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O’Connell’s Galway Monster Meeting

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In the month of June 1843, Daniel O’Connell held one of his great “monster meetings” in Galway city, at Shantalla. In a one-off piece for The Tribune JODY MOYLAN tells the story.

The old fish women, burdened under their wicker baskets, stood out against the morning sun, watched the war steam ship HMS Cyclops sail into view, lurch suddenly and strike anchor.

Behind the women, slowly encroaching onto the dusty, poverty ridden streets of Galway was a mass of humanity; the serfs of an empire.

Her Majesty’s Ship, issued to Galway by Robert Peel’s government, was intent on posing a direct and visible threat to this multitude.

For the previous four months a great voice had been agitating for reform, shaking the blanket of the land with the might of his words. Now Galway, and the enemy in its midst, awaited the Liberator.

Daniel O’Connell, with his Repeal Association, wanted to obliterate the Union between Great Britain and Ireland, and 1843 was to be a year of constant campaigning. The Liberator, as he had become known since gaining Catholic emancipation in 1829, was said (by his son John) to have amassed over 5,000 miles while travelling the length and breadth of Ireland, attending over 30 “monster meetings” (as The Times coined them.)

The monster was anchored to Galway Bay that June morning and, like virtually all the rallies that year, there was nothing but an outbreak of peace, sobriety and festive celebration amongst the natives.

Everybody wanted to see this famous man, the Catholic chieftain and, according to the contemporary press; virtually all of county Galway did in 1843, attending O’Connell Repeal rallies in Loughrea, Tuam and Clifden.

Massive occasions in themselves, with Clifden something of a foreign country in’43 due to its geographic isolation, those three rallies were, nonetheless, superseded by the meeting at Shantalla due to its sheer scale; the Tuam Herald at the time estimated that 500,000 attended (although nationalist newspapers did tend to trump up the numbers).

The masses came from Aran and Connemara, Gorumna and Lettermore, Gort and Ennis. Counties Mayo and Roscommon too were represented.

On foot, a fleet of fishermen led a procession of trades out toward Oranmore. Decked in the garb of festivity, with sashes, rosettes and hats pinned with ribbons and ostrich feathers they led tailors, plasterers, masons, cord weavers, brogue-makers, rope makers, millwrights and slaters.

At four o’clock the horde on the road met O’Connell at Clarinbridge, a small team of horses drawing the carriage that housed the Liberator, his right-hand man Tom Steele, son Maurice and parish priest of Tullagh in Clare Fr Patrick Sheehy.

The road back to the city, to a bird in flight, might have resembled a packed vein of slowly moving ants.

The hour was approaching seven in the evening when O’Connell reached the fields of Thomas Bodkin in Shantalla. Despite the fanfare of the rally O’Connell himself was in no doubt that his speech was the only event that mattered. The military arteries of the empire and, specifically, the journalists present were the eyes and ears that most needed to be penetrated.

The newspaper reports, essentially, were the most important factor in all of these meetings. It would tell the establishment of the groundswell of support for Repeal; support that, O’Connell felt, could not be ignored.

On Sliding Rock, surrounded on a built stage by dignitaries, the clergy and the small few of his inner sanctum, the great-cloaked Liberator stepped forward.

As Michael MacDonagh put it, in his O’Connell biography; “A heart stirring roar of applause went up on [O’Connell’s] appearance on the platform, and then a stillness, almost overpowering in its intensity, fell upon the vast concourse eager to hear his burning words.”

The great orator then broke the hush.

“We are engaged in the struggle to liberate the slave from the dominion of the stranger.” The clear fields of ‘43 gave way to the sight of the Cyclops bobbing on the current – a menace getting darker with the fading light.

The Liberator’s means were peaceful, but there was always a threat in his language – a violent rhetoric. As well as castigating Peel, O’Connell (a legal heavyweight) threatened court action if one hand was laid on the innocents of Galway.

He denounced local landlords; one of whom had kicked 103 families off his land – the country was in ferment long before 1845.

He spoke also that day of universal suffrage, the right to vote by ballot, and the need to annihilate absentee landlordism.

As night fell O’Connell finally left the stage – he had to conclude the formalities – and go to a banquet. The arena was soon deserted, and the boat left the bay. The cabins and shielings of a thousand town lands were again filled with its battalions of white faced lurching peasants, many soon enough to be no more than phantoms of their own land.

The year ‘43 was to be the last great theatre of O’Connell’s life. An Ireland out of the Union was not, and was never, in the reckoning for Peel’s establishment.

The great movement ended that October when, not one war ship, but a fleet descended on Clontarf and pointed their guns at Conquer Hill. Fingers on the triggers.

