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Visitors step back in time for lesson in city’s history

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 23-Aug-2012

The chances are that most of us who visit a foreign city will opt for a guided tour of our destination to find out more about its history and culture.

It’s something we rarely do at home. But a swashbuckling new initiative, spearheaded by Fáilte Ireland and Galway City’s Latin Quarter, is offering visitors and locals alike a fresh take on the city’s medieval history and some of its most famous landmarks.

Tribes Alive! is written by Páraic Breathnach and directed by Rod Goodall, whose creative partnership stretches back to the 1980s when they were both leading lights in Macnas Theatre Company. The 60-minute walking tour will be given by four local actors who will recreate – in a lively manner – some of the more colourful events from Galway’s past.

“There will be drumming and duels and fish throwing and some issues being left unresolved in true historical fashion,” says the author, who designed and sourced the props for the piece as well as writing it.

“The tour is a real history in terms of days and dates and references – and then I interpret the facts using different characters,” Páraic explains.

The performance tour begins and ends at the city’s Museum, with the story of how Galway got its name kick-starting this unusual history lesson.

“I did a similar event for Cúirt a few years ago – it was a literary history of Galway and it got a great response,” says Páraic of the background to this project.

Participants will be divided into groups, representing families from the city’s 14 famous medieval merchant tribes. Galway had its own coins in medieval times, so they will also be given special money for the duration of the event. This will be used to pay tolls and to buy drink in Blake’s Tower at the bottom of Quay Street, which will be used as both a prison and a bar during the dramatic tour.

“We give a sense of this being a powerful city, at the crossing of the river into Connacht and also an international sea port,” says Páraic of Galway’s role in medieval times.

Some of the characters who will step from the pages of history include Humanity Dick Martin, born in 1754, who founded the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. There is the famous United Irishman, Theobald Wolfe Tone who was executed for his role in the 1798 rising; the 13th century Richard de Burgo, otherwise known as The Red Earl; and the 15th century explorer Christopher Columbus. No history of Galway would be complete without a Claddagh fishwife, according to the author, and in this instance, his creation is arrested for trying to sell fish to tourists.

Each scene in the tour is about three or four minutes long, explains Páraic – when writing the piece he used research carried out by Bord Fáilte’s on the mechanics of staging a history tour.

That research provided him with techniques for building moments of excitement, giving trails of information and allowing time for people to communicate with the actors.

Before putting pen to paper, Páraic did some background historical work on the events he wanted to recreate.

“I knew all the stories but there was a lot of research on dates and details and the language of the time.

“There are bilingual elements in it, and there are bits of French and Spanish of course,” says Páraic, referring to Galway’s historic trading links with France and Spain, which were at their peak during the Middle Ages.

The city was a wealthy one during this period, and at the 14th century Hall of the Red Earl (behind the Quays Bar) people will be given information on the type of menu that would have been served at a medieval feast, including eel soup.

“The first municipal building in Galway was the Hall of the Red Earl,” says Páraic, explaining that it was used for administration, justice and collecting taxes as well as holding banquets. Today, in a nice twist, it still retains one of those functions, serving as home to the city’s Custom House.

HIsctoric events the performers will re-enact include a duel involving Richard Martin (1754-1834) parliamentarian and founder of the RSPCA, whose fondness for duelling earned him the nickname Trigger. Richard Martin also founded Galway’s first theatre, at Kirwan’s Lane in 1783, where Wolfe Tone was performing when he was arrested for his role in the 1798 Rebellion.

 

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

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy

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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

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

images/files/images/x3_Courthouse.jpg

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta

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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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