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The night the Ôrecruiting sergeantÕ came calling



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



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



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

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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