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Rich pickings on the cards if punters row in behind the brilliant Ruby

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: {J}

John McIntyre

THEY thought it couldn’t be done. Up to last year’s Cheltenham Festival, three jockeys had stood apart at the great March meeting. Jamie Osborne (1992), Tony McCoy (1998) and Barry Geraghty (2003) each had the notable distinction of riding five winners at jump racing’s Olympics . . . but now one man is out on his own.

Ruby Walsh turned up at the 2009 Cheltenham festival with an impressive book of rides, but nobody envisaged that Ireland’s champion jockey would go on to dominate the four-day fixture in the most sensational manner. Not alone did Walsh win seven of the meeting’s 26 races, he came within a head of landing all four flagship events.

Only Punjabi, which narrowly edged out Celestial Halo in the opening day feature, prevented Walsh from achieving the unthinkable of a clean sweep in the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, The Ladbrokes World Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Think about it for a few seconds . . . Walsh was that close to racing immortality.

As it stands, he has long since booked his place among National Hunt’s greatest-ever jockeys. Apart from continued dominance of the Irish scene, he has struck up a staggeringly successful alliance with the UK’s top trainer, Paul Nicholls, and they have continued to dominate the big chases this season.

With Willie Mullins providing the heavy artillery at home, Walsh may have no shortage of firepower to pick from, but his big race temperament, tactical judgement and strength in a finish undoubtedly make him the best in the game at present.

Walsh, who was also Cheltenham’s leading jockey in 2004, ’06 and ’08, has been the toast of Irish punters in the Cotswolds for many years and, there is no doubt, that his legion of supporters will be banking on the 30-year-old continuing his stunning strike-rate next week. He is in a league of his own at present and another festival bonanza looks on the cards.

In general, 2009 was a memorable meeting for the Irish raiding party, finishing with nine winners, including Walsh’s treble for Mullins on Quevega (David Nicholson Mares Hurdle), Mikael D’haguenet (Ballymore Novices Hurdle) and Cooldine (RSA Chase). Many punters will, as usual, latch onto Walsh’s mounts and if he can continue booting home the winners at Cheltenham, the bookmakers will again be forced to dive for cover.

Walsh, who trails Pat Taaffe (25 winners) by just one in the all-time Cheltenham festival jockeys’ roll of honour, will be on five strong ante post favourites next week – namely, Master Minded (Champion Chase), Kauto Star (Gold Cup), Big Buck’s (Ladbrokes World Hurdle), Quevega (David Nicholson Mares Hurdle) and Poquelin (Ryanair Chase) and with a host of other fancied mounts, including Secant Star in the Triumph Hurdle, it’s easy to understand why the layers are only quoting miserly odds of 1/2 against his successful retention of the leading riders’ crown.

Big Buck’s is probably perceived as Walsh’s festival banker giving the reigning champion’s continued dominance of the staying hurdle division, but he represents shocking value (8/13) and , in the circumstances, it’s surely worth rowing in behind Tidal Bay, the former Arkle Chase winner, and another horse which has reverted to the smaller obstacles after losing his way over fences.

Furthermore, Howard Johnson’s inmate has only been beaten once over hurdles and created a big impression in making short work of a decent enough field in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January. Tidal Bay remains unexposed over the three mile trip and having a good track record (four wins from eight runs) is another positive. The nine-year-old is tipped to topple the meeting’s likeliest short priced market leader. Karabak looks best of the rest.

Walsh will again be partnering Celestial Halo in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle, but the front-running six-year-old has been drifting in the betting after getting turned over by the revitalised Khyber Kim in the Boylesports International Hurdle at Cheltenham last December before having no answer to Solwhit in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown the following month. Both runs were disappointing in the context of a barnstorming seasonal re-appearance in a handicap at Wincanton.

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

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy

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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

Henshaw and McSharry set to field for Irish Wolfhounds in clash with England Saxons

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

CONNACHT’S rising stars Robbie Henshaw and Dave McSharry look set to named in the starting xv for the Ireland Wolfhounds who face the England Saxons in Galway this weekend when the team is announced later today (Thursday).

