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Se‡n talks the talk in seven languages



Date Published: {J}

Ever since he was in national school, Seán Ó Riain always loved learning – and unlike most pupils, he didn’t have a favourite subject. He was what might be called a swot.

But, being wise, he kept his passion for learning quiet, realising that most people didn’t share it. Nonetheless, he studied on, and at the age of 16, went to UCG to study Arts.

Because he was so young the Tipperary born student was sent to stay with his uncle’s family in Galway. For two years Seán lived with Michael Leahy – Fianna Fáil Mayor of Galway on several occasions, notably during US President Ronald Reagan’s visit in 1984 – and Michael’s family in Renmore.

Seán did his degree in Galway, followed by a H Dip in Education and an MA in Irish. He subsequently went on to take a PhD in Irish in Trinity and has since built a successful career in the Department of Foreign Affairs, currently being based in Brussels. He speaks Irish, French, German, Polish, Welsh, Scots Gallic . . . and Esperanto.

Esperanto is a topic, which causes Seán – the current president of the European Esperanto Union – to bubble with enthusiasm, and he says he could talk about it for hours.

This language was invented at the end of the 19th century by Dr LL Zamenhof (1859-1917). He lived in what is now Poland, but was then divided between Russia, Germany and Austria, explains Seán. Zamenhof grew up in Warsaw, a city of 30,000 people, where five languages were spoken – Russian, German, Polish, Ukranian and Yiddish, with Yiddish being most common.

This situation left a lot of room for misunderstanding and conflict, and Zamenhof wanted to change this. He felt a neutral language that would allow people to communicate on terms of equality, would prevent powerful nations such as Russia imposing its language on weaker neighbours.

It was a vision that struck a chord in early 20th century Ireland, a country with a powerful neighbour which also imposed its will. Two of the 1916 leaders, James Connolly and Joseph Mary Plunkett were fluent Esperanto speakers.

Many of the root words of Esperanto come from European languages with Latin, French, German and English all contributing. But, says Seán, its grammar is easier than any of the languages from which it is drawn.

In the beginning, it was called Lingva Internacia – the International Language. But when Zamenhof introduced it publicly, he used the name Dr Esperanto, which means ‘Doctor who hopes’, and eventually it just became known as Esperanto.

Seán first heard of Esperanto as a 14-year-old schoolboy at school in Roscrea in 1969, when an international conference on the language was held in Dublin. He and a group of fellow students clubbed together and bought a ‘Teach Yourself Esperanto’ book.

“But the general attitude among the teachers was negative,” he recalls, and the boys’ enthusiasm waned. He paid off the others and kept the book.

However, it was many years later – with several other languages under his belt – that he returned to it.

For more, read 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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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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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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