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Twenty years in just twenty paragraphs…

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Date Published: 17-Aug-2012

TWO weeks ago I was at my friend The Goat’s 65th birthday party in Clifden, and as Stretch tuned up his guitar with a few bars of Pink Floyd, I realised that it had been 20 years since I first walked into Terry’s in Clifden and watched these boys play… (cue wavy screen and diddydiddlydiddly harp music…)

It’s April 9, 1992, and the Conservatives have won their fourth consecutive English General Election. I’ve just finished writing a novel, feel the British public deserve their Tory fate, walk into a travel agents’ and ask for the cheapest one-way ticket out of the country. £39 flies me to Malaga and then I hitch, looking for a new home.

Saturday August 1, I step off the French ferry from Roscoff onto Irish soil for the first time. Over the previous 20 years I’ve been around the planet a couple of times, but never visited the country next door. I have neither friends nor family here, no addresses, a clean sheet, which feels perfect. I’ve run out of countries, so Ireland’s going to be my home. Flipping on the TV in a Cork City B&B, I watch the Galway Races.

After cold calling for jobs in Cork I head to Kinsale, work split shifts as a kitchen porter while living in a hostel, go mad and flee to Galway, where I fall deeply in love with Connemara. I find a room to rent in Salthill. It’s 24 hour party people, Crusties and lost souls such as myself.

One month later I have this colyoom and a FAS course working as a youth worker in the Rahoon Flats. Escaping the other blow-ins, I meet the mightiest crew of local lads in the shape of Blitz, The Body and Whispering Blue, but exhausted by the craic, I plot my escape from Galway.

May 1994 sees me loading all my worldlies into the back of my transit van and driving off to the first house I’ve ever lived in alone. Off the road between Ballyconneely and Slyne Head, Bunowen is bliss. I walk and write another novel and walk more and write six columns under six different names and then fall in love and move to America to be married.

Four years later I return to Galway, failed and lost, to be rescued by old friends who offer me a room to rent in their house in the Claddagh. The good people of this noble rag offer me back this colyoom, for which I am truly grateful.

Evidently I’d had to leave my home to realise that, after a lifetime’s search, I’d already found it in the West of Ireland. Whiskey and mayhem ensue between Taylor’s Bar and Harriet’s Nimmo’s, but I keep it together enough to open and run a charity shop for Age Action, write minority sports interviews for the Irish Examiner and plot my escape from Galway.

The Snapper serves me at Nimmo’s and my life once more becomes a C&W song: “Just when luuuuurvve’s a million miles from my mii-iind, she smiles and pours me a glass of wii-ii-iine.”

In March 2001, I move to a beautiful farmhouse outside Killala, Co Mayo, but am then trapped indoors by the Foot and Mouth epidemic. I’m writing this colyoom and Diary of a Blow-In, a column for the Irish Examiner, and selling bags of features to the Examiner and the Irish Post in London, but I’m such an emotional wreck from my failed marriage, I can’t write fiction.

My first two years in that house are exceptionally happy. North Mayo is Ireland’s best kept secret, with virgin white sand beaches and the most excellent bunch of people, pleased to have me in their midst.

By my third year in Killala I realise that no locals ever visit my house. Scenting the first whiffs of loneliness, I start to plot my escape to Galway. Ironically, the entire village arrives at my house to throw me a surprise leaving party. Truly wonderful, if only they’d visited earlier.

Eventually I find a one bedroom house in Salthill and get a job as a youth worker in Ballybane. My boss is so brilliant at his work, I learn as much about myself as the teenagers with whom I’m working.

The Snapper and I move into a new house together. Sadly I leave my job, as I’m spending so much time in England with my chronically unwell father. I’m finally getting to grips with the fourth novel, and then my father dies and the Snapper and I are married two weeks later. With the help of friends we throw a wedding bash at Massimo’s that blows us and half of Galway away; truly a celebration of life.

The Celtic Tiger dies, the freelance market dries up, and this colyoom is cancelled in 2009. I go through a deeply dark year with no income and no Dole, forced to spend my father’s inheritance just to buy the groceries, which breaks my heart.

I work crazy hours trying to earn money and when our families buy us a holiday, I end up in a French hospital with a massive panic attack.

Time to learn that I’m not invulnerable. At Public School they told us we were worthless pieces of scum and exceptionally gifted leaders of men, which screwed me and most of my friends up for life, but now I know: showing weakness is allowed.

I sell a couple of features to the Irish Times, but columns are rare as sunny Galway summers. The Snapper and I hunker down with the rest of the nation, moving out to a lovely house, half an hour from Galway. At last I don’t have to plot an escape, because now I have both country and city. A couple of months later this noble rag offers me back this colyoom. Hoorah.

