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The night the Ôrecruiting sergeantÕ came calling

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: {J}

We recently had what I think used to be called Vocations Sunday – and it brought back memories of the time when schools were visited by priests and brothers looking for possible entrants to the religious life, and one encounter I had with the system.

The visitors were, somewhat unkindly, described by my late lamented father as “the recruiting sergeants”. I only learned of the expression when we had one vocations seeker visit our school, I put down my name as a possible, and there was a resultant visit to my home one evening by a Brother.

For accuracy sake, I have to say here that my memory is a little hazy. Memory tells me it was a Brother was involved, a representative of the Christian Brothers, because of the impression left on me by one piece of film which they showed involving the glories of their novitiate buildings and the life of those in the novitiate.

In this context, it is interesting to note that one of the facts commented on in one of the reports on child abuse is that the training facilities for brothers were second to none, and that they received an excellent schooling on teaching. The report seemed to suggest that it was in later years that things could go wrong.

Of course, one of the potential weaknesses of the novitiate system in the days of the 1950s of which I am writing, was that it tended to take boys – or girls in the case of the female religious orders – at a very young age. It was often before they were in any way equipped to deal with questions such as how they wished to spend the rest of their lives.

In those times, it was usually a decision for life, unless one had extraordinary personal courage and left after some years. The idea of leaving an Order and going back home again seemed to have a degree of stigma attached at the time.

Certainly in my own case and my flirt with joining the Brothers, I can have been no more than 13 or 14 when ‘the recruiting sergeant’ called to the school, spoke at length to us, showed us a short film on the novitiate and the life of a religious, and then passed out leaflets on which one might express a further interest.

I think that, in retrospect, you have to remember the times that were in it. Opportunities were nil, and the chances of further education were nil unless you were the son of a bank manager, a doctor, or a teacher. Participation at third level was almost non-existent and the entry requirement seemed to be – could your ould fella produce a few hundred pounds for fees, books and digs.

I am not saying that I coldly calculated that such a move would get me through a sort of ‘third level’, but I clearly do remember thinking that the opportunity to get away from a strict home, get into the companionship of other lads, play football for hours, live in that magnificent looking novitiate, and study, seemed a very attractive proposition.

Those gleaming hallways of the novitiate, that quiet air of study and comradeship of others, the simply fantastic facilities for football and hurling, and the positively dreamy silence of the huge rooms and hallways, made it sound like quite a life.

Compared to all of this, what did a vow of celibacy seem . . . it was some kind of theoretical abstinence from something about which we were not quite sure, though we knew it involved girls and marriage.

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

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy



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

BallinasloeÕs young squad aiming to floor Armagh junior champs

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

A new chapter in the history of Ballinasloe football will be written at Breffni Park, Cavan, on Sunday when Sean Riddell’s young side take on Ulster champions An Port Mor of Armagh in the All-Ireland Junior semi-final (2pm).

It’s the first competitive game outside the province of Connacht in 33 years for Galway football’s ‘sleeping giant’ with the enticing prospect of an appearance at Croke Park on February 9 on offer for the winners of what should be a competitive tie.

Ballinasloe have romped through Connacht since overcoming a couple of tricky hurdles on their way to collecting the Galway junior title, which was their target for the campaign this time last year.

With a return to Intermediate football secured, Riddell’s youngsters really have nothing to lose – while their triumphant march to county and provincial titles has revived memories of the club’s glory days when they contested three Galway senior finals in a row between 1979 and ’81.

Intriguingly, the seniors of St Grellan’s never got to play in Croke Park when they reached the All-Ireland final back in 1980 – they lost by 3-9 to 0-8 to St Finbarr’s of Cork in Tipperary Town.

This team’s progression has provided rich rewards for an abundance of hard work at underage levels in the past ten to 15 years and the current side’s ‘do or die’ attitude was very much in evidence in the cliffhanger wins over Tuam and Clifden in the domestic championship.


They are a well-balanced side who really never know when they are beaten and have an inspirational leader in county panelist Keith Kelly, whose exploits at centre back have been among the key components in their dramatic run to reach the All-Ireland series.

Riddell, who recalls playing senior football with the club during their heyday, is determined to get Ballinasloe back among the county’s leading clubs but, for the moment, he is delighted just to have a shot at getting to Croke Park in a bid to emulate Clonbur’s achievement in winning the title outright last year.

Riddell went to Newry on a ‘spying mission’ to see the Armagh champions overcome Brackaville of Tyrone by 2-9 to 0-11 in November – and was impressed by the quality of the football produced by An Port Mor in the Ulster final.

“They are a nicely balanced side who play good football,” he said. “There was a bit of the physical stuff you’d expect from two Ulster side, but I was impressed by their performance.”

An Port Mor became the first Armagh side to win the provincial junior decider. First half goals from Shane Nugent and Christopher Lennon sent them on the road to victory, before a red card for Brackaville captain Cahir McGuinness eased their progress to the All-Ireland series.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Coalition promised an ocean of reform Ð but the wind has gone out of its sails

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 30-Jan-2013


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