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Our fear of death is at root of all our other problems

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Date Published: {J}

The problem begins, strange as it may seem, with belief in our own immortality. If we can truly be said to believe in something we cannot imagine. What does it mean, to live forever? Our minds do not begin to grasp the infinite. All we perceive is an elusive moment that echoes away; behind as dreams and half-rememberings, before us in glances through unnumbered doors. This evanescent existence is our true experience of life, nothing about it has any permanence at all. How did we ever conceive the idea of living forever?

We never did – we simply failed to imagine its opposite. We do not want to contemplate death. We may not really be capable. To consider what it means not to exist is like asking what it feels like not to feel. So we reject the concept of our own non-existence. And if there must be no death, then the only other possibility is unending life. The idea may make no better sense but it is at least less strange and threatening.

That is what passes for belief with a lot of things – not so much the real conviction that something is true, but the preference for that idea over its unpalatable alternative. And yet even such ill-founded beliefs have enormous power. Not, sadly, to make us all live better lives.

There are billions of people on this earth who profess to have immortal souls, that their actions during these few decades will make all the difference between infinite joy and infinite pain. Yet surely someone convinced of that would lead a life dedicated to boundless generosity and self-sacrifice. I think I can safely say that we do not inhabit a world crowded with those unselfish people. For the vast majority, the immortality of the soul is less an absolute conviction, more a comforting idea.

Where this belief really does have power though is as a tool of rhetoric. It’s the trump card of the moral argument pack, the winner every time. Who could disagree that nothing is worth more than one’s immortal soul? This may seem odd when the idea has such a shaky logical basis, but here’s the trick: You cannot reject it without rejecting the religion in its entirety.

Anybody who stands up and says "But what if there is no eternal salvation?" is straight off the pitch. It is, for a religious organisation, quite simply unthinkable.

Now for everything to go completely wrong, you only need to ally this with the notion that your religious organisation is the only sure pathway to that salvation. It immediately follows that in order to save those immortal souls, faith in the church must be preserved. So although in private it can admit to itself that it has its failings and imperfections, it sees no alternative but to suppress the truth.

Preserve the glorious image, the luminous example. Cover up. Lapses are, at very worst, spontaneous moments of human failure – never fundamental flaws in the religion itself. Because anything is better than the loss of the immortal soul. Even the protracted, systematic raping of children.

You can comment on this by logging on to www.galwaynews.ie”

 

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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