The call of St James was heard once more...

Thu, Jan 17, 2019

Seventy years after Margaret Athy’s generous patronage of the Augustine abbey and buildings on Fort Hill (originally St Augustine’s Hill), with its commanding view of the port and the town, the place was turned into a butcher’s block. Approximately 300 survivors of the ill-fated Armada were beheaded there.

A short time before this nightmare scene, the monks and nuns were turned out. The abbey became a fort, and today it is a graveyard. We can appreciate its strategic importance to any military mind who wished to keep an eye on approaching ships, and trouble in the town.

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A ‘cheerful, and amiable saint’.

Thu, Jan 10, 2019

In the early years of the 16th century, Stephen Lynch fitz Dominick was returning from an extended trading voyage in Spain. He set out with a full cargo, probably of hides, wool, and fish, which he hoped to trade for wine and iron with Spanish merchants. As he approached Galway port he was surprised to see a church and buildings almost completed on Fort Hill (originally called St Augustine’s Hill), a prominent site visible from both the town and the sea. They were not there when he left.

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‘I always return to the old home on Christmas Day’

Thu, Dec 20, 2018

Hunting rabbits was a favourite pasttime of boys and dogs on Omey, that sand-duned, tidal island, that ploughs into the sea at Claddaghduff, near Cleggan. It is possible to say that the over-used cliche ‘magical’ can apply to Omey.* It can hardly be seen from the mainland. But if the tide is out, a series of arrowed posts guide the driver across the strand to the only road on the island. And that too runs out.

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The changing face of our country shops

Thu, Dec 13, 2018

Even on Christmas morning, if Santa had forgotten that one important item, batteries for the impotent toy lying motionless on the floor at home, or a packet of cigarettes to tide mum and dad over the holiday, you could knock on the front door of Gillanes, after Mass, and Kitty or Liam would gladly sort you out.

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The Quaker warmth of Bewley’s warm fires

Thu, Dec 06, 2018

(Written in December 2 2004, when Bewley’s cafe, Grafton Street, Dublin, closed for an indefinite period for refurbishment. Its future was uncertain. But I am glad to report that it is up and flourishing for some time, warm and glorious, its sticky buns as good as ever.)

I will miss the Quaker warmth of Bewley’s coal fires. I will always be grateful, not only for the comforting Irish breakfasts and sticky cherry buns but for the warm coal fires in Bewley’s noisy restaurants in Dublin, now sadly a thing of the past. The 1950s were, as far as I was concerned, an unofficial ice age. As children we were always cold. And the relief of standing before those generous glowing fires in short pants, jumper and zip jacket was one of the highlights of my boyhood memories.

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A nod to McMaster in the crowd

Thu, Nov 29, 2018

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was that one day, while Tom Kilroy was in Leaving Cert, an Adonis walked through St Kieran’s College. He inquired, in a very magisterial manner, where was one to find the headmaster.

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A School for surprises…

Thu, Nov 22, 2018

Although St Kieran’s College was only 10 miles from the Kilroy’s home at Callan, Tom Kilroy and his four brothers were educated there as boarders. In those days, early 1950s, any journey beyond that of a pony and trap was an adventure.You had to take Tom Nolan’s bus to get from Callan to Kilkenny. The school buildings were a mixture of carved balconies, and entrance steps in neo-Gothic riot. Behind its extravagant exterior, lay a new Catholic church, proudly testifying the various Emancipation Bills in the previous century, which gave Catholics the freedoms to practice. St Kiernans’ was a typical diocesan college of the Diocese of Ossory. An important function was the education of young men to be priests.

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Remembering Elizabeth Ellam

Thu, Nov 08, 2018

My great grandmother, Elizabeth Ellam, was killed on the RMS Leinster when on October 10 1918, exploded and sank following a ruthless German submarine attack shortly after the ship had departed Dun Laoghaire, on her way to Holyhead in Wales. It was practically one month to the day before World War I was declared officially over.

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Do women change after marriage?

Thu, Nov 01, 2018

The belief of the abduction of humans into the fairy world is a common theme in our Irish folklore tradition, as it is in most fairy beliefs throughout Europe. Pre baptised children and young brides are often common targets. Parents may be shocked when they first see that their infant child has been replaced by ‘a wizened fairy’, and quickly realise that the child is a changeling. Although these events are shrouded in mystery, there was often a satisfactory explanation, allowing us to understand the occurrence in human terms.