Robbie Henshaw is the only out-and-out full-back that was named Tuesday in the 23-man squad that will take on the English at the Sportsground this Friday (7.45pm).

Connacht’s centre McSharry and Ulster’s Darren Cave are the only two specialist centres named in the 23 man squad, which would also suggest the two youngsters are in line for a starting place.

Former Connacht out-half, Ian Keatley, Leinster’s second out-half Ian Madigan and Ulster’s number 10 Paddy Jackson and winger Andrew Trimble, although not specialist full-backs or centres, can all slot into the 12, 13 and 15 jerseys, however you’d expect the Irish management will hand debuts to Henshaw and McSharry given that they’ll be playing on their home turf.

Aged 19, Henshaw was still playing Schools Cup rugby last season. The Athlone born Connacht Academy back burst onto the scene at the beginning of the season when he filled the number 15 position for injured captain Gavin Duffy.

The Marist College and former Ireland U19 representative was so assured under the high ball, so impressive on the counter-attack and astute with the boot, that he retained the full-back position when Duffy returned from injury.

Connacht coach Eric Elwood should be commended for giving the young Buccaneers clubman a chance to shine and Henshaw has grasped that opportunity with both hands, lighting up the RaboDirect PRO 12 and Heineken Cup campaigns for the Westerners this season.

Henshaw has played in all 19 of Connacht’s games this season and his man-of-the-match display last weekend in the Heineken Cup against Zebre caught the eye of Irish attack coach, Les Kiss.

“We’re really excited about his development. He had to step into the breach when Connacht lost Gavin Duffy, and he was playing 13 earlier in the year. When he had to put his hand up for that, he’s done an exceptional job,” Kiss said.

The 22-year-old McSharry was desperately unlucky to miss out on Declan Kidney’s Ireland squad for the autumn internationals and the Dubliner will relish the opportunity this Friday night to show-off his speed, turn of foot, deft hands and finishing prowess that has been a mark of this season, in particular, with Connacht.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Drinks battle brewing as kettle sales go off the boil

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

You’d have thought there might have been three certainties in Irish life – death, taxes and the cup of tea – but it now seems that our post-tiger sophistication in endangering the consumption of the nation’s second favourite beverage.

Because with all of our new-fangled coffee machines, percolators, cappuccino and expresso makers, sales of the humble kettle are falling faster than our hopes of a write-off on the promissory note.

And even when we do make tea, we don’t need a tea pot – it’s all tea bags these days because nobody wants a mouthful of tea leaves, unless they’re planning to have their fortune told.

Sales of kettles are in decline as consumers opt for fancy coffee makers, hot water dispensers and other methods to make their beverages – at least that’s the case in the UK and there’s no reason to think it’s any different here.

And it’s only seems like yesterday when, if the hearth was the heart of every home, the kettle that hung over the inglenook fireplace or whistled gently on the range, was the soul.

You’d see groups gathered in bogs, footing turf and then breaking off to boil the battered old kettle for a well-earned break.

The first thing that happened when you dropped into someone’s home was the host saying: “Hold on until I stick on the kettle.”

When the prodigal son arrived home for the Christmas, first item on the agenda was a cup of tea; when bad news was delivered, the pain was eased with a cuppa; last thing at night was tea with a biscuit.

The arrival of electric kettles meant there was no longer an eternal search for matches to light the gas; we even had little electric coils that would boil water into tea in our cup if you were mean enough or unlucky enough to be making tea for one.

We went away on sun holidays, armed with an ocean of lotion and a suitcase full of Denny’s sausages and Barry’s Tea. Spanish tea just wasn’t the same and there was nothing like a nice brew to lift the sagging spirits.

We even coped with the arrival of coffee because for a long time it was just Maxwell House or Nescafe granules which might have seemed like the height of sophistication – but they still required a kettle.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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