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

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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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

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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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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