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Polio baby who won the fight against adversity

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Lifestyle – Judy Murphy meets a man who has overcome one of the most feared illnesses to hit mankind

These days it’s unheard of in the developed world, thanks to vaccination, but in the early and mid 20th century until a safe, effective vaccine was developed, polio was one of the most feared illnesses a person could contract.

Poliomyelitis, as it is properly known, is an infectious viral condition that affects a person’s nervous system. It leads to muscle weakness and paralysis of varying degrees, depending on the nerves that are affected. There is treatment, but there is no cure.

For Galway city resident Tony Munnelly, who is originally from Doohoma near Belmullet, his leg, shoulders and lungs were affected when he was struck by polio as a baby and while he points out that he has “never let it interfere” with his life, polio did present him with difficulties that his able-bodied contemporaries didn’t have to face. It still does.

Tony was born in 1951 and got polio when he was just a year old. His sister who was two also got it, he says as he talks about the illness – and how he is now being affected by a condition known as Post-Polio Syndrome, which can occur in older people who have lived with the disease all their lives.

As a child, Tony was sent to Dublin for treatment and spent almost 12 years there between Cappagh Orthopaedic Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital in Baldoyle – there was no treatment facility locally.

Because he was so young, he can’t remember all the details, but observes that he never really got to know his mother and father due to that childhood separation and never felt a ‘child-parent’ bond with them.

There’s a sadness about him as he relates this aspect of his story, but there isn’t a screed of self-pity. In fact, self-pity is not present at any point during our conversation.

“I’m not badly off,” he points out. And he adds that life was different then. His father worked in England for eight months of the year, as was common during the economic climate of the time. His mother stayed at home, rearing the family and looking after her parents-in-law. It was not possible for her to visit Tony in Dublin, although his father used to call on the way home to Mayo from England. But, effectively he was a stranger.

“To me the nuns [Good Shepherds who ran Baldoyle and Cappagh] were my mother and father.”

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Bowing out after 31 years’ service

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James Harrold with the owner of Claregalway Castle, Eamonn O'Donoghue, (left) in July 2019 when he officially launched the bilingual publication, The Claregalway Castle Project which celebrated the history and restoration of the castle.

James C Harrold has played a key role in Galway’s artistic life for more than three decades. The retiring City Arts officer reflects on his years working in the county and city, and shares memories of artists, events and places, while also looking to the future.

 

Since 1990 I have been working with the artists, arts organisations, communities and neighbourhoods of Galway; for ten years as City and County Arts Officer, and subsequently specifically in the city. I had returned to Galway from Wexford Arts Centre where I had been Artistic Director, but before that I had spent a lot of time in the West. Every childhood summer was enjoyed in Barna, I went to college here, to UCG, and had worked with Galway Arts Festival, the Arts Centre and Macnas.

My romantic and adoring view of Galway originated in early-years visits to Kennys’ with my bibliophile father, or to Charles Lamb’s studio in Carraroe, or to my mother’s family in musical Belclare at the foot of Knockma.

‘Galway is a paradise,’ I stated firmly in a newspaper profile to mark my appointment.

I was one of the first of the new Local Authority Arts Officers, co-funded by the Arts Council with a brief to develop local arts.

Based in possibly Ireland’s oldest prefab at the back of the County Buildings in Prospect Hill, a handy base to explore from, create and curate projects, networks and funding opportunities, I was tasked to advise and assist the city and county in policy, programming and grant aid. My dear friend and college colleague Michael Diskin had returned to Galway on the same day, February 19th.

For the next 22 years, with Mike from 1994 ensconced in the Town Hall Theatre we met two or three times a week. Back in the ‘80s we had been inspired by Ollie Jennings and Páraic Breathnach, who had laid the foundations for so much of Galway’s creative reputation. We were following in their mighty footsteps and developing our own pathways too.

Early forays into the county involved bringing Little John Nee to the towns and villages every weekend that summer. His children’s shows, mainly open-air in the little market squares of east and north Galway opened conversations that are continuing still.

