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Rebirth of a Galway master poet



Date Published: {J}

Galway poet Máirtín Ó Direáin, who died in 1988 was a leading figure on the Irish literary scene for most of his lifetime, but in his latter years and since his death, his star went into decline.

However, that may be set to change with the publication of a new collection of his poetry, Na Dánta: Máirtín Ó Direáin which is being launched at the Cumann Merriman Winter School this weekend to mark the 100th anniversary of the Aran-born writer’s birth.

The theme of the Cumann Merriman Winter School, which is based in the Hotel Meyrick in Eyre Square is Máirtín Ó Direáin: 1910-2010, and the Irish language event will feature a series of talks on his life and work given by renowned academics, as well as music and song from Connemara, with a particular focus on the culture of the Aran Islands.

This celebration is “timely because it is 100 years since he was born. But it might be even more timely to examine his poetry,” says Professor Mícheál Mac Craith of NUIG’s Roinn na Gaeilge who is speaking at the conference. “He was very much in the air until the end of the seventies. It is time to reassess him now,” adds Mícheál who has written extensively about the poet.

When Máirtín Ó Direáin first came on the literary scene in the late 1930s there was no tradition of writing modern Irish-language poetry in Ireland, according to the NUIG professor. Very shortly after that, Seán Ó Riordán and Máire Mac an tSaoi also came to public attention and the three of them were hugely influential. But when he began, Ó Direáin broke the mould. In fact, in 1977 he was awarded the Ossian Prize for Poetry, a German literary prize which was especially for people writing in minority languages. At the time, says Mícheál Mac Craith, it was the biggest prize awarded to an Irish writer since Yeats had won the Nobel Prize.

It was a big achievement for Máirtín Ó Direáin who was born into a small farm in Sruthán, Cill Rónain on November 26, 1910, the youngest of a family of four.

But this was a man who had the poetic bent from the word go, according to Mícheál.

“He was always admiring the scenery in Aran and getting in the way of hard work!

“Ó Direáin was just seven when his father died, so he was never introduced to the normal work routine of boys on Aran and he was a bit of an outsider, I suppose.”

He left school at 14, although he returned a couple of years later, and there was also a point at which he considered the priesthood but the flu epidemic of 1924 put paid to that plan.

In 1928 Ó Direáin passed the Post Office exams, and began working in Galway, where he remained until 1937, serving for a time as secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge’s Galway branch. During his period in the city he became involved with the Taibhdhearc, taking part in the new company’s first ever production, Diarmuid agus Gráinne, and many observers feel that it was around then that he began to develop his interest in literature.

“He used to write articles about Aran in Galway newspapers and he had written a few short stories that were pretty mediocre, but he didn’t write a word of prose until he went to Dublin,” says Mícheál Mac Craith.

That happened in 1937 when he got a job as a clerical officer in the Civil Service and moved to the capital, where he was subsequently inspired to write poetry after a lecture he attended. His first collection was published in 1942, with a collection Rogha Dánta being published in 1949.

Mícheál Mac Craith feels that Ó Direáin’s desire to write poetry may have come about because this Irish speaker from Aran was lonely in Dublin.

For more, read page 27 of this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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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