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Now just battered bouquets remain to remind us

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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

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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

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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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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