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There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio



Date Published: {J}

It’s extraordinary how we appear to get what one could describe as ‘seasons’ when what are claimed to be ‘spiritual events’ take place – whether it’s moving statues in Ballinspittle, or the Virgin Mary allegedly appearing at Knock.

In the case of the latter, another visit seems to be scheduled for early December, so it’s possible that, despite the active discouragement of the Archbishop of Tuam, thousands will again be in Knock.

These ‘events’ take all sorts of forms. For instance, not too many years ago there were regular claims of the appearance of what could only be described as ‘shapes’ on the inside wall of a church in County Galway. That was in Fahy, off the main Galway-Dublin road and not too far from Loughrea.

Many hundreds of people went to the local small church to see what looked, essentially, like an imperfection in a wall, but which it was claimed had a greater significance. Prayers were offered and special devotions were held, and ‘divil the bit of harm’ was in any of it, though to describe it as any way linked to extraordinary happenings, would be fanciful indeed. Well, perhaps it was extraordinary that so many were praying.

Like many another curious observer, I went along there as a reporter for this newspaper, and for radio. What I found was that a huge congregation had gathered, there was much praying and supplication for petitions, and one would need a pretty active imagination to see anything special about the staining on the wall. It just seemed like a damp spot!If I never had the experience of seeing nothing in Fahy, I still don’t think that I would have had to have been in Knock one weekend recently to be convinced that it was probably unlikely that the Virgin Mary would appear in the sun.

But, provided that no one was being duped, that the occasion was not being exploited in some way, or that the crowds not dangerous, the event seemed surely harmless. The official Church, of course, must discourage such occurrences lest we go down the road of apparitions at every crossroads. There seems little doubt that it will, eventually, go the way of all such alleged happenings . . . well, Ballinspittle is now no more than a quirky folk memory built around a particularly wet Summer.

Obviously, over the centuries, there have been remarkable happenings and ones that are much more enduring and difficult to explain, but it would appear that attempting to be in touch with the spiritual world, or something less wordly than the world in which we live, is a lot less dramatic and requires a lot more hard work that simply hopping into your car on a Sunday afternoon and ‘going to see the apparition’.

There seems little doubt that the gathering of people can engender a special atmosphere – no one would claim miracle working in the case of the Solemn Novena, for instance, but yet the coming together of many can be uplifting for even the most cynical amongst us. In parts of the ceremony, such as the reading of petitions dealing with illness, especially child illness, a communal wish for something can be a powerful and moving experience.

I remember that at the Papal Mass in Ballybrit, the momentary ‘oneness’ of perhaps quarter of a million people, did generate something special – a palpable ‘electricity’ in the air. Was it a chemistry, proximity of so many people, or something else that made it particularly moving? My recollection is that, momentarily, it awed even hardened international newsmen from around the world who were gathered into a special press area.

A short time later they were shrugging their shoulders, calling it good theatre, and cynical again, but any of them with the mind to admit it knew that, for a few seconds, they had a special experience. Of course, they explained it away as ‘all those kids singing and going crazy about this guy in white at the centre of a piece of magnificent theatre’. Well it was that – or face a much more profound question.

I have to be careful at this point about my perceived reputation as something of a practising agnostic. My religion, I’m afraid, tends to wax and wane, like many a one, based on the degree to which I find myself in trouble, unwell, or in need of something urgently from God, or whoever. It could be Padre Pio, St Anthony, Jose Maria Escriva (the Opus Dei founder), or any other intermediary in the calendar of saints.

Having heard the petitions at the Novena, and seen the supplications which can be anything from a recommended prayer, to a rag tied on to a tree beside a holy well, I no longer simply dismiss these things as I once did. Can it be that, as one gets slightly older, and perhaps more subject to the infirmities which life can hurl in one’s direction, one becomes more receptive to the idea that help may come from whatever quarter and one should never rule it out.

There is also the point that some of the places associated with a muttered prayer, are amongst the most tranquil in a world that can sometimes be fairly strident. Take for instance the St Nicholas Collegiate Church in the very centre of Galway – perhaps it is the sheer passage of so many years which radiates from the walls that makes this such a quiet place. A place where – dare I say it – one might pray!

The older I get, the more I tend to go with the idea that life is a deal more complicated that I thought not too many years ago. For instance, not too very long ago I would have dismissed the whole world of alternative and complementary medicine as mumbo jumbo. Not anymore. So, if there’s an alleged happening in Knock which everyone else dismisses . . . I’ll be sceptical, but I’ll go with the idea of diversity.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

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

Olive helps people deal with cancer diagnosis



Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

None of us wants to get cancer and nor do we want to see anybody we love suffer from it either. However, the fact is that one in every three of us will be diagnosed with the illness at some time in our lives. About 30,000 people a year get cancer in Ireland, but according to Olive Gallagher from the Irish Cancer Society, mostly it’s not serious and can be treated.

