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Now just battered bouquets remain to remind us

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: {J}

It is not that people are callous, or unthinking. Life today is preoccupied. That is the word. It moves on quickly. That is especially so in the case of media driven by an ever-quickening agenda that must go on inexorably to whatever happens next.

Two weeks ago, we all associated with the pictures in the mind’s eye of a group young girls returning from a shopping trip, full of life, possibly discussing when they might wear ‘that new top’, when an accident on a dangerous stretch of road in dreadful rain, ended it all.

Vivacious, vital young lives were lost on that stretch of road between Milltown and Ballindine. But then, the rain and floods became the topic . . . now the only palpable personal reminders of the tragedy for so many people, are the bouquets of flowers tied to road signs at the point where the awful event occurred.

The flowers were beaten flat by mud and rain from passing traffic as I drove by at the weekend.There are other less direct reminders. Four new flashing, digital traffic signs have gone up on that killer stretch warning of bends, and that drivers should slow down.

It makes you wonder whether, if we did not have the money to do something about improving the road, we might have been at least a little more imaginative in the measures we took to warn drivers of the dangers of this narrow, winding stretch.

None was better than the signage invented by the amateurs some years ago – a group of local residents living on the Galway side of Aughrim who ran into a terrible series of fatal accidents, and decided to erect white crosses on the roadside . . . one for every person who had been killed in the previous years.

In the days after the recent awful accident which robbed families of their brightest and best, one of the aspects of the road which was surely overlooked, was the whole issue of signposting, how it might be improved and how we might use more imagination to make our roads safer.

This is by no means a comment on the specific accident and it would be important to make that clear. We do not know why this crash happened – but it is at least a possibility that the very crooked and twisty road, and absolutely dreadful driving conditions, certainly would have played their part.

One of the points which was made by a councillor interviewed at a very early stages in the hours after the collision, was that the road had not been improved, but that the authorities had made an attempt to make some impression on a dangerous stretch, by erecting signs warning of the dangers. These signs largely consisted of bright yellow reminders of bad bends and the need to control speed.

If there are a few ‘rogue stretches’ left on the roads in this county, then this is one of them – once a driver leaves Milltown at one end, or Ballindine at the other, what are essentially relatively modern driving conditions as regards the width of the carriageway, and some attempt to eliminate twists and turns, are simply to be forgotten.

These few miles are like as if one decided to turn the clock back to the years when a road was barely the width of two cars, where the line of the road followed whatever ‘sheeptrack’ was the original course adopted by the road, and where the slightest lapse in concentration, or fraction of speed too much, leaves you stamping on the brakes in an effort to avoid oncoming traffic.

The residents of that area near Aughrim had precisely the same dilemma a few years ago – miles of twists and bends, a narrow road, a history of both serious and minor accidents, and no hope of money being spent in sufficient quantity to get rid of the danger. Their solution was that stretch of white crosses along the grass margins.

Like mute mourners and sentinels, these crosses appeared almost overnight. They had an immediate effect. I remember driving through the stretch and reporting for an RTÉ radio evening drivetime programme, Today at Five, on the experience.

‘Eerie’ was the word that sprang to mind as one drove down that alleyway of white crosses, each one of them marking an individual who had died on that stretch over a period of years. Some had a tiny piece of black crepe added to increase the effect.

It had the same extraordinary impact on hundreds of other motorists. Driving through a ‘graveyard’, one was unlikely to exceed the 50mph speed limit which then prevailed on the stretch, but which had been largely ignored and certainly was rarely enforced. In contrast, the ‘speed’ limit during the weeks those crosses were there, was very much observed.

The crosses were devastatingly effective but, of course, the reaction of what one might term ‘official Ireland’ was anything but favourable. The usual nonsense began – were they erected with planning permission, would they not be a distraction to drivers, one had to consider the design and siting of such signs with great care, and so on.

One of the objections about ‘a distraction’ came at the same time that a national body was putting up signs saying a particular number had been killed, while this number was ‘corrected’ on the same sign! A distraction?

