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

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



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

Judy Murphy



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

Henshaw and McSharry set to field for Irish Wolfhounds in clash with England Saxons

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

CONNACHT’S rising stars Robbie Henshaw and Dave McSharry look set to named in the starting xv for the Ireland Wolfhounds who face the England Saxons in Galway this weekend when the team is announced later today (Thursday).

Robbie Henshaw is the only out-and-out full-back that was named Tuesday in the 23-man squad that will take on the English at the Sportsground this Friday (7.45pm).

Connacht’s centre McSharry and Ulster’s Darren Cave are the only two specialist centres named in the 23 man squad, which would also suggest the two youngsters are in line for a starting place.

Former Connacht out-half, Ian Keatley, Leinster’s second out-half Ian Madigan and Ulster’s number 10 Paddy Jackson and winger Andrew Trimble, although not specialist full-backs or centres, can all slot into the 12, 13 and 15 jerseys, however you’d expect the Irish management will hand debuts to Henshaw and McSharry given that they’ll be playing on their home turf.

Aged 19, Henshaw was still playing Schools Cup rugby last season. The Athlone born Connacht Academy back burst onto the scene at the beginning of the season when he filled the number 15 position for injured captain Gavin Duffy.

The Marist College and former Ireland U19 representative was so assured under the high ball, so impressive on the counter-attack and astute with the boot, that he retained the full-back position when Duffy returned from injury.

Connacht coach Eric Elwood should be commended for giving the young Buccaneers clubman a chance to shine and Henshaw has grasped that opportunity with both hands, lighting up the RaboDirect PRO 12 and Heineken Cup campaigns for the Westerners this season.

Henshaw has played in all 19 of Connacht’s games this season and his man-of-the-match display last weekend in the Heineken Cup against Zebre caught the eye of Irish attack coach, Les Kiss.

“We’re really excited about his development. He had to step into the breach when Connacht lost Gavin Duffy, and he was playing 13 earlier in the year. When he had to put his hand up for that, he’s done an exceptional job,” Kiss said.

The 22-year-old McSharry was desperately unlucky to miss out on Declan Kidney’s Ireland squad for the autumn internationals and the Dubliner will relish the opportunity this Friday night to show-off his speed, turn of foot, deft hands and finishing prowess that has been a mark of this season, in particular, with Connacht.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Drinks battle brewing as kettle sales go off the boil

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

You’d have thought there might have been three certainties in Irish life – death, taxes and the cup of tea – but it now seems that our post-tiger sophistication in endangering the consumption of the nation’s second favourite beverage.

Because with all of our new-fangled coffee machines, percolators, cappuccino and expresso makers, sales of the humble kettle are falling faster than our hopes of a write-off on the promissory note.

And even when we do make tea, we don’t need a tea pot – it’s all tea bags these days because nobody wants a mouthful of tea leaves, unless they’re planning to have their fortune told.

Sales of kettles are in decline as consumers opt for fancy coffee makers, hot water dispensers and other methods to make their beverages – at least that’s the case in the UK and there’s no reason to think it’s any different here.

And it’s only seems like yesterday when, if the hearth was the heart of every home, the kettle that hung over the inglenook fireplace or whistled gently on the range, was the soul.

You’d see groups gathered in bogs, footing turf and then breaking off to boil the battered old kettle for a well-earned break.

The first thing that happened when you dropped into someone’s home was the host saying: “Hold on until I stick on the kettle.”

When the prodigal son arrived home for the Christmas, first item on the agenda was a cup of tea; when bad news was delivered, the pain was eased with a cuppa; last thing at night was tea with a biscuit.

The arrival of electric kettles meant there was no longer an eternal search for matches to light the gas; we even had little electric coils that would boil water into tea in our cup if you were mean enough or unlucky enough to be making tea for one.

We went away on sun holidays, armed with an ocean of lotion and a suitcase full of Denny’s sausages and Barry’s Tea. Spanish tea just wasn’t the same and there was nothing like a nice brew to lift the sagging spirits.

We even coped with the arrival of coffee because for a long time it was just Maxwell House or Nescafe granules which might have seemed like the height of sophistication – but they still required a kettle.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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