This is a very Happy Anniversary! Thank you, the West Of Ireland! Here’s to the next 20!

We drink to life – L’Chaim!

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

Macnas for shows in China and Australia

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Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

Community Theatre Group Macnas has a busy couple of months ahead as company members prepare for performances in China in February and Australia in March.

They will premiere Chaosmos, a newly devised piece at the Chaoyang International Spring Carnival in Beijing from February 10-15 while their Boy Explorer heads to the WOMAdelaide festival in Australia from March 7-11.

Initiated in 2002, the Chaoyang International Spring Carnival is a highly anticipated event taking place over the Chinese New Year Holiday period with an attendance of more than 400,000 visitors. This year Ireland has been awarded ‘Country of Honour’ by the Festival and with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs Macnas have been invited to showcase Irish Street Theatre and celebrate Chinese New Year in an uniquely Macnas way.

Choasmos is an exciting, ethereal performance with vivid and stunning costumes, bespoke imagery, stilting beasts, masked performers, musicians, suitcases, lotions, potions, a music box and a bag of curiosities, according to General Manager of Macnas, Sharon O’Grady.

Meanwhile, the well-travelled Boy Explorer, who began a Quest for Brilliant Ideas in Ireland last year, will continue his journey Down Under with an appearance at Peter Gabriel’s International Music and Arts Festival, WOMADelaide, in South Australia. The Boy will rub shoulders with music legend Jimmy Cliff as well as some of the world’s leading music performers and over 15,000 visitors each day.

Although he tested his sea legs on a trip to Scoil Ronáin on Inis Mór in December, this is the Boy Explorer’s first time going overseas and casting his net further afield.

It’s a very exciting time for the company, with so much new work in the offing and many requests to present at home and abroad. “This will be one of the most exciting years in the long history of the company”, says Sharon.

In the early years of Macnas, the company toured extensively at home and abroad, and most famously supported U2 on their international Zoorapa tour. However in subsequent years, there were problems in the company, largely due to the lack of a permanent Artistic Director.

 

Since city woman Noeline Kavanagh took over that role nearly five years ago, Macnas has entered a new era of creativity and its invitations to China and Australia, following successful outings to festivals in the UK in 2012, reflect that.

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Archive News

London snow the perfect preparation says Gabriels camp

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Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

Killimordaly manager Tom Monaghan agreed that the deteriorating conditions in the closing stages of his side’s All-Ireland intermediate club semi-final defeat to London champions St Gabriel’s made the outcome of the championship tie in Birr a lottery.

Highlighting it was a gloomy end to their campaign, especially given all the hard work they had put in over the winter, Monaghan – a former St Gabriel’s player himself – added: “It is disappointing. In fairness to our lads, they showed great character and they kept going at Gabriels and they never surrendered.

“Even when we went down a man in the opening minutes of the second half, we coped well with it and came back and finished out to get extra-time. I thought we might have an advantage when it went to extra-time but then we conceded the [second Gabriel’s] goal from a free in the second period of extra-time and that was it.”

Monaghan believed the unfortunate sending off of Killimordaly’s Niall Earls for a second bookable early in the second half had an adverse effect as his 14-man side had to work even harder in energy sapping conditions to remain in touch.

“When you lose a man on a day like today, and the conditions that were in it, an extra man was always going to be a huge advantage. I think you are always going to have to give a player the benefit of the doubt on a day like this because conditions didn’t lend to good hurling. Unfortunately, though, that didn’t happen,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, most Londoners may have bemoaned the Arctic temperatures that almost brought their nation’s capital – and country – to a standstill last week but, as it transpired, the St Gabriel’s camp said it proved to be the perfect training environment ahead of their All-Ireland intermediate club semi-final win over Killimordaly.

Having had to train in snow and sub-zero conditions was not conducive to good hurling but, in saying that, both Gabriel’s manager Tommy Duane and team captain Aidan Ryan believed it helped to steel the London champions for similar weather conditions – with a little thunder and lightning thrown in – during last Sunday’s epic clash.

 

Given Irish people just love to talk about the weather, it was not a surprise it would become the hot topic of discussion throughout the afternoon in Birr. “You know, we have trained in all kinds of conditions and the last couple of weeks we have been training in snow,” said captain and Craughwell native Ryan.

“There were some awful days there in Northwick Park where John Kearney from Oranmore came over and trained us. You know, those conditions were worse than what we dealt with today. So, we were ready.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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