Proving that a bit of commonsense can be very effective indeed, the crosses succeeded in slowing down all the drivers on a particular stretch, the accident rate plummeted in the area, and ‘official Ireland’ eventually capitulated and very large special road safety signs were erected on the stretch.

I drove past the spot between Milltown and Ballindine at the weekend. Those flowers acted as a powerful mute reminder of four young lives lost when they were at the very threshold of blossoming into their twenties.

I remembered those crosses at Aughrim and thought of Oscar Wilde’s line . . . “and dawn crept down the street like a frigthtened child”.

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

Rory takes on fresh challenge as lauded DruidMurphy returns

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 03-Apr-2013


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After twenty years Sarah lands dream role in Druid

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 04-Apr-2013

 Sarah Lynch has been living and breathing Druid Theatre since she wangled a job as a runner fresh out of college two decades ago at age 20. After holding down just about every role imaginable there – from company manager to director to stage manager – her appointment as general manager to one of the country’s most prestigious theatre companies last October seemed almost inevitable.

Because once she had tasted the fruit of Druid she was going nowhere . . . and going everywhere. Sarah’s tenure at Druid since 1998 has brought her on a journey that has reached just about every corner of the globe and almost all the islands off Ireland in between.

After graduating from Limerick with a degree in French and English Sarah spent a stint teaching in a secondary school. But it immediately became clear that wasn’t the road for her.

“One thing I was always certain of was I’d be involved in the performing arts, whether on stage or off stage or behind it. The immediate reaction of the audience is such a buzz,” she grins.

Her earliest memory was of her grandfather, Bud Clancy, on stage with his trumpet and dance band. “I must have been three or four because he died shortly after that. But it never left me. I got bitten by the bug. I started playing the trumpet. A friend of my grandfather taught me how to play and I was with the Limerick brass and reed orchestra known as the Boherbuoy Band, I was just a kid with all these adults.”

She learned to play other brass instruments such as the French horn and cornet before turning her hand to the guitar and song-writing. “I taught myself guitar. Sometime I tinker on the piano and I think that’s my next instrument. I love percussion. You can’t get me off a drum kit for love or money. Many is the night I’ve made a fool of myself on one of those,” she laughs.

In 2010, Sarah released her debut album, Letter to Friends, which was launched by playwright Enda Walsh, whose short play, Lynndie’s Gotta Gun, she had directed as part of the 2008 Galway Arts Festival.

The collection of songs was produced by Wayne Sheehy, a musician she had met when opening for Juliet Turner on Turner’s Burn the Black Suit tour.

“I could probably have done it ten years ago but for the manic schedule with Druid and touring so much,” she reflects. “I haven’t done much with it since. I used to play gigs in the Róisín Dubh. The bigger twin is theatre at the moment. The bigger twin bullies the other twin. You don’t get much time to do music.”

After fleeing the classroom, Sarah knocked on the door of a former college mate, Andrew Flynn, now with the Galway Youth Theatre, who kindly offered up his couch. He also managed to get her a job as a runner – the person who does everything from making tea to helping with props – on a Druid production of As You Like It.

“I remember working with Mark O’Halloran, I had great fun with him. There was Helen Norton, it was Maeliosa Stafford directing. He’s coming back to the Druid after ten years to star in Tom Murphy’s A Whistle in the Dark. He left me as a runner, now I’m general manager.”

Much of Sarah’s time behind the scenes at Druid has been spent on the road. In 2009 alone, Druid toured to Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA presenting 364 performances in 26 venues.

Indeed so much of life has been out spent living of a suitcase that she gave up her base in Galway to move back in with her family in Caherdavin, on the Galway side of Limerick city.

The tour of the Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh was so long the crew were instructed to pack two suitcases, one with summer clothes, the other winter gear, as they would be spanning the seasons. Her job now entails a lot of commuting, but driving is where she gets a lot of thinking done.

Sarah’s decision to apply for the more home-based job of general manager was one she made discreetly while on the Druid Murphy tour around the US. She had to undergo her interview in between shows at the Lincoln Center in New York. It was the most nerve wrecking experience of her life, she admits.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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