Hundreds of thousands starved while the sea teemed with fish

Thu, Jun 23, 2011

Reading William Henry’s book Famine - Galway’s Darkest Days*, I was struck yet again by the fact that while thousands of people died of starvation in the west of Ireland, when whole communities abandoned their homes in a desperate search for food, our seas were boiling with fish. The author tells us that in Galway at the beginning of the Great Famine in 1845 the Claddagh fishermen fiercely protected their fishing rights in the Bay, which they regarded as their exclusive property. But as the famine dragged on to the end of the decade the Claddagh fishermen had no means left for catching fish. They had pawned their boats and fishing equipment for food. The historian Cecil Woodham-Smith in her classic account of the Great Famine**, tells us that on January 9 1847, ‘all boats were drawn up to the quay wall, stripped to the bare poles, not a sign of tackle or sail remaining....not a fish was to be had in the town, not a boat was at sea.’

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Mary Kate Danaher: ‘ I feel the same way about it myself’...

Thu, Jun 16, 2011

At last filming The Quiet Man began in June 1951, during one of the sunniest summers on record. Everything went smoothly. There was a genuine outpouring of goodwill from the people of Cong and everywhere in Ireland, towards the project. The crew and cast were happy. The actors were generous with signing autographs, making guest appearances at charity events, and had an excellent working relationship with the director John Ford. Ford was in wonderful good form. He had exorcised his war ghosts by making an astonishing 10 movies in only six years. Now he was relaxed and cheerful, beaming to be in Ireland with great actors, many of whom were his friends, and a script which he clearly liked. He had already worked out changes which he had discussed with his friend and adviser Brian Desmond Hurst in their rented house in Spiddal.

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We can be proud of our military heritage

Thu, May 26, 2011

On June 12 1922 a very special ceremony took place at Windsor Castle, near London. Following the establishment of the Irish Free State the previous December, five Irish regiments, including the Connaught Rangers, the Royal Irish, the Leinsters, the Munsters, and the Dublin Fusiliers, which had served the British army with exceptional valour at times, were disbanded. It was a day of special significance for both the participants and onlookers. It was reported in the London Times.

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The blacksmith from Craughwell

Thu, May 12, 2011

The participants in the Galway Rising of April 1916 anticipated their arrest and humiliation. During Easter Week, while the rebels were attacking police stations in parts of east Galway, and threatening an invasion of the town, the RIC was quick to round up all the usual suspects. They were easily recognised. Their public training, and their interruptions of recruitment meetings made them well known to the police. They were loaded into open-top vehicles and paraded ‘for the entertainment of the townsfolk’. Volunteer Frank Hardiman remembered being set upon and beaten by rowdies at a number of places, and pelted with mud by the town’s inhabitants.

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Fear and loathing in the towns and villages as rebels divided on continuing the struggle

Thu, May 05, 2011

Following the news of the Rising in Dublin on Easter Monday April 25 1916, Galway was in the grip of rumour and anxiety. The Galway ‘rising’, consisting of about 600 men led by Liam Mellows, but poorly armed, was creating mayhem in the county. Police ( RIC) stations were being attacked, telegraph poles were cut down, and trains were not running. Galway was virtually cut off from news of developments elsewhere. Then panic ensued when on Tuesday a British warship, HMS Gloucester, steamed into the bay and indiscriminately opened fire into the coastline, and further inland. Refugees began to arrive in the town.

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Galway - the most shoneen town in Ireland!

Thu, Apr 28, 2011

On Tuesday April 26 1916, 95 years ago this week, many people in Galway town were gripped by rumour and hysteria. Rebellion in Dublin had been the sole source of conversation the evening before, but now telegraph lines were cut down, no trains were running, and news that rebellion had broken out in Oranmore, Clarinbridge and Athenry, brought events closer to home. All roads out of the town were considered too dangerous to travel. All shops and factories closed. People stood in small groups discussing the situation. There were fears that the rebels were approaching the town.*

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‘Ring out, wild bells’ to welcome this great composer

Thu, Apr 14, 2011

The composer Karl Jenkins is the bane of many music critics’ lives. They cannot understand him; or why he is so popular with serious music lovers. A recent study shows that he is now the most performed living composer in the world. If Jenkins was a Mick Jagger or a Paul McCartney then, some critics argue, different criteria would apply. But this man takes the most solemn themes, such as the Mass, and more recently Stabat Mater (the intensely moving 13th century hymn to Mary as she stands at the foot of the Cross), and presents them in an astonishing, and exciting, new format that makes you sit up, and ask: “What was that?” It is certainly not in the classical tradition.

