ardrahan and Kiltormer in previous All-Ireland campaigns in past decades, the London champions once again rolled back the years with a performance of true grit and courage to account for a Killimordaly side who will feel unlucky to have exited the competition in such a manner.

Quite simply, the conditions on the day were so atrocious, this contest became somewhat of a lottery. Two torrential downpours before the game were punctuated theatrically by a period of thunder and lightning and, as a result, it was not long before the luscious green sward in Birr was turned into a murky mud bath. Indeed, the scenes in extra-time were something akin to an old World War II movie.

In any event, it was St Gabriel’s who eventually emerged victorious from the trenches, with their heroics in almost sub-zero temperatures in extra-time finally breaking the shackles of a gutsy Killimordaly, who, reduced to 14 men at the beginning of the second half, did well to force extra-time.

It had looked as if two wonder points from Birr native Neil Rogers – free and play – along with an outstanding effort from Kevin Walsh in the first period of extra-time was going to be enough for the Exiles as they took a commanding three-point lead, 1-12 to 2-7, but then Tom Monaghan’s men –as they did on numerous occasions – came roaring back into the tie with four superb points of their own.

Indeed, the first from substitute and captain Iomar Creaven – returning from injury – could have found the net but his effort flew high above Aidan Ryan’s crossbar. Still, the score lifted Killimordaly and further points from the lively Eanna Ryan – play and free – and Andrew Daly nudged the Galway men into a 2-10 to 1-12 lead with the remaining 10 minutes of extra-time to play.

However, fortune favours the brave and when Gabriel’s Walsh was taken down 25 metres from goal, full-forward and freetaker Martin Finn called upon the wet conditions to be his ally and he smashed home a low effort to snatch the lead for the Londoners on 72 minutes.

 

With another downpour having just added to the chaos – and underfoot conditions worse than a pig sty – the closing eight minutes or so just became a war of attrition. So much so, the players spent more time rooting for the ball in the mud than executing the skills of the game and it was not a surprise that there would be only one more score.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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