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Some personal encounters with Dr Garret FitzGerald

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Date Published: {J}

As someone who has been involved in writing politics for the best part of 40 years, I met Garret FitzGerald when he was a young Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Liam Cosgrave administration, and later as Taoiseach, and over many years as a commentator.

He was a man of extraordinary attainment – economist, politician, political commentator, writer, and passionate conversationalist. But he carried the attainments lightly and without the slightest hint of self-importance.

He was more likely to appear with two odd shoes and a hole in the sole of one of them. Not for him the Charvet Shirt and the designer suit . . . indeed, if you put him into a designer suit, chances were that within a few hours he would be rumpled once again into the familiar figure you started out with some hours previously!

I first met him in Seapoint at a conference where he was a speaker as the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I can’t put a year on it, but it seems to have been in the early years of the 1973-77 Fine Gael-Labour Government which was led by Cosgrave.

As a reporter covering the event for some paper or other, I approached Dr FitzGerald for his script. He was embarrassed that he didn’t have one – especially as someone who had been making part of his living from journalism in one of his many other pursuits.

Quick as a flash he commandeered one of the ancient Remington typewriters which was in the press room, slammed into the machine a few sheets of paper with carbon between them, and lashed-off four typewritten pages in a matter of 20 minutes.

It was a can-do attitude which he never lost over all the years. I think I told you previously about the time they called the General Election in 1977 and had forgotten that, though they were ministers and still in government, the civil service availability was now withdrawn because of the election. Garret was the man who went out to Eason’s to buy the folders for the minister’s scripts, and admitted it years later.

One of his most enduring traits was approachability. I remember on one occasion when he was Taoiseach and I needed to collect a script. He was staying in the Ardilaun House Hotel and when I called there I was told that he was resting in his room. However, the word came down that I should go on up to the room.

In the room was his unfailingly charming wife, Joan. She offered me a cup of tea and we had the tea and talked while Garret was taking a nap on the bed in the same room. Garret, she said, liked to take a lie down for 15 minutes in the afternoon and found that the way to get to sleep was to bring any old sort of a novel with him and he would nod-off instantly. A few minutes later he was up and buzzing about the place.

One could imagine what would have happened had he brought something like the Aer Lingus schedules with him. On holiday, he liked to plough through the schedules and work out more efficient times for arrivals and departures. He was always something of a ‘number cruncher’.

Garret FitzGerald, to the dismay of some of his handlers and campaign managers, was hopeless in the middle of a crowd, talking smalltalk and clasping hands. Someone said Garret FitzGerald would shake hands with a baby while his arch rival Charlie Haughey would kiss the child.

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

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

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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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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