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The indelible mark the Leaving Cert makes on your dreams



Date Published: {J}

You wouldn’t need Jean Byrne in her latest shiny dress to predict that the weather was always going to take a sudden turn for the better this week – after all you only have to hint at the start of the Leaving Cert for the sun to suddenly shine.

And even now – 30 years to the week after I entered the gymnasium in St Mary’s College with my sweaty pen and my unsure future in my hands – the mere thought of the Leaving can still bring me out in a cold sweat.

There are so many people who say their recurring nightmare is to suddenly find themselves sitting at their exam desk with a Maths paper and as many foolscap folders as you could ever need – only to realise that they haven’t studied a single thing for the most important three hours of their life.

That’s the impact the Leaving has and it’s an imprint that never leaves. Time may heal other wounds, but the Leaving Cert is a sore that is opened in perpetuity during the first week of June for the rest of your natural life.

I can’t remember a single thing that came up in a single exam but I can still see myself sitting at the flimsiest of folding desk – with enough room for the exam paper, some writing paper, a pen and, at a push, one elbow – with enough butterflies to qualify for an environmental grant.

And in complete contrast, at no stage in my life since have I experienced the level of euphoria that I felt as I walked out of my final exam more than two weeks later – Home Economics; Social and Scientific as it was, a subject I’d never had a class in or opened a book for and which still earned me a pass in an honours paper.

It must have been how Nelson Mandela felt as he walked from Robben Island – free at last, although there were no cameras to greet us as we exited the giant gates. But against that we didn’t have Winnie hanging onto us for the next few years either.

And now that we were all grown up, we celebrated like we’d won the World Cup, ending up on the floor of some flat off Dominick Street unable to remember your name but still able to remember your Leaving Cert exam number. That was the indelible mark it left on your brain.

It goes without saying that the Leaving Cert is unbelievably cruel and hugely unfair, but you have to have some common test and they still haven’t designed a better one.

Thankfully there’s more emphasis these days on the oral aspect of languages because back then you could get an honour in French or Spanish and not be able to ask for a beer in either country.

But the notion of your future being determined by three hours in an exam hall is ludicrous; for a start, some people perform better than others under that kind of pressure and coolness under fire isn’t an exam subject at all.

Equally – as the cram colleges have proved by taking it to a fine art – there are ways of learning off chunks of your syllabus by rote to the point where it should be called regurgitation as opposed to revision.

The fact that you retain so little of what you learn over the first 18 years of your life for use in any aspect of your life from then on, tells its own story.

It remains one of life’s great mysteries as to how you can spend so long learning something off by heart and then within a matter of minutes it is erased from your memory as though you’d experienced the very early onset of dementia.

Patronising pundits always try to hold up a handful of people who failed their Leaving but still did well in life, as proof that the world doesn’t end with a bad result.

Everyone knows it doesn’t – but a poor result sure stacks up the odds against you.

The pressure that will be placed on 60,000 Leaving Certs next week – and in a relative way on their Junior Cert counterparts – is way too much, but it won’t be changing any time soon.

The only consolation, as they sit there in the shadow of the sunshine, is that life will never ever throw up three weeks as stressful again.

And presuming that all goes reasonably well between now and June 24 at the latest, you can at least look forward to that sense of relief and euphoria that – like the exam itself – you will never experience again.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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



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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