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Connacht Tribune

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Clifden something of a foreign country in’43 due to its geographic isolation, those three rallies were, nonetheless, superseded by the meeting at Shantalla due to its sheer scale; the Tuam Herald at the time estimated that 500,000 attended (although nationalist newspapers did tend to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

Unauthorised developments in County Galway go unchecked for months

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The Planning Enforcement Section of Galway County Council is so understaffed that complaints of unauthorised developments are not being investigated for months, the Connacht Tribune has learned.

In one case, a complaint alleging a house was under construction in a picturesque and environmentally sensitive part of Conamara without planning permission was not investigated by the Council for at least six months.

And it can be revealed that there is a ‘large’ backlog of complaints of unauthorised developments in the county, which the Planning Enforcement Section at County Hall has blamed on staff shortages, according to correspondence obtained by the Connacht Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

In response to repeated requests by a concerned member of the public to intervene and investigate an allegation of unauthorised development in an environmentally protected area of Conamara, the Council’s Planning Department indicated it was too stretched.

“Unfortunately, the planning enforcement section is experiencing a period of prolonged staff shortages and consequently there are a large number of files awaiting investigation/review,” it said.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Access Centre provides pathways to University of Galway for the disadvantaged

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Photo of Imelda Byrne

Great leaps have been made in recent years to make access to tertiary level education a realistic prospect for once marginalised groups in society.

With the deadline for CAO applications approaching next week, the Access Centre at the University of Galway is aiming to reach as many underrepresented groups as possible ahead of next academic term.

Head of the Access Centre, Imelda Byrne (pictured), said research has shown that those who once felt third level ‘wasn’t for them’ are increasing their presence at UG, and bringing a richness to the sector that had for a long time been missing.

In the five years up to 2021, there was a 100% increase in the number of students registering for the Disability Support Service at the university, while those coming from Further Education and Training courses in institutes like GTI had surged by 211% over four years.

“The message that we really need to get out there is that the CAO is not the only route into third level. There are a number of pathways,” says Imelda.

“There are loads of places set aside for students coming from a place of disadvantage,” she continues, whether it’s national schemes such as the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) for socio-economic disadvantage; or the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE); or the university’s own programme for mature students.

Those places are there to ensure those from all backgrounds get an opportunity to reach their education potential, tapping into hugely talented groups that once may have missed that opportunity.

“What we have seen is that when they get that opportunity, they do just as well if not better than other students,” continues Imelda.

For HEAR and DARE scheme applicants, and for those hoping to begin higher education as a mature student, next Wednesday’s CAO deadline is critically important.

But beyond the CAO applications, the Access Programme will open up in March to guide prospective students, whatever challenges they are facing, into third level.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway County Council ‘missing out on millions’ in derelict sites levies

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Photo of Cloonabinnia House

Galway County Council is missing out on millions of euro in untapped revenue due to a failure to compile a complete Derelict Sites Register.

That’s according to Galway East Sinn Féin representative, Louis O’Hara, who this week blasted the news that just three properties across the whole county are currently listed on the register.

As a result, Mr O’Hara said the Derelict Sites Levy was not being utilised effectively as countless crumbling properties remained unregistered – the levy amounts to 7% of the market value of the derelict property annually.

The former general election candidate said Galway County Council was ill-equipped to compile a proper list of derelict sites and called on Government to provide the necessary resources to tackle the scourge of dereliction across.

“There are still only three properties listed on Galway County Council’s Derelict Sites Register . . . anyone in Galway knows that this does not reflect the reality on the ground and more must be done to identify properties, and penalise owners who fail to maintain them,” said Mr O’Hara.

The situation was compounded by the fact that the Council failed to collect any of the levies due to them in 2021.

“This is deeply concerning when we know that dereliction is a blight on our communities. Derelict sites attract rats, anti-social behaviour and dumping, and are an eyesore in many of our local towns and villages.”

“The Derelict Sites Levy should be used as a tool by local authorities to raise revenue that can then be utilised to tackle dereliction, but they are not adequately resourced to identify and pursue these property owners,” said Mr O’Hara.

(Photo: The former Cloonabinnia House Hotel is on the Derelict Sites Register).
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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