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The awaking of Augusta …A creative life

Thu, Oct 25, 2018

Augusta Lady Gregory, and her husband Sir William, were away in Italy in May 1888, when her former lover Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was imprisoned in Galway for participating in an anti-eviction rally at Woodford the previous October. I described last week, that within two days of her return to Galway she visited his empty cell, and remained sometime.*

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The Awaking of Augusta - The affair

Wed, Oct 17, 2018

The affair between Augusta Lady Gregory and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, the romantic traveller, poet and a somewhat eccentric man addicted to political causes, lasted one year. It carried on almost under the eyes of her husband Sir William. He did not notice it, or if he did, he chose not to notice it.

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The awaking of Augusta - Marriage

Thu, Oct 11, 2018

My dear Miss Persse, I have read over many times the letter which you wrote to me a fortnight since when returning Roderick Hudson. Am I too presumptuous in thinking that there is something more in it than a mere critique on that book? I have thought over and over again on the subject and have at length determined to ask if I may write freely to you - on the most momentous question affecting a man and woman’s life…..’

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The awaking of Augusta

Thu, Oct 04, 2018

Isabella Augusta Persse (later Lady Gregory), grew up in Roxborough House, Co Galway, a large rambling estate house, with magnificent gardens, commanding some 18,000 acres over which her father Dudley Persse presided with almost feudal authority. His 13 children knew their wheel-chaired bound father as The Master.*

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Little miracles in Rwanda

Thu, Sep 27, 2018

In August 1994, as soon as it was considered safe, Dr Dom Colbert, and a medical team of four sister-nurses, Brenda, Fionnuala, Dorothea and Eileen, drove across the Ugandian border into Rwanda. They had no mandate from anyone or any organisation to be there.They were motivated by a deep sense of shame and anger that such an appalling holocaust could have happened.* They had their medical skills, a little money, and an old clapped out pick-up truck.

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More lessons learned…

Thu, Sep 20, 2018

The Medical Missionaries of Mary were founded by a remarkable Irish woman Mother Mary Martin in 1937, dedicated to providing health care in underdeveloped regions of the world.* While working at ‘Mile 4’ hospital (St Patrick’s), near Abakaliki, eastern Nigeria, Dr Dom Colbert regularly visited the near-by leprosarium, which, despite the pitiful deformities, he describes as a ‘peaceful, tranquil place’. The lepers there were all long-term patients, ‘many had distorted faces, lacked ears or noses…deformities of the hands or feet with missing fingers or toes.’ Recurrent ulceration and infection of the skin required constant attention, dressing changes, and meticulous hygiene.

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Advice for men: best avoid parasitic worms

Thu, Sep 13, 2018

One disease that men should avoid at all costs is filariasis. It can cause serious scrotal swelling.

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Advice for men: best avoid parasitic worms

Wed, Sep 12, 2018

One disease that men should avoid at all costs is filariasis. It can cause serious scrotal swelling.

It is caused by the infiltration of a small tropical worm which blocks the lymphatics which drain excess fluid away from different parts of the body. When filariasis blocks the lymphatics that drain the scrotum, the scrotum swells, often enormously. Sometimes to the extent that the sufferer may need a wheelbarrow to carry his affected organs.

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The woman who swallowed a fish…

Thu, Sep 06, 2018

It is customary that in parts of southern Nigeria when a man goes fishing his wife remains behind him chatting to other wives in similar positions. When the husband catches a fish he swings his rod over his shoulder, his wife unhooks the fish, bites down on its head sufficiently to kill it, and pops it into their basket.

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How World War I changed Galway’s horsepower

Thu, Aug 30, 2018

Salthill began to really liven up with the arrival of the Dublin to Galway train in 1851. Holidaymakers arrived at the resort in some style. Trains were met at the station by horse-drawn ‘cars’ or ‘buses’ which went out directly to the seaside.

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The boy who burnt his hand

Thu, Aug 23, 2018

On Sunday evening March 25 1866, the two children of the schoolmaster Mr St George, were playing near the fire together in the Mission School (now Scoil Fhursa), when suddenly there was an explosion. The elder child burnt his hand. His injuries put him into a ‘very precarious position’. I am not sure how serious that was, but the story took an insidious turn when it was given out that ‘some malicious person climbed on the roof, and threw a packet of gunpowder down the chimney.’

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