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Visiting those gentle ghosts in a tiny Letterfrack cemetery

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Date Published: {J}

A suggestion has been made recently that a special occasion might be held in Letterfrack in memory of the children who were incarcerated there – the school was in existence from 1887 to 1974, and was the subject of a searing indictment in the report of the Commission on Child Abuse.

Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin has put forward the idea that, perhaps, the Senate might hold a sitting in Letterfrack, as some sort of official recognition of the institutionalised injustice and crime against children which took place there over many years.

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

In recent times we have, as a people, become a little more comfortable in dealing with some things in our national past. Certainly, in the case of Letterfrack, we have a long-running episode of extraordinary mistreatment of children which cries out for a communal response – other than a handful of convictions of some of the more notorious offenders who worked there.

The recall of children who were in care – and especially those who died in care – is becoming much more high-profile, but the recent spotlight on the youngsters who died in Letterfrack is more than merited . . . though, for some of us, the haunting memory of those children was not born today, nor yesterday.

Some of us have been a long time visiting that tiny graveyard in Letterfrack, with the memorial plaques which were set up by an ad hoc support group some years ago. Each memorial carries the name and the age of the boys buried there. They range in age from as young as four, to the early teens.

Some have remarked that they feel a brooding presence when they open the gate to this cemetery on a hillside overlooking the village of Letterfrack. I have certainly felt a powerful presence, but one that is not at all intimidating. Others have spoken of a similar instant emotional overload.

There are regular visitors to the cemetery. Some are just passers by, but there are callers who spend just a little time sitting on a seat alongside this communal burial plot. As one woman explained a few years ago . . . “they had no one to visit years ago, no one cared, I want to show them that I care and want to spend time just sitting here with them”.

You enter the cemetery precincts by a gate and a twisty hillside footpath and that atmosphere is there once you move into the cover of trees which shelter the pathway. Perhaps it’s the natural chill of the shade imparted by the trees. There is a coolness, though I stress that it is not threatening, or forbidding, or at least I don’t find it so.

It would indeed be a pity if the only lasting official recognition of the suffering endured by children in the years right up to the ‘70s were to be a few plaques on a hillside and the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Sexual Abuse.

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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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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