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New book on conservative priest with a radical streak



Date Published: 30-Aug-2012

If there was ever a priest who provoked strong reactions and polarised opinion, it was Fr John Fahy, from Kilnadeema near Loughrea, who died in 1969.

His tireless campaign for the rights of small farmers in the years following Irish independence, won him many admirers. But his narrow-minded nationalism and vitriolic comments on Protestants, Jews and non-Irish people were so outrageous they would see him convicted under Incitement to Hatred Act these days.

This colourful character is now the subject of a biography by retired schoolteacher Jim Madden, a native of Banagher, Co Offaly, who knew the late Fr Fahy well.

Fr John Fahy: Radical Republican and Agrarian Activist 1893-1969 is the title of the book, which is published by the Columba Press, and it’s obvious that the author regards the late priest with affection, while not ignoring his shortcomings.

Fr Fahy was based in the parish of Lusmagh – the only Offaly parish in the diocese of Clonfert – when Jim was a teenager.

“Lusmagh is just out the road from us in Banagher,” explains Jim, whose father was a butcher in the town, “and he’d come into the shop to us.”

Fr Fahy, a noted radical and republican, caused problems for both church and the secular authorities from the time he was a student in Maynooth, when he urged fellow students to take part in the 1916 Rising, explains Jim.

After being ordained in 1919 Fr Fahy was loaned to a parish in Scotland where he was involved with the Republican movement. When his colleague Fr Michael Griffin – who had been on loan from the Diocese of Clonfert to Galway – was killed by the Black and Tans in 1920, Fr John returned home. During the Civil War he was under the authority of the disciplinarian Bishop Thomas O’Doherty, so was obliged to stay silent.

In 1924 Bishop John Dignan took over Clonfert. He had Republican leanings and, secure in this knowledge, Fr Fahy became increasingly radical.

Most people who opposed the 1921 Treaty with England did so out of Republican beliefs, says Jim Madden. But Fr John, and people like the Donegal socialist Peadar O’Donnell were different. They were anti-Treaty, but they were also socially aware and in favour of small farmers.

In 1929 Fr Fahy spent nearly two months in Galway jail after attacking a bailiff who was seizing cattle from a local woman, Biddy Nevin, because she failed to pay her land annuities. These annuities – a legacy of British rule – were paid by the new Irish Free State to England for farms which had once been owned by landlords.

Fr Fahy and Peadar O’Donnell objected to these payments and, on this occasion, Fr Fahy took action.

He was charged with obstruction and seizing stock from the sheriff’s bailiff, and summoned to appear before Loughrea District Court.

Jim documents this in the book, and describes how frantic discussions took place between Church and State authorities behind the scenes to resolve the matter before it went to court.

However, any attempt to avert a confrontation between Church and State required an apology from Fr Fahy, and he wouldn’t apologise. He was arrested but then refused to recognise the court, describing it as ‘an unlawful assembly’. He was returned for trial, but wouldn’t pay bail and as a result, was sent to jail until the trial was held seven weeks later. Jim’s book includes contemporary accounts of events, which show Fr Fahy’s breathtaking disregard for the authorities.

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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