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The Christmas present of a lifetime – from a pawn shop!



Date Published: 24-Dec-2009

I SEE there is some speculation that a new pawn shop may be opened in Galway – to some degree it is being taken as an indicator of the times, in that people might attempt to get cash for some of the things which have been lying about the place from the better times just past.

It is essential to understand that what happens at the centre of the typical pawn shop transaction is not that someone sells an item to the pawnbroker. What is happening is that the pawnbroker agrees to give what amounts to a loan that is a proportion of the total value of the item pawned.

Some time have a look at that marvellous Billy Wilder film Some Like It Hot, which surely will be shown on telly again this Christmas, and you will understand the essence of the transaction – as musicians Tony Curtis (Josephine) and Jack Lemmon (Daphne) put their instruments ‘into hock’ and take them back out again as they are needed.

The film is a key part of Christmas in our house, just as we have to see Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life. Somehow, I’ve gone off Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

However, back to the pawn shop. The customer is, allegedly, working on the basis that he/she will at some stage redeem the property. I have no real information as to precisely how much of the property is ever reclaimed, but from looking at the range of stuff lying in the windows of pawnshops in places like Dublin and London, the vast bulk of it is never reclaimed and is eventually sold off.

Of course, if there were to be a new pawn shop, it would not be the first Pawnbrokers in Galway. I well remember Elwoods Pawnbrokers in High Street – not far from Freaney’s pub – way back in the ’60s when I first came to Galway.

At that stage, of course, the only real life in that general area of the city revolved around Freaney’s, Kenny’s Bookshop, a fine hostelry known as Nora Crubs, McDonagh’s Fish Shop, and Neachtain Beag’s.

This was in the days long before the birth of the remarkable Druid. The area was then far from what one would call ‘the Latin Quarter’ and was a sort of adjunct of the Spanish Arch and City Docks area. However, there was always an old world feel to the streets and, especially for students, Nora Crubs had an ambience all of its own.

Can I say that Nora Crubs served the finest crubeens in the world . . . it was a very select hostelry indeed where you knocked and had to be known to gain admittance, while on the same street the pawnshop with its three brass balls over the door, served like some sort of minatory warning to the late night revellers that poverty was just around the corner.

For months, I was like a kid with my nose pressed against Elwood’s Window, while I considered whether I should become a customer of that shop. What I was watching was an Olivetti portable typewriter in the window which was for sale at £11. It was a wildly ambitious sum at a time when the weekly wages working as a reporter were in the region of £5. The money was easily disposed of when ‘the digs’ were £2, you sent £1 home to the auld fella wrapped in The Tribune, and there were various other incidentals in any young fellow’s week.

My budgeting was seriously helped by the fact that the owner of Seapoint, Noel Finan, regularly called to the Tribune to put his adverts into the paper, and he made a practice of issuing a huge number of hand-written free passes to Seapoint – which was then the social Mecca of Galway, with maybe 1,000 people per night dancing on the main nights, Thursday and Sunday.

Still, even to someone whose finances were artificially bouyed-up by ‘the Seapoint currency’ – a bit like the bubble economy of recent years built on a foundation which was dubious – the thought of handing over £11 to Elwoods was something that took long and deep consideration. For weeks I mooned about outside the window like a youngster in the run up to Christmas.

Having annoyed Elwoods to examine the Olivetti, tested it with a piece of paper, and in vain pointed out that the zip on the carrycase did not work properly, I parted with the £11. Maybe it was the best investment I ever made in my life . . . it is now long out of use and in an attic, but in a fairly recent foray into that dusty world, the Olivetti was still in working order, though badly in need of an overhaul.

The extraordinary thing was that I succeeded in making the cost of it back fairly quickly – through the sale of carbon copies of the evidence from a planning hearing involving the plans to build Leisureland. I had more than passable shorthand and could do a very detailed note.

It was not anything near ‘verbatim’ but I did have about 100 words per minute and, when the hearing on Leisureland went on, a solicitor approached me for a transcript. I grandly called it a ‘detailed contemporaneous note’. Typing the damned thing was a pain in the rear end, but the thought of that £4 for the transcript of the evidence, kept me going late into the night. Then, my luck really came good – for a second solicitor’s firm came looking for a transcript and I sold the ‘second carbon’ to him for £3.

The pawnbrokers would have been proud of me and my entrepreneurial spirit. The investment of a lifetime and made in a pawnshop at Christmas.


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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Jazz, folk and rock-inspired Syd Arthur set to hit the road



Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

Combining jazz, folk and rock influences, Syd Arthur play Róisín Dubh on Thursday, February 14. The Canterbury-based band are Liam Magill (vocals/guitar), Raven Bush (violin), Fred Rother (drums) and Joel Magill (bass). As he prepares to hit the road with the band, Joel recalls how they met.

