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Parlour games leave family home with room to improve



Date Published: {J}

Back in the days when television was black and white and there was no need for a remote control because we had only one channel, most houses had a room that no one ever went into.

The good room or the parlour was the exclusive preserve of the parish priest; occasionally it was opened if you had visitors from America – but otherwise the good couch was covered in a dust blanket and the entire family spent their downtime around the kitchen table.

The Kirwans in Co Kilkenny had maintained that tradition up to the arrival of architect Dermot Bannon and his Room to Improve team to the rolling fields around Knocktopher.

Series three is currently enjoyed a second run on RTE; well merited too, given that extending is the new moving – and here’s a man who is willing to help you accomplish that.

Dermot is not just an architect; he’s also a drama queen who has the ability to make the choosing of a kitchen seem as weighty as a debate on the pros and cons of NAMA.

He furrows his brow under his hard hat and takes on the appearance of a man who is preparing the next budget as opposed to one deliberating on the right sort of hardwood for the kitchen floor.

Perhaps it’s to make for better television but he rarely gets through a project without some major crisis – although the biggest issue he had with the Kirwans was the colour of their kitchen units.

Bridget and Michael Kirwan had bought their ex-council cottage in 1985. Built in the forties, it consisted of four basic rooms, with no bathroom or running water when they moved in.

They immediately added a basic extension to the full length of the back of their cottage to accommodate an extra bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom – and therein lies the source of their problem ever since.

The corridor is a space only marginally more useful than the redundant sitting room. The kitchen, meanwhile, is bursting at the seams with all the family flocking into its like sardines into a can.

Bridget and Michael have four children and two of them are already over six feet tall – daughter Roisin is 6′ 3" and son Michael 6′ 5".

The kitchen has one sofa where three of the Kirwans can sit; four, if sixteen year old Louise sits on her father’s knee!

There’s one small telly and it’s on the kitchen counter beside the sink; so if someone is washing up that’s the end of the goggle box.

Meanwhile the empty, television-free zone of a living room lies in splendid isolation; darker than a confessional box with arm chairs lined up like a nursing home, facing into the fireplace, all set off by the corridor that acts as a sort of no man’s land.

The sleeping arrangements were also somewhat unorthodox; the aforementioned six foot tall children are stuck in bunks but the biggest bedroom in the house is only used every third weekend when Bridget’s mother comes to stay.

The Kirwans called in Dermot and his team – and set him a budget of €65,000 which the architect saw as more of a target than a limit from the start.

Michael says he doesn’t want much change at all; Bridget says she likes simple changes – so clearly Dermot is the wrong man for them, because he likes change in the way that monkeys like bananas.

In fairness, though, the design is fairly standard stuff; changing the emphasis and the lay-out and throw in more space and light. The only problem is that there’s a crisis for Dermot every time one of the builders lifts a hammer.

Despite being dry-lined ten years ago, there’s actually no insulation in the walls, bar a thin strip of foil – or fresh air, as Michael puts it. All the wiring and the windows also need to be replaced which means the project is immediately over budget, by €8,000.

And it gets worse – because the floors in the old house are rotten, the walls are crooked and the ceilings need to come down. There’s more warmth in a fridge and now that the outside needs a sort of insulation cladding, the roof has to be extended so that it meets the thicker walls.

And when the dust settles, the Kirwans have a fine home, complete with the maroon kitchen units, loads of light and space – and in effect a brand new house.

So the children have their own beds, the sitting room is reclaimed as a living space and the kitchen has a space to flop down and watch the telly without the dinner table obscuring the view.

And Dermot furrows his brow before taking himself off to his next assignment, wreaking havoc on someone else’s life … and in the end, leaving them with the home of their dreams.

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

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

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



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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