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The Galwayman spreading the EU gospel

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Date Published: 21-Oct-2009

One Galwayman who travelled home from Macedonia to vote in the Lisbon Treaty was much relieved when it was passed as his work in the Balkan states involves their eventual entry into the European Union.
In fact you could say that Erwan Fouéré is a modern missionary as he has worked in far flung places spreading the EU word.
Erwan is a native of Cleggan in Connemara and currently the EU Ambassador to Macedonia, which was formerly Yugoslavia, a country that has experienced political upheaval and a horrific civil war.
Erwan has always been interested in Europe and started working with the Union – then the EEC – a few years after finishing his law degree from UCD in 1967. In fact he was one of the first Irish people to go to Brussels and work for the institution in external relations when he was 27. Soon he was getting posts abroad and building up his knowledge of international affairs. In 1989, he was the youngest ever to head up an EU delegation to Mexico and the first ever to take a missionary post at the age of 43.
He has lived in Latin America and opened the first EU mission in South Africa, where he headed up a €120million commitment to help the country back on its economic feet following the fall of the apartheid regime.
There he saw the Truth and Reconciliation process first hand, which he says had a close relevance to the peace process in Northern Ireland and the Balkan situation, where the EU promotes and supports peace as a preamble to the countries preparing to join the EU.
Many would be surprised to hear that the EU has so much presence in other parts of the world, such as South Africa, but Erwan explains that political stability is important for economic development and that the EU’s success depends on strong trade links with the rest of the world.
He is also the first in the EU with a dual post – the special representative to Macedonia and head of the Commission delegation there. He says his responsibilities include security aspects and help mediate where necessary to strengthen EU cohesive policies.
“I was delighted with the result of the Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland because it gives us the one objective of political stability, important for the Balkan countries and their prospects of joining,” he says not wanting to contemplate how a different result would negate his work.
Erwan was always an EU fan having been an EEC advisor for AnCo visiting companies involved in training and before that he had been active in the European movement through student bodies of UCD.
Though he lives and works far from his native Connemara, he tries to make his “annual pilgrimage home”, though his father Yann, who will turn 100 next July has returned to live in his native Brittany.
Yann has written two volumes of his memoirs and one called La Maison en Connemara (The House in Connemara), outlining how he had been exiled from Brittany and came to live in Cleggan where he set up Cleggan Lobster Fisheries, which is now run by his son John, Erwan’s brother. Their sister is the actress Olwen Fouéré, who has just spent a whole month in Galway rehearsing for her newest play which opens soon in London.
Macedonia, he says, is “a beautiful country with a lot of mountains but it is landlocked and I must admit I do miss the sea.”
He is based in the capital, Skopje, and he only knows of two other Irishmen in the whole country, whom he meets from time to time. He speaks Spanish, French and German fairly fluently though he admits the Slav languages are proving to be a bit more difficult to master, so he uses interpreters.
He is close to retirement but sees himself remaining in the Balkans indefinitely doing voluntary work with the country’s Truth and Reconciliation process.
Erwan firmly believes that political stability is necessary for economic stability and his long term wish is for all the Balkan countries to be members of the EU, a concept he continues to believe in.
He describes himself as “a typical Irish bachelor” but not many of them run marathons or climb mountains as a hobby. “I did the New York marathon ten years ago and I used to always run under the EU flag.”
He keeps the Irish flag flying on days like St Patrick’s Day when he serves Irish whiskey in his office and marks the day by inviting the handful of ex-pats in that part of the world.
“Ireland is popular here. They look to Ireland as an example of emigration with a difficult history of poverty and unemployment. I always refer to the Irish experience.”
Will he write his own memoirs someday? Possibly, he answers, though he believes his work in preparing countries for EU membership is far from over. Because after all these years, this is one man who truly believes in his work and enjoys every day of it.

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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