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Can Ming the Merciless save our turf cutting heritage?

Thu, Mar 31, 2011

I have been watching the progress of Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan with some amusement, and admiration for a number of years. Amusement because of his long running campaign to legalise cannabis, which has to be a no-hoper. He has been convicted on several occasions for possession of the drug, but undaunted, he sent a beautifully rolled cannabis cigarette to every politician in the Oireachtas as part of his campaign, pleading for them to enjoy a smoke, inhale deeply, and support his cause. That man doesn’t know the meaning of ‘no’.

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The time that Máirtín Plásán was best man at the wedding

Thu, Mar 24, 2011

“They’re coming. They’re coming, look! They’re coming at last,” said old John Larry. “ Look at them down in Leighleitir”... “ Who’s winning?” said Micilín Deaid, “It’s not our giorrán by any chance?” “No, I don’t think so,” said another. “There’s a black one in front with a white star”.... “ Come on Garrai Gamhain!” shouted one. “ Come on Leamhcoill!” roared another. “ Up Leitir Í! Said a few young lads. “ Come on Cnoc ar Eas Thoir!” answered others.

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The place where St Patrick wrestled with a bull...

Wed, Mar 16, 2011

That great observer of landscape Tim Robinson reminds us that Connemara is full of saints. Perhaps there isn’t a saint in the place today, but they were certainly there in profusion in earlier times. Looking around him from the heights of Errislannan, near Clifden, Tim observes that practically every one of the headlands and islands that he sees has its saint. There is St Roc at Little Killary, St Colmán on Inishboffin, St Ceannanach at Cleggan, St Féichín in Omey and High Island, and all the saints in the tangled archipelagos east of Carna, Bearchan, Breacán, and Enda; and the obscure Mocán or Smocán of Barr an Doire near An Cheathrú Rua, ‘and finally the great St Colm Cille who has all the south Connemara coast under his protection...’ But no St Patrick. I can only surmise that Connemara has so much beauty, so many stories of its people and places, its own music, magic and legends, that even the sandalled steps, and gentle words of the great Irish saint would have come and gone unnoticed.

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Salthill garden will remember the ‘kindness of strangers’

Thu, Mar 10, 2011

In one of the strangest ironies of fate that I ever heard was the day, early 2006, when the renowned Irish singer Eleanor Shanley called into Charlie Lennon’s Cuan Recording Studios in Spiddal. Eleanor, with her distinctive, rich lyrical voice, was looking for a new song. She talked to her friend Éamonn Goggin, a sound engineer at Cuan. Éamonn’s passion was music. He loved nothing more than sharing his knowledge with friends. He enthused about a song written by Mike Scott of the Waterboys and Anthony Thistlethwaite, called ‘Strange Boat’. It was written some years ago, but it was a great song, that just needed some updating, a new look. ‘ We’re sailing on a Strange Boat/ Heading for a strange shore/ Carrying the strangest cargo / That was ever hauled aboard....’ Éamonn said it was ideally suited for Eleanor’s voice.

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Humanity Dick’s last battle

Thu, Feb 24, 2011

Humanity Dick Martin’s daughter, Harriet Letitia, wasn’t the only one to write about her father’s victory at the notorious Galway election of 1826. It was such a blatant hijack of votes, a total fraud, and swindle, that it outraged the investigating committee from the House of Commons some months later. But Martin was desperate. Despite his enormous estates, consisting of 196,540 acres, virtually the entire territory of Connemara stretching westwards from Galway, he was deeply in debt. He was a useless landlord in the sense that his collection of rents was haphazard and irregular. He had a generous heart. He did not press his tenants for money.

