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When the words are inadequate to the describe the man



Date Published: {J}

When I started out in this business of journalism, one of the rules in writing stories was that the only time you used the ‘surname-only’ in a story was when someone had been charged and was appearing in the newspaper as the defendant at a court hearing.

So, you might read in The Tribune that ‘Cunningham was charged’, and so on. However, if Cunningham happened to be anything else in that selfsame story, for instance the complainant, a witness, a solicitor, or whatever, then he was given his full name at first mention, and after that he was called respectfully, ‘Mr Cunningham’.

The only other time a surname-only might be used – but you had to be careful about its possible connotations or how it sounded – was in a heading where a surname-only like, for instance, ‘Haughey,’ might be used.

However, some newspapers were very hesitant about such usage . . . and, for instance, The Irish Times might well be expected in those days to back-off from a style point of view and call him ‘Taoiseach’.

Indeed, the surname-only formula was a powerful instrument at the time and might well be intended to denote the respect one had for one of ‘Haughey’s’ denials that he was into the banks for millions and was a well-known debtor to many whom journalists couldn’t quite tie-down for fear of the libel laws and the wrath of a man who was very powerful. You might slip the surname-only style into a heading on such a piece and people nodded sagely as to their perceived implications.


In other words, ‘surname-only’ was a somewhat derogatory use of the person; it was slightly disapproving. For my money, it still has that feeling about it even today, so that when I read the name ‘Cowen’ in a heading, or later in a story, I still have that feeling of a writer showing an edge of disapproval, of adverse judgement. In fact, in modern journalism, no such implication may be intended, or given.

Of course, in newspapers and journalism generally, there is a tendency to personalise most things nowadays. Taoiseach Brian Cowen last week, for instance, said that he could not rule out the possibility of the introduction of a property tax. Put in terms of ‘Taoiseach cannot rule out new tax’, it sounds quite neutral . . . but compare it to a headline line ‘Cowen won’t rule out new tax’, and I think you get my meaning. A certain ‘edge’ has crept into the reportage.

My difficulty is that, even these days, I find it hard to allow for the fact that it has become the fashion in modern journalism once you have mentioned a name such as ‘John Cunningham’ – in whatever context or whatever story – you can refer to him as ‘Cunningham’ from then on. I still find it as sounding potentially as a bit of a put-down, and with connotations which are quite distinguishable.

For more, read this week’s Galway City 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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