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The strange profession of those ‘Men in Black’

Francis Farragher

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Service with a smile from Abbeyknockmoy's 'Men in Black' – local undertakers, Paddy Mannion and Gerry Delaney – pictured at the arrival of the new ‘funeral car’ last week. PHOTO: JOHNNY RYAN PHOTOGRAPHY.

Country Living with Francis Farragher

As an old piece of black humour about undertakers goes: “it’ll always end in tears,” but over the years I’ve developed a sneaky admiration for the profession, as in contrast to the famous line from Yeats, about ‘casting a cold eye on life and death’, the ‘Men in Black’, tend to give a warmer glance at that taxing time when we shed our mortal coils.

Out the country, undertakers take on a status that leaves them in a strange kind of place, a conduit between this life and the next, the linking carriage on the train of mortality between the doctor and the priest, as family and friends bid farewell to a loved one.

Here and there though, I do have moments of concern as regards the unfailing interest of the two local undertakers in my health, as I’m occasionally beset with a bout of coughing after a slug from my pint. They do probably mean well, but deep down I know that some day, in the great coffin store hidden away from public view, there’s a box left out for me. (Hopefully not in both places!).

Irish writer, John McKenna, sums up rather delightfully the slightly unusual relationship that exists between undertaker and potential clients for the future, in this little verse:

“Each time, I pass the undertaker’s store,

I swear, I see him wink and gently smile.

Behind him, through a widely open door,

A vast array of coffins to beguile,

Like invitations issued year on year,

To parties that are bound to end in tears.”

On the purely business side of things, it’s a competitive market too, especially where two undertakers operate from the one village, with stiff rivalry between the parties as to who gets what. Traditionally, some families will give their custom to the one undertaker and this continues on through the generations.

Anyway, there we were in the local Mannion hostelry in Abbey, on a particularly benign July evening last week, with little else on a rather bland conversation agenda other than the weather and how the turf was ‘coming on’ over the summer, when the excitement levels rose and word broke that the new hearse had arrived outside the front door, and quite an impressive piece of mechanical engineering it was. It gleamed impressively under the glint of the dozing evening sun – a softly purring Merc’, all of 18 feet long with automatic transmission and a glass chamber that any body would be proud to be transported in.

The same night, big John Deeres and Massey Fergusons thudded by on the N63, their day’s work still not complete as fields of late summer grass remained to be felled. Those big machines though drew little attention from the customers who had their made way outside Mannion’s Bar and were – in the words of John McKenna – ‘beguiled’ by the arrival of the impressive bus of the last journeys.

Undertaking is, at the end of the day, a business, but surely it’s not one for the faint hearted and like the way of life of the publican, there’s nearly a necessity to be brought up with it from an early age. Sensitivity and professionalism are probably the two key words of the trade but the close contact of undertakers with families at times of acute grief, has meant that the profession holds a place close to the heart of many families.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

CITY TRIBUNE

Council’s ‘systematic neglect’ of Irish in Ireland’s bilingual city

Dara Bradley

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An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnail, whose report was critical of Galway City Council.

Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column with Dara Bradley

Oifig an Coimisinéir Teanga, an office established to safeguard language rights, published its annual report for 2020 recently.

In it, Galway City Council was criticised for erecting a large number of Covid-19 signage last year, written in English only.

The investigation, which was used as an example in the annual report, was not new. It was covered in the Tribune in January, after the Council had its knuckles rapped.

But publication of the report by Rónán Ó Domhnaill highlights once again the general attitude of officialdom towards the Irish language.

Galway was declared a bilingual city by the local authority that didn’t bother to use Irish on its Covid-19 signs. What does that tell us?

Basically, that the cúpla focal are good for restaurant menus and street signs when we’re trying to shake down the Yanks for dollars, but Gaeilge is surplus to requirements when using signs to tell people how to stay safe when there’s a killer virus on the loose.

The Council put its hands up when An Coimisinéir Teanga launched an investigation following a complaint made in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

And after the annual report was published, it even sent its Irish-language officer onto the airwaves of RnaG to declare “tá sorry orm” on behalf of the Council.

