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New book digs up history of Connemara’s walled gardens



Date Published: 08-Nov-2012

It’s one of the most challenging landscapes in which to live, but is also one of Ireland’s most beautiful places, and for that reason Connemara has always attracted more than its fair share of visitors.

It was especially popular among the gentry and well-heeled of the 19th century, with many of them building fishing lodges and summer homes as well as permanent residences in this wild and inhospitable environment.

Frequently these houses had walled gardens which supplied residents with their fruit and vegetables. The most elaborate is the beautiful and renowned Kylemore Abbey, but it’s not the only one as Clifden resident Gary Brow discovered when he went researching the subject.

Belfast born Gary has now published a book on the subject entitled Connemara Walled Gardens; Clifden and Environs, which takes in houses in an area from Cashel to Kylemore, including Toombeola, Roundstone, Ballyconneely, Clifden, Cleggan, Moyard and Letterfrack.

He was surprised at the number of old houses that were built and are still in existence, and his research has left him with a profound admiration for those people who created the gardens in such challenging surroundings.

“They were adventurous – it was desolate, there were no facilities, the landscape was both barren and waterlogged.”

In the 1960s when Gary first started visiting Connemara with friends, they had to bring wine, garlic and other supplies with them – and transport then was easy compared to the previous century.

But, as he also points out, that was an era when cheap labour and advances in technology allowed for water systems to be built, as well as heated greenhouses, although the take-up on these around Clifden was small.

Gary was a surgeon in Dublin for many years but the family bought a small holiday house in Connemara in the mid 1990s. He now lives there permanently while his wife, Pearl, a palliative-care nurse who has several years before retiring, divides her time between Connemara and Dublin. Their adult daughters, Emily and Lydia are frequent visitors West.

“Our Dublin home is old,” says Gary, “and so I’d have an appreciation of the work involved in these houses in Connemara – they are lovely buildings.”

He points to the beautiful Garrabaun House near Moyard, built in 1852, describing its “magnificent buildings in the middle of nowhere”.

Houses like this were in their prime during the 1800s but in the 1950s, when Ireland declined economically, these houses also suffered.

“It took time for people to realise that those who built these houses had built them on the best sites, with the best views. This was virgin country and a blank canvas for these people.”

While the walled gardens he studied varied in size and distance from the houses they served and some were more sophisticated than others, they all had one thing in common, says Gary.

“They were dedicated areas for growing. Therefore the wall offered physical protection from animals and shelter from the wind that is always present.”

He points to his own garden, which he has designed to withstand the same problems that were experienced by gardeners in previous centuries.

“It’s a constant battle with the wind,” he says.

For more, read this week’s Galway City 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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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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