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Working to ease the lot of Ireland’s hidden poor



Date Published: {J}

The thing about modern poverty is that much of it is hidden, which makes it difficult for services to know who needs help but Professor Pat Dolan hopes that his research work will make it easier.

Pat has worked as a frontline worker, service manager and researcher in family support and community based interventions to help young people for about 25 years.

For well over a decade he has been an academic but his hands-on experience in the community gives him an understanding and insight into the problems of the very people his research is trying to assist.

Pat is joint founder and Director of the Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway and the Chairholder of Ireland’s first UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement.

He is passionate about wanting to improve the lot of families – everywhere not just in Ireland and he is currently concerned with the increased poverty levels of families in this country.

“I am very much interested in the current debate on debt forgiveness. It is interesting to hear politicians talking about bailing out the banks but not families, though I do accept that debt forgiveness, even for families, is not as straight forward as we think.

“The whole issue of poverty is going to become a huge issue within the next five years. When you see old black and white photographs of barefoot children in the Claddagh, you know they are poor but today’s poverty is not so easily seen.

“The Vincent de Paul Society can’t even cope with the number of requests for help . . . and then there are those families who don’t want to ask for help. Poverty today is much more hidden. For families under pressure it is not just one thing but a combination of things, like the washing machine breaks down the same week as the car has to be reinsured. One thing leads to another, just like the case highlighted last week in the media about the family who couldn’t put food on the table because they just about had enough money to pay the mortgage,” he says, referring to the man from Kerry who contacted RTÉ’s Liveline about his family’s situation.

Pat says it’s hard to believe that we have come to this state of affairs within a few short years. Four years ago, people were cashing in their SSAI savings, while today ordinary, hard working families are struggling with their finances.

The research carried out by the Child and Family Research Centre is usually commissioned by the HSE, Barnardos, the ISPCC and internationally for UNESCO, and helps ensure that services providing support for children and families are working efficiently and effectively.

Unlike many academics, Pat had years of experience in his specialist field before he became a professor.

A Dubliner, he came to Galway over 30 years ago to work in child guidance for the then Western Health Board. He was a community youth worker in Rahoon, where an initiative he started is still operating and was a founder of the GAF youth cafe.

He returned to college while still working full-time and parenting, he hastens to add. He did an MA in Trinity and a PhD in Belfast. From here he was seconded from the Health Board to NUIG to start up a Masters in a family support programme. That eventually led to the founding of the Centre with Dr John Canavan and Bernadine Brady. Today the Centre has 26 full-time workers, including PhD students.

In 2008, Pat became Ireland’s first UNESCO chair, work which has expanded the Centre’s research to Africa, notably Zambia, where Pat and his colleagues liaise with the Alan Kerin’s Projects. This work involves education, including AIDS and HIV awareness programmes, which Pat says have been very successful.

Much of Pat’s work is with the United Nations, which involves a lot of travel – he regularly visits Paris where the UNESCO headquarters are based.

He admits he is busy bu

t it is obvious that he is passionate about his work and believes that the Centre’s research will help improve life for families.

He is far too modest to list the number of well-known people he has come across in his international work but its well documented that the Centre is financed by Atlantic Philanthropies which was founded by the multi-millionaire Chuck Feeney, an Irish-American who has helped similar projects in the US and Africa.

“I have met Chuck a few times and you wouldn’t think he had a penny! He is very unassuming, a lovely man who has done so much to help people.”

Actor Cillian Murphy is a patron of the Centre and attended the launch of a new life course initiative recently in the college – his presence attracted a lot of female attention, according to Pat!

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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