“Me and Liam are brothers, so obviously we’ve known each other for a while,” he laughs. “We met Fred, our drummer, at school and started jamming together. Then we met Raven a bit later on, when I was 19 or 20. It went from there, basically.”

Some parents may be wary about their children going the rock ‘n’ route, but Joel and his friends met no such obstacles.

“We were always interested in it, and encouraged at school and by family,” he says. “Later on, the discovery of the Canterbury sound had a big influence on us.”

The ‘Canterbury sound’ refers to a scene that emerged in the late Sixties and early Seventies, spearheaded by groups with a taste for avant-garde and progressive rock music.


“I would always think of The Soft Machine and Caravan, and Hatfield and the North,” says Joel. “They’d be the big ones for us.”

In a previous incarnation, Joel and his bandmates went under the moniker of Grumpy Jumper. Why did they change their name?

“That was a long time ago, before Raven was in the band,” Joel explains. We were just playing locally and we made a CD under that name. When Raven joined, we felt like it was a new thing, so time to move on.”

Their new name comes from Siddhartha, a Buddhism-inspired novel written by Hermann Hesse.

“We all discovered that book around the same time,” says Joel. “It went round the whole band at the time we were trying to come up with a new name. We took a little bit of a play on it, made it a bit English. We used to pronounce the name of the book ‘Syd Arthur’.”

Last year, Syd Arthur released their debut album On And On, which was recorded in their own studio in Canterbury. Having their own space allowed the quartet to become familiar with recording, producing and mixing their music.

“Three or four years ago we got access to this space from Raven’s family,” says Joel. “It was an old dilapidated building that was on their property. We were often underwhelmed by going into the studio, spending a lot of money and generally not coming out with anything as good as one would hope.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Hope Springs eternal for Galway



Date Published: 31-Jan-2013


WITH every Spring there comes a dollop of hope and when Galway footballers trot out on Sunday at Pearse Stadium (2pm) to take on Derry in the first match of the National League, there will be murmurings of better days to come for the hard core of maroon supporters.

Patience has had to be a virtue for all involved with Galway football over recent years, but Alan Mulholland and his management team have embarked on a policy of building a young team . . . a slow process and one that also requires the injection of winning key matches to build up the confidence reserves.

Championship and qualifier defeats to Sligo and Antrim last season didn’t exactly improve the mood of the county, and last Sunday week in Enniscrone, there were worrying signs when, once more, Galway perished at the sword of Kevin Walsh.

This time last year in the first match of the league, Galway travelled to Derry and came away with an unexpected victory that sowed the seeds of future hope – overall, Mulholland’s charges had a good early season campaign only being denied promotion by a late, late Kildare penalty goal in their last game at Pearse Stadium.

Over the Winter, Galway’s last playing links with the All-Ireland winning team of 2001 were severed with the retirements of Padraic Joyce and Joe Bergin, so it really is a new canvas in 2013 for the team management.

Mulholland said this week that he didn’t want to put too much pressure on his team for the Derry match, on the basis that there were 14 points to be picked up over the course of the league campaign, but he was still hoping for a strong performance in Pearse Stadium.

“Yes, we were very disappointed at our defeat to Sligo in the FBD league match in Enniscrone and especially with our second-half performance. It was an eye-opener for us but we’ve regrouped since, we’ve taken a look at where things went wrong, and hopefully we’ll get in right for Sunday.

“I suppose that if there’s one thing a young team needs, it’s confidence and that comes from winning matches. Over the last couple of months, the lads really have put in a huge effort in terms of their physical preparation, and I am hoping that this will count for something over the course of the league,” Mulholland told Tribune Sport.

He did stress however that Derry will present a very strong challenge under new manager Brian McIver (who guided Donegal to National League success) – a man who has also placed his faith in a youth policy – with the county having delivered some strong performances in the McKenna Cup.

“There’s a lot of football talent in Derry and maybe like ourselves, they might feel that they should be doing better, but they’ll come to Pearse Stadium on Sunday with no fears, and we know that it will take a huge effort to beat them,” said Mulholland.

Derry didn’t make it through to the McKenna Cup decider but they were, by all accounts, desperately unlucky to lose out to Tyrone in their first round game when they were ‘caught’ by a late sucker punch goal from Conor McAliskey.

Eoin Bradley is also back to spice up things in the Derry attack and the Northern side always carry a strong physical element to their play, so Galway will need to hold their own in the 50-50 scraps for possession.

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

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