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Modest Joe gives new twist to craft of basket-making

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Date Published: {J}

He is known by his peers as the man who helped save the traditional craft of basket-making in Ireland and is widely rated as the country’s leading basket-maker. But, although he has received many awards for his work, Joe Hogan would prefer not to have any accolades heaped on him.

This softly spoken, warm man would far rather be left alone to make his beautifully woven baskets and ramble the hills in Loch na Fooey where he and his wife Dolores have lived for over 30 years. But there’s an exhibition to promote and interviews are part of the process.

Joe is taking part in the Irish Craft Portfolio 2010 show at the Kenny Gallery in Liosban, one of two Galway craft workers doing so – the other is Salthill jewellery maker Berina Kelly.

The Irish Craft Portfolio was established by the Crafts Council of Ireland in 2005 to promote quality Irish crafts. This year’s group has exhibited in Kilkenny and will be in Dublin’s Farmleigh Gallery from November, as well as in Kennys until September 9.

The benefits of being selected by the Crafts Council to be in this group is that it gives Joe freedom “to try to make stuff you fancy doing”, he explains.

And in recent years the man who originally hails from near Caltra has fancied making more abstract pieces than the baskets, creels, skibs and turf holders which initially helped create his reputation.

He did an Arts degree in UCG in the 1970s, specialising in philosophy and history before deciding to embrace basket-making.

“I wanted to do something practical. Back then, there was a big craft movement around pottery; basketry not so much,” he says.

In fact, basket-making from traditional willow and hazel rods was in serious decline by the late 1970s as new containers and cheap baskets from Eastern Europe threatened one of Ireland’s traditional crafts.

“But an ideal time to get into something is when it seems to be dying,” Joe says. “People who feel they might be the last makers of their work can be very generous.”

He recalls that when he first moved out to Loch na Fooey a local man Tom Joyce was making creels and skibs (large flat baskets, traditionally used to hold potatoes) and within a few weeks the older man was coming over to Joe’s place, teaching him how to make these items.

Similarly out in Rosroe, near Leenane there was a man who made lobster pots. Joe got one and learned how to make them before these traditional pots disappeared.

For Joe and Dolores moving to Loch na Fooey and being largely self sufficient was a shared dream. They have a 25 acre farm, with 20 acres going in to the mountain. There are four acres of arable land, and an acre is given over to willow for the basketry.

Part of the reason Joe was attracted to basket-making was that it was cheap to set up in business, unlike something like pottery which required a large outlay.

He needed willows, which he could grow – it takes two years to establish a crop, with small yields in the first year. Then all that was required was a knife, a secateurs and a bodkin – a large needle.

 

For more, read this week’s Galway City 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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Archive News

Folk group The Unthanks make a welcome return

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Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

English folk group, the Unthanks make a welcome return to Róisín Dubh on Sunday, February 24.

Their unique approach to storytelling involves using a kaleidoscope of unlikely instruments and spanning a bridge between past and present. It’s hard to conceive how music could sound so traditional and adventurous at once.

While their three albums to date have received much acclaim, the Mercury Music Prize nominated Tyneside sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank have garnered most praise for their live performances. Stories of love, loss, birth, death, brawls and booze make for a rollercoaster ride through the human condition.

Rachel and Becky’s folk-club singing influences are set against otherworldly musical pictures, arranged by a band who draw inspiration from artists varying from Steve Reich to Miles Davis, Martin Hayes to Robert Wyatt, Portishead to Sufjan Stevens.

The Unthanks have fans as disparate as members of Radiohead and Portishead, Nick Hornby, Elvis Costello, Robert Wyatt, Ewan McGregor, Ryan Adams, Paul Morley, Ben Folds, Rosanne Cash and Dawn French

They have been described as “supernaturally ancient and defiantly modern, as coldly desolate as achingly intimate”. For their Galway show will play music from their new album, as well as from their previous records.

This gig is not just for committed folkies – anyone with a love for heartfelt, well-played and moving music should check them out.

Doors 9pm, tickets €20/€18.

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Archive News

January 31, 2013

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Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

1913

Shots at midnight

Further particulars regarding the shooting outrage at Castlelambert have come to light during the week. It appears that the night was remarkably bright, and that the figure of a man could be discerned a long distance off.

A police patrol was ambushed near Caulfield’s house, and saw the attacking party approach, and at the same moment several shots were discharged at the house. The police got ready to fire in an instant, and as the firing party passed out through a gateway near the house, the police discharged several shots.

One of the men was seen to fall, and when the police went in the direction where the man was supposed to have fallen, they discovered a gate post, which had received most of the volleys fired.

Owing to the incident which took place at Craughwell, they did not deem it advisable to press too hard on the retreating foe. Besides, they discovered that in a hill some distance away a number of men were concentrated, probably to cover the retreat, so the patrol had to await reinforcements before moving into the mountain.

The attack was made with great daring, and the party had a hair breadth escape.

1938

Storm strikes

Galway felt the full brunt of the second storm within a fortnight which swept the West coast on Friday night. A strong gale accompanied by heavy rain and lightning was the first indication of the ensuing storm, which lasted into the early hours of Saturday morning.

Lashing rain swept the streets clear of pedestrians, and the wind, which at times reached a velocity of nearly a mile a minute, tore advertising slogans from outside business houses. Coupled with this, flying slates and masonry made walking positively dangerous, so that Galway around midnight assumed a ghost-like appearance.

A large tree in Newcastle-road was struck by lightning, and when falling, it hit the overhead electric cables, disconnecting many lights in the district.

Falling slates and masonry caused blackouts in Taylor’s Hill, Salthill and the docks districts. Working under appalling weather conditions, special men from the Electricity Supply Board had all the wires in the affected areas repaired inside half an hour.

The wind-swept Corrib overflowed its banks at many points, and in Mill-street, Galway, flooded the road but did not enter the houses.

Tuam strike

A strike began on the Tuam building clearance scheme on Wednesday evening. Carpenters and joiners are not affected. The cause of the dispute is the allegation made by the carters of sand that the contractors, Messrs. Bermingham and Sons, Galway, have not carried out their agreement with the men’s Union to give the drawing of fifty per cent of the sand required in the buildings to the carters, and that the contractors employed lorries which drew more than fifty per cent of the sand. The services of some of the carters were dispensed with recently and the Union appealed to the Town Commissioners to try and have the carters reinstated.

The Commissioners were sympathetic, but their efforts failed and the contractors alleged in a letter to the Board that the carters had actually drawn much more than their share. The contract is for 82 houses under a clearance order made by the Town Commissioners being built at Cloontoo and Galway roads. About forty men are affected by the strike.

 

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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