Date Published: 15-Oct-2009
Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that the people of Tuam had fled to the hills and that the traffic on the streets had been replaced by tumbleweed – such was the attendance which turned to a public meeting held in the town on Monday evening.
A football team and their subs would have occupied more space in the 300-seater room of the Ard Ri House Hotel than the crowd that eventually turned out for the much publicised meeting, which turned out to be something of a fiasco.
In fact just 18 members of the public – taking into account that there is around a 7,000 population in the greater Tuam area – bothered to turn up to the public meeting which was organised by Tuam Town Council.
It wasn’t that it was a bad night or anything like that. The roads were certainly not blocked by snow drifts and there hadn’t been any significant rainfall in the Tuam area for the past three weeks so flooded roads was not an excuse.
Nor was it a shock that so few people turned out – there were nearly more politicians than there were members of the public – because a few years ago a similar public meeting failed to become the main attraction in Tuam. But for the fact that a few people trickled in from a novena in the local cathedral at the time, it would have been equally embarrassing.
Once again the main item on the agenda was the long running Tuam Hospital issue – and if it failed to draw an audience four or five years ago, there was little chance of it being a crowd puller this time around either. The lack of action over the issue has just worn people down and there is an acceptance that it just won’t happen.
While the intentions of the Tuam Town Council members, who put a lot of work into organising this meeting, were admirable, the people of the town spoke with their feet and told the elected members that they are just not interested anymore.
Not even the fact that there were other issues like the Tuam bypass, the Western Rail Corridor or…
The way we were – Protecting archives of our past
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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