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Nurturing growth in times of recession



Date Published: {J}

If there are two men in Ireland who can get more excited than Brian Whyte or Charlie Hosty when discussing gardens, you’d search hard to find them

As we prepare to leave their offices near Moycullen for a guided tour of their nursery, they stress that the place is not looking its best – no surprise given the grey day outside. But the dreary weather is no match for their enthusiasm, which is so infectious that even the most committed couch potato would be fired up with a passion for gardening after a couple of hours in their company.

The two, who met when they were studying horticulture in UCD, set up Radharc landscaping in 1988. Brian grew up working alongside his father Jack in the well-known family garden centre, Whytes of Ballinasloe. Charlie’s interest in horticulture came from his father Cathal, a keen gardener.

From the beginning their aim with Radharc was to bring a professional standard of design and craftsmanship to the landscape gardening in the West of Ireland.

But the Ireland in which they set up their business in 1988 was like a different country. Money was even less plentiful than it is today and very few people thought of having their gardens professionally landscaped.

Even after five years in business, they still had question marks about whether the venture would work or not, recalls Brian, who is holding the fort while Charlie is out on a job in Cornamona.

Determination, hard work, and quality designs saw them survive and, in 1993, they bought about seven acres of land in Moycullen where they established a nursery, he adds.

Charlie, whose degree is in commercial horticulture, has focused growing and producing plants and trees which they use themselves and also sell to others. Brian is a landscape designer and he specialises in that area. Both aspects of the business have grown very well, he says.

“The nursery would be probably the primary wholesale nursery in the West and Radharc Landscaping would be the best known in the West and would have a good reputation.”

Radharc grew strongly during the boom years and they prospered with a huge range of private and commercial clients, the latter including Blackrock Medical Partners, Boston Scientific and Coco Cola.

Some commercial clients remain, some have gone, but Brian says that they have remained strong enough withstand the economic downturn.

“That’s partly b

ecause of the weather. The biggest difficulty in this job can be getting the work done, especially in the past two years, because of rainfall, so you always had to be wary about carrying people when the weather got bad.”

Radharc employ 30 people now – at the peak of the boom, that would have been 40, says Brian.

“We have a huge range of clients and we would have a pretty big workforce, so we have to be fairly all encompassing,” he explains.

“So we cover everything from small semi-detached gardens to large commercial areas of up to 100 acres.”

For instance, on the day before we met, he had signed off on a deal to landscape a small front garden in Knocknacarra, at a cost to the client of €1,000.

“So, I can go to a domestic house with a small garden and price it there and then. For a half acre site, I’d take the details away and do it item by item.”

For a three-acre garden, a quotation from Radharc might be three pages long and would be pretty detailed.

People can use these like a menu to guide them

along the way, he explains. It’s also possible to design a garden so that the work can be done on a phased basis.

“And I’d say, if you want to do the work yourself, that’s fine, but get a plan before you start.”

A significant portion of their landscaping work is about redoing work that has been done wrongly in the first place, either by the individual homeowner or by landscapers who haven’t thought the particular garden plan through.

By now Charlie has arrived in from Cornamona and it seems like a good time to ask what, in their eyes, makes a garden work?

They don’t have to think too long before answering.

“It has to work for the people who use it, and that’s basically it,” they agree.

So, when they are planning a garden, they’ll ask questions about the number of cars in the household, clothesline requirements, people’s dining habits and their attitude to maintenance.

They will also assess the soil and the garden’s exposure and work to combine those practicalities with what people want.

The needs are also different depending on whether is a building is for personal or public use – for instance, a hotel or hospital will need a smoking area and area for staff.

The second thing when designing a garden is that it must have a sense of its place, says Brian.

And so, a city garden will be different to something they would design in Barna or Athenry. And, he says, it should be different, in terms of plants and in terms of hard material, such as the type of stone you would use.

This should blend with the natural material locally. Getting all that right is important.

And it’s also important to design in accordance with people’s budgets, and while Radharc might be best known for large scale projects, they are flexible, they say.

For more, read this week’s Connacht 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

Call for poets to enter new competition



Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust is seeking entries for a new poetry competition.

The winner will have her or his poem published and displayed on the Arts Corridor of University Hospital Galway as part of the 2013 Poems for Patience. This is a long-running series which has previously featured work by leading Irish and international poets including Seamus Heaney, Philip Schultz, Michael Longley, Vona Groarke, Jane Hirschfield and Tess Gallagher.

The winner will be invited to read her or his winning poem in April, at the launch of the Poems for Patience during the Cúirt International Festival. Prizes also include accommodation in Galway for one night during Cúirt.

Poems should be less than 30 lines long and must be the entrant’s original work. The entry fee for one poem is €10. For two or more, the entry fee is €7.50 per poem. Payment should be made by cheque or postal order to Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust. The closing date is Friday, March 1.

The judge is Kevin Higgins author of several books of poetry and Writer-in-Residence with Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust.

Entries should be posted to Margaret Flannery, Arts Director, Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust, Galway University Hospitals, University Hospital, Newcastle Road, Galway. Entrants should put their names and contact details on a separate sheet.

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Archive News

The true story of the saint that the church wanted to airbrush



Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

Italian saint, Francis of Assisi will get a new lease of life in Francis, the Holy Jester, a free one-man show being performed at Muscailt Arts Festival on February 5.

The play about the renowned saint, who died in 1226 was written by Italian Nobel prize-winner Dario Fo, and this performance is by Mario Pirovano, a long-time collaborator with Fo, who translated the piece into English.

It embraces papal history, biblical stories, and controversial Italian politics while exploring the life of one of the Catholic Church’s most famous saints. It also shows how the medieval Church was so afraid of Francis and his relationship with ordinary people that it set about sanitising his legacy and elevating him above the reach of his followers.

Mario, who lives near to St Francis’s home of Assisi, speaks eloquently and passionately about the saint and the way that Dario Fo has brought the Francis’s message to modern audiences in a timeless, dramatic way, while casting new light on the famous Italian Franciscan monk.

But first, he explains why this was necessary.

Francis was born at the end of the 12th century and died at the age of 46. By then, he had created great embarrassment for the Church, simply because of the way he lived his life, explains Mario. He treated people in a genuinely Christian way and wanted to tell the Gospels in people’s own language rather than in Latin.

The Church hierarchy – what an awful word, he says – decided to rewrite the story of his life and, 50 years after his death, only one official account of his life was permitted by the authorities. That was written by a fellow Franciscan, St Bonaventure, who had been ordered to destroy many of Francis’s papers and write a sanitised biography. All other books on him were deemed heretical.

The Church was afraid of him, stresses Mario, and so decided to distance him from the ordinary people, by canonising him shortly after he died. Francis was the fastest saint ever produced in the history of the Church, being canonised within three years of passing on, says Mario. That took him away from ordinary people, as they felt they couldn’t aspire to such greatness.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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