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Treasures of past inspire Brendan’s debut book

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Date Published: 11-Jan-2013

The author of a new book on Eyre Square can well claim to be an authority on writer Pádraic Ó Conaire as it was his chosen subject for his second Masters degree.

Brendan McGowan, who turned 37 on Wednesday, loves his job as Mediator and Development Officer at the Galway City Museum and is thrilled with his new publication, which commemorates the 300th anniversary of the Square being handed over to the city.

He had already completed a Masters on the writer and Albert Power’s iconic limestone sculpture of Sean Phádraic, so had carried out a lot of research into Eyre Square.

“I have always hated the idea of spending one or two years on a Masters and then having all that work gathering dust just lying there on a shelf. It seemed only right to put together a book out of that research to coincide with the 300th anniversary year,” says Brendan.

That was his second Masters (and was awarded by the University of Ulster). His first was in Irish Heritage from the GMIT where he started out in civil engineering.

“I did engineering for two years but didn’t really like it but I liked Galway so stayed around.” After mapping graveyards in the Connemara area for the Galway Family History Society, he realised his real passion.

Brendan is a Mayo man whose father is from Donegal and mother is from Leeds, where his parents met and where his grandparents had a well known pub, The Regent.

His first Masters was on Irish emigrants (mostly from Mayo) in Leeds and he discovered having a connection with The Regent was a valuable entrée to the Irish community he needed to talk to for his research.

“I loved that research. I still have an uncle in Leeds so I spent the days talking to members of the Irish community and nights enjoying a few pints with my uncle! But often I felt bad enjoying myself in the evenings after interviewing people living in council flats in high rise buildings surrounded by drug addicts,” says Brendan who also interviewed Irish who had carved out a good life for themselves in Leeds.

He loves geography, history and folklore as much as he loves research and is already working on two more publications.

His knowledge of Eyre Square is wide and is not confined to the statue of Sean Phádraic which is now in the Galway City Museum.

The book charts the era from when it was a fairgreen outside the city walls in medieval times to it being handed over by the Eyre family to the city and focuses on the many monuments that were in the Square since then.

As it happens, it was not just the Sean Phádraic statue which proved controversial when it was removed from there during the most recent refurbishment works.

There was also the Lord Dunkellin monument which was removed in 1922 as soon as the British Army vacated Renmore Barracks. The Lord was hated locally. The bronze statue made by renowned artist, John Henry Foley, was removed from its plinth by a mob and dumped in the river – Brendan recently discovered that it was almost immediately retrieved and melted down. The plinth was subsequently used for the Castlegar Civil War Monument on the Tuam Road, which Brendan finds ironic.

Brendan loves hearing stories, even more so, when they throw more light on an historical event. It is no doubt his curiosity and genuine interest in people’s stories which make him a good researcher.

He appreciates how many people believe the Sean Phádraic statue should still be in the Square but he believes it is in the right place.

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

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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Archive News

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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