The Council argued, as a mitigating factor, that breaches of the Official Languages Act occurred when it was, “operating under unprecedented circumstances in the middle of a global health pandemic which resulted in a significant percentage of our staff operating remotely in crisis-management mode”.

Far from mitigating, it actually just made it worse. If the State won’t communicate with you in your native tongue during a global crisis, when will it respect your rights?

You could argue, ‘why burden the Council with red tape about bilingual signs during Covid?’ But doing it correctly and not breaching the Act, was just as easy. We see bilingual Covid signage all the time now. Why not do it right in the first place?

An Coimisinéir Teanga’s investigation found: “The erection of bilingual signage was simply omitted. This failure was caused by systematic neglect in the administrative practices of the City Council in relation to language legislation.”

Systematic neglect, no less; in other words, they couldn’t be arsed about Irish.

Unless, of course, it’s useful for winning Capital of Culture designations or wooing American tourists. City Hall is all about Gaeilge then.

(Photo: An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnail, whose report was critical of Galway City Council).
This is a shortened preview version of Bradley Bytes. To read more, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Homeowners living in fear of walls coming tumbling down

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Pyrite and Mica-affected homeowners protest this week at Dublin’s Convention Centre.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Mica and Pyrite are two words that have been lifted from a technical manual or a science textbook to become part of common speech in Ireland in recent years. The presence of both substances in construction materials has had devastating consequences for families from Donegal, Mayo, Limerick, Sligo and other counties. We have seen the TV documentaries and newspaper reports where distraught homeowners show huge cracks in the gables of houses or show a block to the camera that is crumbling in their hands like dust.

Sometimes it looks like somebody has built a giant bungalow-shaped sandcastle that’s going to be washed away by the next spring tide.

We are talking about people’s family homes here. This is where all the life savings – past, present and future – have gone. They (or rather their builders) bought the blocks in good faith, little knowing they were so defective they would endanger their houses, and indeed their own lives.

As Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald remarked in the Dáil this week about these families: “They go to bed at night wondering will their gable end fall down or will the chimney on their neighbour’s house fall down.”

So who is to blame? The companies who manufactured the blocks? The State for not having robust safety standards for the material or manufacture of blocks? The State, again, for not conducting sufficient inspection?

It’s complicated. Like Pyrite, apportioning blame is a tricky business. What is not in doubt is that people who have built family homes cannot live in them anymore, because they are dangerous and falling apart, and it is not their fault. They deserve compensation.

The focus of the Sinn Féin motion this week was for the families to get 100 per cent open-ended compensation. That would mean the State would foot the entire bill to remediate their houses, to rectify the faults, and sometimes to rebuild the whole lot.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Exam points are not the only measure of education success

Dave O'Connell

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Dave O'Connell

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

By now, the next batch of around 60,000 students set for third-level education are over a week into the Leaving Cert – the exam that will determine what course they attain a place in for the new academic year.

Their success – added to the performances of their class-mates – will determine their alma mater’s position in what are commonly known as the school league tables.

This is a calculation of how successful a secondary school is, based entirely on the number of its Leaving Certs it gets into third-level education.

In turn – based on this – parents will choose where to send their little bundles of joy when the time comes for them to make the transition from primary to second-level.

And it’s such an arbitrary method of determining the relative success or failure of a centre of education, because it leaves so much out of the equation.

Firstly, it means performance is entirely based on the numbers who go on to third-level, ignoring those who gain apprenticeships or go straight into the workplace.

Admittedly, that’s not a large cohort these days because Careers Guidance seems to begin and end with helping you to choose the right course, not the right career.

But more fundamentally, getting a good student to pass his or her exams and gain a place in college isn’t the ultimate test of a teacher; getting a student who is struggling with reading or writing to a level where they comfortably do both is a far better achievement for any teacher.

Bringing a student who is in danger of failing mathematics, for example, to a position where they pass their exams – but more importantly understand how it works – should be recognised in any measure of performance.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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