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My ÔtuppenceworthÕ on the Iris Robinson affair



Date Published: {J}

Not once in recent weeks did I open my laptop but someone had sent me another of those sometimes not-so-funny images on the ‘Iris Robinson Affair’ – most of them in some way based on the theme of the movie The Graduate.

Many of them featured the young Dustin Hoffman in bed with the original ‘Mrs Robinson’ (Anne Bancroft). Indeed, I once went to see a stage performance of that story of a brief tryst between a very young man and an older woman . . . with Jerry Hall doing a more than adequate performance in the role made famous by Bancroft.

There have been other cruder computer images of the unfortunate Robinson affair . . . I say unfortunate because, in this case, a woman is being portrayed on the basis of what we must assume to be the worst moments of her life, and the price has been huge and terrible.


This sometimes happens, for instance, in the case of court coverage. Someone with a character which can be pretty much without blemish, or unremarkable, is portrayed solely in newspapers and on radio, on the basis of an incident where they were seen at their absolute worst.

It’s an impossible situation, of course, for people in the media . . . their job is to gather material for publication and they can hardly be expected to put in a few paragraphs pointing out that this was out of character for the person, or that the person had done many good things in their life.

It was one of the reasons why I probably agonised more than most journalists when someone came to me with a plea to keep something out of the newspapers. All the agonising wasn’t worth a damn, of course, but I sometimes must admit that I tried to keep the heading a little more ‘sober’ than it might otherwise have been.

Those are among the reasons why I let the Iris Robinson controversy run for weeks before comment . . . there is a great tragedy in anyone having the worst episode in their life in the public glare. Well, just think of your worst moment . . . and then imagine it published on a wide scale.

To some extent the same can be said of Tiger Woods. What a damned fool he looked in recent weeks in his serial unfaithfulness. As a result, he has become something of an ‘unperson’ in the best traditions of George Orwell’s 1984 . . . meanwhile, the television commentators struggle in the opening of the 2010 season US golf coverage to deal with the fact that we are staring at ‘Hamlet without the prince’.

Based on ‘the worst moments concept’, I can also muster up some sympathy for him. He has lived his life in a media ‘glass bowl’ for years, taken endless adulation . . . and limitless money. It may all have been ‘surface’ and meaningless, but now when he goes out the front door and long before he gets to the relatively controlled environment of a golf tournament, he has to confront the satellite television transmission vans.

The satellite dishes stretch for as far as the eye can see, paparazzi with long lenses hang about in all directions staking-out the neighbourhood, and the concept of a private life, if it ever arose for him, has ceased to exist.

Meanwhile, the advertising pages of the major golf magazines have suddenly become ‘a Tiger free zone’ in a conspiracy of silence imposed by major advertisers withdrawing their support. Among them are finance institutions who have quickly forgotten the embarrassment of the taxpayer having to rescue them. You get a kind of ghostly feeling leafing through the magazines as they fall back on Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, and even the rather colourful John Daly.

As I said, I have a certain sympathy for both Iris Robinson and Tiger Woods – just as I would have for anyone who was now being ‘judged’ on the worst moments of their lives.

Only the saints amongst us are free of moments we would prefer were at least cloaked in secrecy. One of the wisest men I met over many years in journalism was the late Garda Superintendent Gerry Colleran and I always he thought he put very well the lives of ordinary people who – on occasion – were involved in the most extraordinary things.

Gerry Colleran, who died much too young, had huge experience on any number of major investigations. He always said that he could not think of a single person who could take the full glare of an investigation as carried out by a major team dealing with something such as a murder.

He recalled that, when a group of maybe 40 Gardaí and detectives began looking at any killing, the initial most logical place to start the investigation was amongst the family, relations and friends of the person who had been murdered. This was because it was relatively rare that a murderer and victim did not know each other – unless the crime was some kind of mindless drink-fuelled incident in which a murder was the end result of a row or dispute.

He said the most extraordinary things could be thrown up by an investigation – things long hidden and almost forgotten in a family background, extramarital affairs that had never come to light, problems with drink or drugs, and that very often their starting point in questioning had to be that they had no interest in an affair from years previously, their sole interest now was in the murder investigation.

Of course, something that would not have existed in the era in which he was investigating, would be the entire business of text messaging, which has cropped up so much in recent trials.

God, but they read as stupid and puerile in the light of the passage of time. Now maybe a text saying ‘night, sleep well babes, love Jack X’ may sound full of meaning and deep in the light of the moment, but in the cold light of day in the newspapers months later . . . you’d die from embarrassment.

It’s all a long way from ‘how do I love thee? . . . let me count the ways,’ as written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the 1800s.

Better settle for playing strictly at home!

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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