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We should all take those health stories with a pinch of salt



Date Published: {J}

Back in a different lifetime working on the newsdesk of the Irish Daily Star, there was a daily chore to find a health scare story of some sort that was known on the news list as the ‘Coffee can kill you’ yarn.

Once in a while the story actually was something like too much coffee can kill you, but more often it was that meat will give you cancer, followed a few days later by a claim that a vegetarian diet can leave you vulnerable to cancer and that in fact the best preventative measure you can take is to shove as much meat as you can fit, down your neck.

So one week your headline screams ‘meat is murder’ – and a week later it’s ‘meat is the perfect medicine for a long life’.

Occasionally some boffin decided that fruit wasn’t good for you after all; most appreciated among the staff were the medics who suggested a few drinks never did anyone any harm – or the ones who suggested that jogging was in fact bad for your heart.

We were rather cynical about the whole thing – in the same way as, when the horoscopes for a particular day didn’t turn up, we dug out an old set and hoped nobody remembered the original – but people take this sort of stuff seriously.

I’m not talking about in-depth research from acknowledged experts; this is more the headline-grabbing sensational claim that gets more coverage that it should be entitled to.

All of this came flooding back last week when there was something of a mini-frenzy over a claim by a group of German nutritionists – after the obligatory ‘extensive study’ – that chocolate was actually so good for you that it lowered blood pressure and cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

It was entirely coincidental that this report came out at the time of year when chocolate sales hit their peak – Easter, with the abundance of chocolate eggs – but the study found that, in a nutshell, those who ate the most chocolate over a decade also got the most benefit.

Two problems in the small print however – this is about having a square of chocolate a day (which is like offering an alcoholic a thimble-full of beer) and the more expensive the chocolate, the better the impact.

Thus you’d need to be like a Yorkie bar – big, rich and thick; a milk chocolate brick – to really make this work.

The study of over 19,000 people, published in the European Heart Journal, found those who ate half a bar a week had lower blood pressure. They also had a 39% lower risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Still, they should have suggested that chocoholics would fare even better if they went for fruit ‘n’ nut, for example, because in addition to keeping the old ticker in time, they’d also be getting one of their five a day.

Most people work on the premise of believing in or around half of what they read – and when it comes to health stories in particular, they should always come with a health warning attached.

So take these surveys with a pinch of salt – that is, of course, unless the survey is actually pointing out that salt is no good for your heart.

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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