For anyone who has to deal with cancer, it’d be a blessing to have Olive on your side. She is the Irish Cancer Society’s Daffodil Nurse at UHG, who supports and advises people who have been diagnosed with the illness and also supports their families.

It’s a role the former Oncology Sister sees as hugely important in patients’ lives.

The Daffodil Centre opened in 2009 at University Hospital Galway. The first in the Ireland, it is now one of seven countrywide. Olive has been at UHG Centre for the past 15 months. Before that she worked in oncology wards in St Luke’s in Dublin and in the Galway Clinic.

Olive describes the Daffodil Nurse’s role as bringing information to people at the point of diagnosis and treatment.

“It’s here and it’s free and you don’t need an appointment,” she says from her tiny office on the ground floor of the hospital.

“I don’t know what’s going to come in the door any day. It could be the patient, or it could be brothers, sisters, a parent or a child, looking for practical or emotional support.”

Her role is to help them, whatever is required.

“It’s very practical information sometimes, such as ‘what can I expect from chemo?’ because having knowledge takes a lot of the fear out of it. And it’s also saying to people ‘you are not alone’. When a person goes into a [cancer] clinic and gets information from a doctor or nurse there is only so much you can retain. For instance, a woman with a diagnosis is trying to protect her husband and her kids, so this is somewhere she can come to and acknowledge her fears and get psychological support.

“And if we don’t know the answer to something someone asks us, we’ll find out.”

People are sent to her by nurses or doctors and also hear about the service via word of mouth.

Olive doesn’t have access to patients’ case notes or have any information about them, except what a person chooses to tell her. She’s just there to help.

“When people need help to navigate their way through the system, it’s there. Sometimes it’s about helping them to verbalise questions for the doctor – to give them the language to discuss their illness, or to break down the language for them.”

She also helps with information on diet and complementary therapies, and says that “coming here is about people having a bit of control. Decisions are being made for them in the system and this is about giving them back a bit of power”.

Basically, it’s about patients having somebody there for them and also for family members who might want a coffee and a chat.

“Not to feel on your own is what a lot of it is about. If there is good news, great. But we are also there for the bad news and to support people. For me oncology nursing was always about the person and what you could do to make their journey easier. Sometimes it’s about holding a hand or sitting with somebody.

“We are there when people need us. And everybody’s needs are different. Some people want loads of information about what’s happening to their bodies and others want the bare minimum. Neither is right nor wrong.”

Some people can be angry and just want to vent, which is OK too.

“It’s about being where they are in their journey, giving them a safe place, where they can let stuff out in a confidential environment.”


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

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Archive News

Jazz, folk and rock-inspired Syd Arthur set to hit the road



Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

Combining jazz, folk and rock influences, Syd Arthur play Róisín Dubh on Thursday, February 14. The Canterbury-based band are Liam Magill (vocals/guitar), Raven Bush (violin), Fred Rother (drums) and Joel Magill (bass). As he prepares to hit the road with the band, Joel recalls how they met.

“Me and Liam are brothers, so obviously we’ve known each other for a while,” he laughs. “We met Fred, our drummer, at school and started jamming together. Then we met Raven a bit later on, when I was 19 or 20. It went from there, basically.”

Some parents may be wary about their children going the rock ‘n’ route, but Joel and his friends met no such obstacles.

“We were always interested in it, and encouraged at school and by family,” he says. “Later on, the discovery of the Canterbury sound had a big influence on us.”

The ‘Canterbury sound’ refers to a scene that emerged in the late Sixties and early Seventies, spearheaded by groups with a taste for avant-garde and progressive rock music.


“I would always think of The Soft Machine and Caravan, and Hatfield and the North,” says Joel. “They’d be the big ones for us.”

In a previous incarnation, Joel and his bandmates went under the moniker of Grumpy Jumper. Why did they change their name?

“That was a long time ago, before Raven was in the band,” Joel explains. We were just playing locally and we made a CD under that name. When Raven joined, we felt like it was a new thing, so time to move on.”

Their new name comes from Siddhartha, a Buddhism-inspired novel written by Hermann Hesse.

“We all discovered that book around the same time,” says Joel. “It went round the whole band at the time we were trying to come up with a new name. We took a little bit of a play on it, made it a bit English. We used to pronounce the name of the book ‘Syd Arthur’.”

Last year, Syd Arthur released their debut album On And On, which was recorded in their own studio in Canterbury. Having their own space allowed the quartet to become familiar with recording, producing and mixing their music.

“Three or four years ago we got access to this space from Raven’s family,” says Joel. “It was an old dilapidated building that was on their property. We were often underwhelmed by going into the studio, spending a lot of money and generally not coming out with anything as good as one would hope.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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