He hoped that the marble quarry on his land would restore his fortunes, but the business of promoting the deep green marble was slow and incompetent. While he was a member of parliament he was safe from his creditors. But if he should lose his seat, he would also lose that immunity.

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‘Fighting FitzGerald’ tests Martin’s humanity

Thu, Feb 17, 2011

In 1835 Harriet Letitia Martin, the daughter of the famous ‘Humanity’ Dick Martin of Ballinahinch castle, Connemara, wrote a book, Canvassing (published by Saunders & Otley, London), which, I imagine, was avidly read in Galway*. It told the story of the last time her father stood for parliament in 1826. He was successful, but a subsequent parliamentary investigation showed that fraud, trickery, bullying, intimidation, and misrepresentation on a vast scale had taken place. His tenants came into Galway from all over Connemara in a variety of disguises and voted repeatedly. He was dismissed from parliament, and consequently faced the wrath of his many creditors. As a member of parliament he enjoyed immunity from prosecution. Now he was thrown to the wolves.....

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Taking The Cotton Box magic to Kuwait

Thu, Feb 10, 2011

It’s hard to imagine that people had the courage, or foolishness, to start up a business without a phone. For most of the 1970s, if you hadn’t an old fashioned phone already, you were out in the cold for a period of at least nine months to two years. The Industrial Development Authority was howling with rage saying that new industries were interested in coming to Ireland, but laughed when they were told “ That’s grand. But, we’re sorry. At the moment there are no phones...”

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Fred Diviney’s ‘Cinema paradiso’

Thu, Feb 03, 2011

One of Fred Diviney’s scariest moments (Fred was a cinema projectionist in Galway for almost 40 years), was in 1978. The Deerhunter, with its haunting theme, and stars Robert de Niro and Meryl Streep, was the must-see movie of the year. There was huge excitement when the Claddagh Palace announced that it would show the film on Friday. The queue was down to Murray’s at Nile Lodge, but there was panic in the tiny projection room at the Palace. In those pre digital cassette days, the film arrived in 12 reels, late that afternoon. As Fred lined them up for the projector he saw that reel five was missing. He phoned the film distributors, Ward Anderson, in Dublin. They told him not to worry. The missing reel would be sent down by taxi.

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The school under the railway bridge

Thu, Jan 27, 2011

Apart from the profound influence that teachers had on their young students at Crumlin National School, Ballyglunin, Co Galway, the passing trains on the old Claremorris-Limerick line told them all the time of day, and the seasons of the year. The old school was located practically under the railway bridge. The train passed only yards from the classrooms. “We would wave out at the trains passing....” recalls Phil Forde, who stared school there when she was three years old in 1935. “There would be extra trains during the beet campaign. The beet would all go to the station in the horse and cart, and there would be about 20 wagons after the steam engine.”

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Two men of destiny meet on Tawin Island

Thu, Jan 20, 2011

In his interesting biography of Eamon de Valera*, Diarmaid Ferriter reports that in December 2000 gardaí seized 24 love letters from de Valera to his young wife Sinéad, which were being advertised for auction by Mealy’s of Castlecomer. It was believed that the letters were stolen in the mid 1970s from the de Valera family home. The owners, who had bought them in England some years previously in an effort to ensure their return to Ireland, were unaware that they had been stolen.

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‘Henceforth Irish is to be the language of Tawin’

Thu, Jan 13, 2011

As letter writers to newspapers know, as soon as you make your point, and satisfied that it is the only salient point worth making, you can be brought back to reality smartly by a riposte! Sir Roger Casement’s letter in the Irish language newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis, in the late summer of 1904, was a hard hitting criticism of the attitude of those parents who favoured that their children learned to speak English, instead of Irish. “The general mass of the Irish speaking parents have kicked the language out of doors.” He fully supported the struggle of the people of Tawin, a small island on the east side of Galway Bay, who had withdrawn their children from the local national school because they wanted their children educated through Irish. As a result the authorities withdrew the schoolmistress, and the school, unused for years, fell into disrepair. They warned the islanders that if they wanted the school to re-open they had to pay for its repair.

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