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Research creates an educated population

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Date Published: 30-Jul-2010

DAMMIT, the government actually did something I like. It may be one thing in a million, but that makes it all the harder to ignore. I’ve been saying since forever that we need to invest more in research and development, and at last something seems to be coming of that.

Though the Taoiseach really needs to learn the proper lingo before he goes talking about it. Recently, in a speech before Wall Street’s finest, he’s reported to have described a new technology investment fund as "a honey pot for the best European entrepreneurs". Now as a metaphor, a honey pot means a baited trap. So what he’s telling the world here is that you come to Ireland because it smells sweet, you stay because it turns out to be a sticky mess. Of course, a lot of businesses have already discovered this.

But what interests me more than the new funding is the earlier investment that now seems to be bearing fruit. Immediately before the Wall Street launch, in what I assume wasn’t the least bit of a coincidence, government publicised its involvement in what they’re calling the Exemplar network, an advanced communications test-bed employing an Irish-invented technology called Verisma.

I’m not sure how to explain Verisma – mainly because it’s so cutting-edge that I’ve bugger all idea of how it works myself. But to put it crudely it’s a technology aimed at solving current and future problems with the internet.

With more and more data usage on mobile devices like phones, you just don’t know these days when and where bandwidth is going to be in demand. (Bandwidth being – to get even more crude – jargon for the speed at which the internet can be delivered.) Ten years ago you knew that a university for example was going to have a big demand for data, so you laid a big fat cable to it. These days, 80,000 people all at once might want high-speed mobile broadband in Croke Park. The next day they might want it at the beach. (Or more likely this weather, the pub.)

The Verisma technology is supposed to be able to make bandwidth available in different places at different times, according to demand. How do they do it? No idea; to me it sounds impossible. But it involves colour-changing laser beams, so it’s definitely cool.

But will it succeed? Or what really matters, will it help create an indigenous, cutting- edge industry? That is impossible to say. New technologies fail all the time. They don’t deliver on early promise, they work perfectly but just don’t find a market, they’re beaten to the punch by a competing solution. You never know what’s going to work. But the thing is you have invested in technology. That is a good in itself.

When an idea fails, what are you left with? People who now have more advanced education, more highly specialised knowledge, more real world experience – and probably, a whole bunch of new ideas. When a construction boom fails, all you’re left with is a bunch of crappy buildings that nobody wants to even see. Which makes more sense?

 

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

Call for poets to enter new competition

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Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust is seeking entries for a new poetry competition.

The winner will have her or his poem published and displayed on the Arts Corridor of University Hospital Galway as part of the 2013 Poems for Patience. This is a long-running series which has previously featured work by leading Irish and international poets including Seamus Heaney, Philip Schultz, Michael Longley, Vona Groarke, Jane Hirschfield and Tess Gallagher.

The winner will be invited to read her or his winning poem in April, at the launch of the Poems for Patience during the Cúirt International Festival. Prizes also include accommodation in Galway for one night during Cúirt.

Poems should be less than 30 lines long and must be the entrant’s original work. The entry fee for one poem is €10. For two or more, the entry fee is €7.50 per poem. Payment should be made by cheque or postal order to Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust. The closing date is Friday, March 1.

The judge is Kevin Higgins author of several books of poetry and Writer-in-Residence with Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust.

Entries should be posted to Margaret Flannery, Arts Director, Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust, Galway University Hospitals, University Hospital, Newcastle Road, Galway. Entrants should put their names and contact details on a separate sheet.

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Archive News

The true story of the saint that the church wanted to airbrush

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Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

Italian saint, Francis of Assisi will get a new lease of life in Francis, the Holy Jester, a free one-man show being performed at Muscailt Arts Festival on February 5.

The play about the renowned saint, who died in 1226 was written by Italian Nobel prize-winner Dario Fo, and this performance is by Mario Pirovano, a long-time collaborator with Fo, who translated the piece into English.

It embraces papal history, biblical stories, and controversial Italian politics while exploring the life of one of the Catholic Church’s most famous saints. It also shows how the medieval Church was so afraid of Francis and his relationship with ordinary people that it set about sanitising his legacy and elevating him above the reach of his followers.

Mario, who lives near to St Francis’s home of Assisi, speaks eloquently and passionately about the saint and the way that Dario Fo has brought the Francis’s message to modern audiences in a timeless, dramatic way, while casting new light on the famous Italian Franciscan monk.

But first, he explains why this was necessary.

Francis was born at the end of the 12th century and died at the age of 46. By then, he had created great embarrassment for the Church, simply because of the way he lived his life, explains Mario. He treated people in a genuinely Christian way and wanted to tell the Gospels in people’s own language rather than in Latin.

The Church hierarchy – what an awful word, he says – decided to rewrite the story of his life and, 50 years after his death, only one official account of his life was permitted by the authorities. That was written by a fellow Franciscan, St Bonaventure, who had been ordered to destroy many of Francis’s papers and write a sanitised biography. All other books on him were deemed heretical.

The Church was afraid of him, stresses Mario, and so decided to distance him from the ordinary people, by canonising him shortly after he died. Francis was the fastest saint ever produced in the history of the Church, being canonised within three years of passing on, says Mario. That took him away from ordinary people, as they felt they couldn’t aspire to such greatness.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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