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There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio

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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

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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

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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

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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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