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Picking a favourite word is a tricky business



Date Published: {J}

I’M in need of a new favourite word. Having cast an eye around the lang-scape and caught it again, I think I’m gonna go with ‘coatimundi’. The coatimundi is a reasonably cute but not very distinguished small mammal, with a long tail and a mobile snout that give it its nickname of the Brazilian aardvark.

Funnily, the smaller mammals do tend to have pretty good names. I am fond too of the bandicoot and especially of the agouti. But none has a name quite so redolent of weirdness in the leaf-litter as coatimundi. And as a bonus feature: it seems to be used in error more often than correctly. People call the whole species coatimundi, but the word really means a solitary male coati.

While my main reason for this choice is the sheer fact that ‘coatimundi’ is so much fun to say, I’d be lying if I pretended the meaning didn’t matter. I wouldn’t be dumping my old favourite word if I didn’t care about meanings. You see, my old one was ‘oubliette’, which is also huge fun to say. It means? Well it comes from the French verb for forgetting but has a diminutive noun ending, so I guess a natural translation would be a ‘forgetty’. Which sounds like a minor lapse of memory – but that ain’t what it actually means…

An oubliette is a dungeon that is only accessible by a hatch in the floor – the point being that once someone goes in there, they are never coming out. It’s a little place you throw people when you want to forget all about them. Fun word, unspeakably nasty thing. And you know, I would like my favourite word to be speakable.

I have toyed with others. As I believe I mentioned in this column many years ago, I’m quite keen on splanchnic, which means ‘of the internal organs’. It’s just that it sounds like it was inspired by the noise a heap of guts makes when it falls out of a whale and onto the deck of a ship. Splanchnic. Ew.

I’m wondering why there are so few modern words I really like. I think it’s language evolution in action. Any newly-invented word will be irritating because your immediate reaction is I did without this before, why should I use it now? And most of the time a new word actually is pointless and irritating. In business, they are usually transparent attempts to disguise truth. In culture, they are often invented deliberately to be annoying. Remember the mercifully brief vogue for the projectile-vomit-inducing ‘rosemantic’? I am truly sorry for reminding you of that.

Words like that are not meant to last. ‘Rightsizing’ will never replace ‘massive job losses’, I can’t really see myself calling any lady I know ‘shorty’. But now and again a new word survives – because it stands for an idea that couldn’t be expressed in an easier way. A case in point is ‘synergy’. I used to find that hugely irritating, but then one day I was looking for a word meaning new advantages that arise from combining things, and I realised that there wasn’t another single word for that. So, maybe synergy is OK.

But not as good as coatimundi. Go on, say it out loud. Coatimundi. Coatimundi!

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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