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

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Connacht Tribune

Eileen set to soar in Seagull

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Eileen Walsh.

When Cork-born actress Eileen Walsh got a phone call from Druid’s Artistic Director Garry Hynes a few months ago, asking her to take part in the company’s next production – Thomas Kilroy’s version of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull – Eileen didn’t hesitate.

“I knew it would be outdoors and Druid have a history of doing huge projects outdoors, successfully. So, I knew it would happen even if Covid went mad again,” she says. Eileen, who lives in London, had already seen a couple of projects fall by the wayside because of the pandemic, but this would be different, she knew.

She had another reason for accepting too – it would mean reuniting onstage with Marty Rea and Marie Mullen, performers for whom she has huge regard. Eileen previously worked with them on other Druid projects, including 2012’s acclaimed DruidMurphy, featuring three plays by Tuam writer, Tom Murphy. More recently, in 2019, she and Marty received rave reviews for their performances in Beginnings, a contemporary play about dating, at the Gate Theatre.

“Working with Marty is always a joy and working with Marie is also a draw,” Eileen says as she gets ready for the first ‘tech’ (technical rehearsal) in Coole Park outside Gort, where The Seagull is being staged, under strict adherence to Covid-19 guidelines.

“Yesterday, upstairs in the rehearsal space in Druid Theatre, we had a moment,” she adds with a laugh. “We were all in one room doing our lines together and the specialness of all – being double-vaxxed and working – wasn’t lost on us.”

Thomas Kilroy’s version of Chekhov’s tragicomedy premiered in London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1981. It’s set in a large country house in the West of Ireland at the time of the Irish literary Renaissance – which was when Chekhov had written the original. The Seagull is a play about family, love, theatricality and jealousy, set in a world where the Anglo-Irish ascendancy presided over the Irish peasantry. But, echoing the original, this was a world on the cusp of change.

Eileen plays Isobel Desmond, with Jack Gleeson (Game of Thrones) as her son Constantine,  both of whom are back from London to spend summer at this house – their ancestral home.

Read the full interview in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Country Living

A day when Tuam Races put paid to the innocence of a young punter

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The date was Friday, July 31, 1970, and the race was the Carling Black Label Maiden Plate with Lucky in Love, ridden by P. Sullivan just edging it from None Better with M. Kennedy on the saddle. The Tuam Races drew large crowds for their one big day of the year before the reins were pulled in 1973. Photo researched by Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Country Living with Francis Farragher

I couldn’t even remotely claim to have any knowledge of the gee-gees although here and there I’d have the odd little flutter on a horse, and of late, Pateen has been kind enough to me with a couple of good wins across the water. Pateen of course is called after Galway three-in-a-row start, Pat or ‘Pateen’ Donellan, with his original owner, the late Michael Corcoran of solid Dunmore stock.

My childhood memory of horses probably relates to that of many people of a certain generation where the horse – and indeed the donkey as well – were the mainstays of farming life and especially for ageing farmers who just had no interest whatsoever in the purchase of a second-hand or a rebuilt Massey Ferguson. (Ruanes of Athenry were the great specialists of the time in rebuilt Masseys).

We owned the most imperious of a black gelding, his only concession to colour contrast being a white face, and whose pulling power was lauded across the village. But he was never an animal to be taken for granted and especially during the later summer season when the quills or horse flies could provoke him into a sudden and sometimes violent enough tantrum. Only my father could handle him with a mixture of firmness and platitudes but our equine warrior still managed to overturn a load or two of oats or hay when negotiating dodgy gaps that bit too impatiently.

His ageing demise and subsequent sale coincided with my journey into teenage years and that loss of childhood innocence when the realisation strikes that life is transient, made all the more poignant by the fact that it coincided with the gradual decline of my father as he slipped into the 70s and the sunset years of life.

The Galway Races though were always special even if we didn’t venture into Ballybrit that much as a family, as invariably there was always hay to be saved, although a ‘concession’ would often be made in terms of calling into a neighbour’s house with a television to watch The Hurdle or The Plate.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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