O’Connell, in his judgement, pulled that monster meeting to save the lives of thousands. He was arrested a few days later – for a year of conspiracy against the Crown.

Like the fading light of Galway on that June evening, Old Ireland was dying, and it finally did, with O’Connell in 1847.

His legacy was not lost, though. Having lived the life of ten great men he had pierced the fog of fatalism that shrouded the Irish peasantry.

“He thought a democracy and it rose,” said Sean O’Faolain once. “He imagined the future and the road appeared”.

■ This article is in conjunction with a larger work – you can contact the author at jodymoylan@gmail.com

Connacht Tribune

Compliant Galwegians are keeping their distance

Francis Farragher

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Checkpoint...Garda warning for those who stray too far from home.

BOY racers, cyclists, gym users and young people attending house parties are among those in Galway who have been issued with Fixed Payment Notices (FPNs) for breaching the Covid-19 travel regulations over the past week.

However, Gardaí in Galway have reported ‘a very high-level of compliance’ from the general public as regards the travel restrictions that are a central part of the Level-5 ‘Stay Home – Stay Safe’ Covid campaign.

Over the weekend, Gardaí issued FPNs to so-called ‘boy racers’ in two separate cases on the Tuam Road outside Galway city and in the Craughwell area.

FPNs – involving a €100 on-the-spot fine – were also issued last week to a number of young people attending house parties in the Galway city area, after Gardaí had been called to the scene.

Two cyclists stopped in the Cornamona area of North Connemara last week, who were 19 kilometres from their homes – and outside their own county boundary – also faced Garda censure.

The cyclists weren’t from the same household; they weren’t wearing masks; and also, were in breach of social distancing regulations.

Gardaí also came across a case of a gym in South Galway being used by a number of people last week – also a breach of the Covid-19, Level-5 restrictions.

While Gardaí also received a number of calls about possible ‘pub-opening’ violations, on investigation, they found no sign of activity on the premises they checked out.

Galway Chief Garda Superintendent, Tom Curley, told the Connacht Tribune that overall, there was ‘a very high level of compliance’ as regards the travel restrictions which was ‘very encouraging’.

See full story – and comprehensive Covid-19 coverage – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Lessons learned on home-schooling

Denise McNamara

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Cathal Moore, principal of the Presentation Athenry.

Home-schooling is working better this time round with many teachers conducting live classes and more students actively engaging than when schools closed suddenly last March.

But virtual education is a poor substitute for the experience of the classroom with students sorely missing social interaction, according to teachers, while parents are still struggling to balance working from home with ensuring their children keep up with the school work.

The sooner that schools can reopen safely the better for everyone – although most agree that it’s looking more likely to be after mid-term than at the beginning of February.

“Everybody is in a better place this time round – schools, teachers, parents and students. Everybody expected to be back at school. It’s no secret last time we got two hours’ notice but this time round we’re better prepared,” remarks the principal of the Presentation Athenry, Cathal Moore.

The mixed secondary school is doing a mix of live and recorded classes as not every student has good broadband.

After the first week, there was feedback from students that they felt there was too much homework in addition to the virtual classes while teachers reported that they would prefer more live communication from their charges.

“It is more tiring – fatigue is definitely a factor when on a screen all day and if this goes on for a prolonged amount of time it will creep in for a growing number of students.”

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Hard-pressed hospitals down 450 staff over Covid

Dara Bradley

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More than 450 staff – including nurses at UHG and Portiuncula – are now out of work due to Covid, as staff shortages threaten the public hospitals’ ability to cope with the crisis.

The upsurge has seen UHG deal with a record number of Covid-19 patients, and the hospital had to escalate its surge capacity plan and add extra beds in ICU.

The latest CSO figures reveal that the first week of the New Year was Galway’s deadliest yet on the pandemic front, with five lives lost over those opening seven days of 2021.

That brought the total number of virus fatalities in Galway to 25, and it’s understood there have been further deaths locally since then, which will be confirmed later.

From March to the end of November there were 20 deaths notified in Galway, and no further deaths were recorded in all of December.

News of Galway’s deadliest week comes as local leaders in the HSE, Garda, and local government joined forces to warn that Covid-19 was still spreading rapidly in the community.

Nationally, between January 5 and 18, there were 263 Covid-19 deaths recorded, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC), which does not give a geographical breakdown. Of these deaths, 119 were hospitalised and 14 had been admitted to ICU.

The median age of all of Galway’s Covid fatalities is 83; the median age of the confirmed cases in Galway is 31 – the lowest of 26 counties.

See full story – and comprehensive Covid-19 coverage – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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