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State must care for those who won’t be home for Christmas

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: {J}

Two weeks from Christmas and there are hundreds of Galway families who will be forced to spend the festive season dependent on the charity of family or friends after their homes were destroyed by the recent floods. There are dozens of businesses too who are not alone desperately trying to get their premises back into working order, but they’re at the same time missing out on the most lucrative few weeks of the economic year.

And still the Government pays lip service to their suffering, announcing a paltry aid package which is rigidly means tested and forcing them to depend on charity to get them through this nightmare. Yesterday’s Budget was always going to be the main focus for Government over the past month, but its mealy-mouthed response to the flooding crisis across the South and West showed how out of touch this Cabinet has become from the people.

There was no real cognisance of the human suffering of so many; no acceptance of the nightmare they were dealing with in towns, villages and on underwater farms up and down the county.

Even now, there is a lack of real commitment to, firstly, getting people back into their homes and, secondly, to addressing how it will work to prevent a re-occurrence of this scale of disaster again.

There have been many suggestions, ranging from dredging the main rivers – the Shannon in particular – to remove the build-up of silt over the years to coming up with a comprehensive flood prevention programme. Most of the focus must be on preventing this happening in the future, but attention also needs to be given as to how and why it happened in the first place.

Why was planning permission given to build so many housing estates on traditional flood plains? Did the construction of the new M6 play any part in forcing displaced water to higher levels? Was the response all that it should have been?

The emergency services are certainly not to blame because they – and local authority workers – pulled out all the stops. So too did communities who proved that the fastest way to resolving a crisis is to bypass bureaucracy altogether.

But why wasn’t the fire service officially deployed in relief work from the start? Why wasn’t the army called out to help with flood relief or at the very least to fill and place sandbags as a barrier in vulnerable areas? Why was so much left to the heroism of ordinary people who risked life and limb through the night to ease the flow of water through their neighbours’ homes?

Why did it take the Taoiseach so long to even visit the flooded areas – and even then he seemed to be travelling with one hand as long as the other; offering a mere €10 million or €12 million as though this was the cure-all compensation package when it reality it wouldn’t suffice to repair one village?

Yes, this was an unprecedented event and it would have been impossible for any Government anywhere to have a plan of action that would have ensured no damage at all.

But unfortunately it probably won’t be too long before we see a nightmare like this unfurling again – and what initiatives will the Government have announced by then to make sure we minimise the impact of the floods next time?

Average compensation pay-outs of €300 are just adding insult to injury and, while no one wants to substitute State pay-outs for domestic insurance, there is a critical need to acknowledge the scale if the crisis as well.

This is a nightmare for families whose homes have been destroyed; even if they get them habitable for Christmas, so much has been lost. Many won’t even manage that and for them the nightmare goes on.

Every taxpayer in the land is worse off after yesterday’s Budget, but those of us still in our homes and looking forward to Christmas it two weeks time can take relative comfort from that.

For the rest, the State has a duty to alleviate the suffering of those who won’t be home for Christmas, who won’t be able to farm their land for a few months yet, who won’t be back in business before the end of 2009. We may be broke but we’re not so broke that we can turn our backs on our neighbours in their time of greatest need.

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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