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Volvo Race and the Pipe show contrasting views of the sea



Date Published: {J}

Two events took place last Friday that – in very different ways – outlined the importance of our waters and shoreline to the very heartbeat of the west.

As the Let’s Do It Galway team marked the fact that it was now exactly one year to the return of the Volvo Ocean Race to Galway, a more low key launch with the same Atlantic at its core was taking place down the road.

I had the honour of launching the DVD of The Pipe, the award-winning documentary that depicts a small community’s courageous battle to steer Shell’s pipeline away from their farms and fishing waters in North Mayo.

In different ways, both stories had millions of euros at their core; the Volvo Ocean Race will benefit thousands of people and hundreds of businesses directly, but it also enhances even further the city’s reputation as a major festival destination on a global scale.

The millions flowing from Bealanaboy in North Mayo won’t be reaping any huge reward for the people of the Erris peninsula – even those who quite understandably took a few bob from the exploration giant won’t be holidaying in the Caribbean on the strength of it.

The state won’t be rolling in badly needed dosh either because we couldn’t have given this away any more comprehensively if we’d gone out to sea and dug the holes for them ourselves.

But Shell shareholders and executives will see the millions roll in on the back of our natural resources, while a small fishing community will have the daily reality of a monstrosity on their horizon.

When our country is this broke, we’re inclined to forget that we still have an awful lot going for us – and here in the west, we have the huge natural advantage of the sea. The means maritime trade and tourism; the potential for wind and wave energy when fossil fuel is a thing of the past – and it should mean that all other natural resources are to for the greater good.

The Volvo Ocean Race shows how the combined efforts of the people – led by a small team with drive and vision – can reap rewards for an entire city and region.

Even at a time when the economy was already on its way down the pan, the race stopover two years ago lifted the collective spirit and made us proud to be able to show our city to the world.

It will take some effort to replicate that but if anyone can do it, Let’s Do It Galway can – and that the sea seen in its most positive light.

In contrast, what has happened in Broadhaven Bay should represent our darkest hour – and even those of us who live at the other end of the province should be very angry about that.

Cameraman and film-maker Richie O’Donnell invested admirable time and energy to capture the real story of Shell to Sea, and his documentary – an award-winner at many film festivals and now in the shops as a DVD – marks for shocking and compulsive viewing.

This is as much a drama as a documentary, because it is about the resilience of the little man, even in the face of the combined force of Shell and the state.

It’s epitomised perhaps when Pat ‘the Chief’ O’Donnell – the main protagonist and opponent of Shell’s pipeline – is seen bobbing on the waves in his small, weather-beaten trawler which suddenly finds itself in the shadow of the giant Solitaire, the world’s largest pipe laying vessel, like a fly being overshadowed by an elephant.

Perhaps the Shell to Sea campaign didn’t do itself any favours when it allowed all-comers and outsiders to hijack their campaign, but they were between a rock and a hard place – on their own they commanded little media attention and with others on board they no longer controlled the protest.

But that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that they were only doing what our forefathers died for – they were fighting for the right to be able to farm and fish on land and sea that has been home to their families for generations.

They were eking out a living in one of the most beautiful places on God’s earth and all they wanted was to be able to continue to do that without the fear of a gas explosion on their doorstep.

Shell didn’t cooperate with the Pipe, but just as they videoed every move these protestors made, they kept a watching brief. The documentary isn’t the smallest fraction the poorer for their absence.

We should have been angry that the forces of the state were deployed to keep the natives in check, that we once again doffed the cap and tugged the forelock in the presence of the money men – we should have been fuming at the waste of Garda resources. And that the victims were painted as the protagonists.

Richie O’Donnell’s documentary should be compulsory viewing for many reasons; firstly he tells a damn good story that – if it were a drama – wouldn’t be out of place in Hollywood. But mainly it should be shown so that people will know that, even if the state wants to stamp out the little man, the mouse can still roar.

The Volvo Race shows how our waters can be used for everyone’s benefit in their most positive light; the Pipe shows how our sea can be taken away from those who have lived on its shores for years and sold for a pittance to the multi-national bully boys.

It’s some contrast along one small stretch of shore.


For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



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



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

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



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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