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Time that Ireland remembered its forgotten Irish



Date Published: {J}

For a land which sent tens of millions of its forebears to the furthest corners of the globe, Ireland hasn’t exactly flocked to print with stories of emigration and life so far away from home.

Perhaps it’s because the story doesn’t have a happy ending for so many of those who left their native land, but given that we’ve sent a multiple of our own population to make their lives in other hands, you’d have thought that it would warrant closer scrutiny.

School gave us Dialann Deoraí – Diary of an Exile – Dónall Mac Amhlaigh’s wonderful account of his life as a brickie in London, and Rotha Mór an tSaoil (The Big Wheel of Life) which was Micí MacGabhann’s story of the Klondike Gold Rush. But text books are just fodder for rote learning, and you need to come back to them when there isn’t an exam on the horizon.

Frank McCourt followed up his Angela’s Ashes with ‘Tis, an insight into the life of an Irish teacher in New York – and now we have a new arrival with a story more familiar than any before to tens of thousands who went to work on the buildings across the Atlantic.

Niall O’Dowd is a man of many parts – peacemaker, publisher, editor, broadcaster – but to that list add painter and brickie, because that’s what we started out as when he left Ireland at the end of the seventies.

And his book An Irish Voice tells the story of the Irish who flocked to San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Boston the last time we had an economic downturn that left a generation without jobs at home.

For a man who put together the American team that laid the foundations for the Good Friday Agreement, you’d have imagined that his autobiography would be dominated by his place in history – and all of that is there for sure.

But the most enthralling part of an Irish Voice is the times he spent on the margins, looking for jobs from Irish gangers in pubs, sleeping on the floor, being bullied on the building sites, setting up his own painting business when he knew nothing more than which hand to hold a paint brush in.

I had the privilege of interviewing him on stage last weekend as part of the Galway Arts Festival and – apart from his unassuming, gentle nature – what came across was a man who wanted his book to somehow address this vacuum of writing on emigration and emigrants.

He talked of the generation known as the Aer Lingus painters – the ones without qualifications who were known disparagingly by the name of the airline of which they arrived – and how the Irish looked after each other.

He told the story of the 300 pound Kerryman who didn’t just give him a job but who insisted on his guest taking the marital bed – only to then relegate his own wife to the settee as he settled in for the night beside his guest to whom he sang Irish songs until his wife told him to shut up at six in the morning.

Niall O’Dowd didn’t set out with a plan – like so many he was brought out by a GAA club for the summer – but 32 years later he never came home. And luckily for him, he became legal along the way.

For more, read this week’s Connacht 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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