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Memories of a real hero from the front of the Tr—caire box



Date Published: {J}

There are moments in life that just humble you and leave you wondering if you really have the remotest clue what it’s all about.

One such moment regularly comes to mind; a boiling hot afternoon in early 2004, sitting in a mud-walled hut, deep in the Rwandan bush with Josienne Umumarashavu, a twelve year old girl with the biggest smile a face could ever muster.

Not that Josienne had much reason to smile – this was ten years after the genocide in Rwanda and she was just two years old when the Hutus came and murdered her father, dumping his body into the open latrine that still stood to one side of their modest home.

That year, Josienne was the face on the Trócaire box, photographed by my then-colleague Noel Gavin, a photographer with The Star.

She was suitably unfazed by it all – not because The Star didn’t feature prominently on her radar – but because she wanted to help Trócaire raise money because the Irish relief agency had helped Josienne and her family rebuild their own shattered lives.

The Rwandan genocide was one of the most barbaric bloodlettings in history – between 800,000 and one million people butchered to death in 100 days, bodies dumped on the sides of the roads, thousands butchered in church grounds where they sought safety.

Josienne lives a rough 45 minute drive outside the town of Gitarama, deep into the densely afforested terrain with her mother Genevieve and her two surviving siblings.

Three of Josienne’s siblings were murdered with their father but the other two escaped with their mother into the bush. Their only crime was that they were Tutsis and their Hutu neighbours – who called them cockroaches – were given free licence to kill them at will.

The lucky ones were shot; those who were slashed to death by machete died more slowly and more painfully.

But after the genocide in 1994, Trócaire provided counseling for Josienne’s family to help them to cope with the loss of their father and brother.

Four years before our visit, Josienne’s mother, G

enevieve, joined Cocaf, a Trócaire-funded agriculture project, and became part of a savings and loan scheme that helped her to slowly invest in her farm, grow food, sell crops, buy livestock and eventually rebuild her life and provide for her family.

They proudly showed off their thriving farm with cows, sheep, goats – and even a pig. Since then, her mother has expanded her farm to support the family.

And now, thanks to the support the family received from Trocaire, Josienne attends secondary school.

The ambitious 18-year-old hopes to go to university to study financial management and computer studies.

Back in 2004, her book was the bible and she was inseparable from it. We sat in her most basic of homes, asking her pointless questions and taking her picture. And she responded quietly, talking eloquently of the part that Trócaire played in her rehabilitation.

Of course there are many Irish aid agencies like GOAL, Bóthar, Concern and others who do equally fine work for the world’s poor in the most extraordinary of circumstances – but I only ever met one lady who’d been on the cover of the Trócaire box.

And all the time you just wondered if you could ever sleep again if you’d been through what Josienne and her family had been through, let alone entertain the naive questions of white men from somewhere called Ireland in the baking midday sun.

But Josienne knew one thing about Ireland – it was where Trócaire came from and this year again her photograph appears among the literature that dropped in through your letterbox for the Trócaire Lenten fast.

Take a look at her now as she prepares for university – and take pride that this shattered life was rebuilt thanks to the pennies of Irish children who gave up sweets in the run-up to Easter.

And know for sure that a little really can make a whole lot of difference after all.

For more, read page 13 of this week’s Connacht 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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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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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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