Galway was ready to serve...

Thu, Mar 26, 2009

On the evening that France and Britain declared war on Germany, September 3 1939, the 13,500-ton liner SS Athenia, chartered by the Cunard Line, and bound for Montreal with 1,418 passengers and crew was torpedoed, without warning, 250 miles northwest of Malin Head in the North Atlantic*. The following day the Norwegian vessel, Knute Nelson, was steaming towards Galway with 367 shocked and injured survivors, and asked that the city be prepared to receive them. Other survivors were picked up by British naval vessels and brought elsewhere for treatment, but in total 112 passengers and crew were killed in the attack, 28 of them Americans sailing for home as war was declared in Europe.

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St Patrick passed us by, but some magic remains...

Thu, Mar 19, 2009

Another St Patrick’s Day has slipped by, and I am reminded that although there are several wells associated with saints in and around Galway city, St Patrick, on his many journeys around Ireland, notably in Mayo, passed Galway by.

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Two faces lean out of the window...

Thu, Mar 12, 2009

Before the disbandment of the Connaught Rangers in 1922, it was customary on Sunday mornings for the Protestant members of this proud regiment to march in full uniform, with bagpipes and drums, out of Renmore barracks, through the town to attend service at St Nicholas Collegiate Church. It was an exciting spectacle for many of the girls of Galway. They would gather in small groups, or lean from windows, to catch the eye of a handsome soldier. Monsignor Considine would often precede the parade waving at the girls to go away. Pointing up to the girls at the windows (many of them apprentices, who lived above the shops whose trade they were learning), telling them ‘Not to be looking at those Protestant soldiers’. Most girls would quickly hide, and once the monsignor had passed, pop their heads out again.

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De Valera’s Galway speech angers Nazi Germany

Thu, Mar 05, 2009

Eamon de Valera was in Galway on the evening of May 11 1940 engaged in a by-election campaign, when he was told that Germany had invaded Belgium and Holland that morning. He was outraged. Belgium felt that by declaring its neutrality it was protected from Hitler. But it was sadly mistaken. Germany felt threatened (at least it pretended to be), that the Allies may use Belgium as a ‘jumping off’ base to attack her. With terrifying speed and ruthlessness, using new tactics of fighter bombers and tanks, Germany subdued both countries in a matter of days.

Dev must have wondered at the fragility of any country hoping to escape the war by stating its neutrality. Would the same fate await Éire? And he must have been thinking too of his work in Geneva as president of the Council of the League of Nations, seven years earlier. The small nations of Europe were friendly to each other, and supported each other’s needs. Two of whom were now on the verge of disappearing.

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What ‘The Liberator’ said in Shantalla - ‘A magnificent public demonstration’

Thu, Jan 08, 2009

Galway often boasts of the huge crowds attracted to myriad events in this town, but the greatest congregation ever assembled in the west of Ireland gathered at a monster meeting in Shantallow over 150 years ago. The “Slidin’ Rock”, as it is now colloquially known, is the spot from which Daniel O’Connell delivered a towering oration, just two years before the Great Famine began.

The plaque at the site today identifies it as the “Emancipation Rock”, but Catholic Emancipation had been won 14 years before the Liberator spoke in Shantallow. It was a call to repeal the Act of Union, O’Connell’s second great campaign, that brought Ireland’s most celebrated orator to Galway for a mass rally on 25th June, 1843. As in his previous crusade the population of the country was mobilised, this time in a non-violent attempt to win back for Ireland its own parliament, after Grattan’s Parliament had been disbanded in 1800.

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‘GALWAY! THE DIRTIEST TOWN I EVER SAW!’

Tue, Dec 30, 2008

In 1833 the novelist and educationalist Maria Edgeworth and some friends set out on a horse and open carriage tour of Connemara in considerable style. Happily for us because she was an inveterate letter writer, we have today her amusing and sharply observed picture of her adventure, as travel 175 years ago was pretty rough and ready.

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Poor Father Moloney and Greek purity

Tue, Dec 30, 2008

I was always of the opinion that WB Yeats was a rather serious, impractical, pedantic man, sometimes lost in the unreal world of the fairies. However, Roy Foster’s epic biography of the famous poet *shows that like many of his contemporaries, WB was a very witty conversationalist.

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The Luther Christmas tree

Tue, Dec 30, 2008

I always thought that the Christmas tree, which gives a special pleasure in any home, was a Victorian thing, introduced by Prince Albert in the early 19th century. But reading Niall Mac Coitir’s fascinating book Irish Trees - Myths, Legends and Folklore* I learned that legend has it that the idea of the Christmas fir tree first came to Martin Luther. After walking one Christmas Eve under a clear winter sky lit by 1,000 stars, he set up for his children a tree with countless candles as an image of the starry heaven whence Christ came. However, the first known record of a modern Christmas tree comes from Strasbourg in 1605 when fir trees were set up and decorated.

Perhaps the Christmas tree was a more modern expression of an older link between the evergreen pine with its bright flaming wood and the birth of the new year and the new sun.

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Saying the Rosary together...

Tue, Dec 30, 2008

Donall MacAmhlaigh was one of those tens of thousands who took the boat to Holyhead during the 1950s. Born in Knocknacarra, Galway, in 1926 into an Irish-speaking family, he worked in a series of jobs after leaving school aged 15, before joining the Army in 1948. Unable to find work after three years in the Army he emigrated to Britain where so many of his friends and neighbours had gone before him. His first job was a live-in stoker in a hospital in Northampton until low pay tempted him to swap security for the higher wages of life as a navvy.

Work as a labourer on the construction sites of post-war Britain was difficult and casual. Like other navvies, he had to follow the work, so he never put down roots in any one city, setting up temporary home in a succession of digs and camps. *

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Patrick Kavanagh and his great expectations...

Tue, Dec 30, 2008

When the poet Patrick Kavanagh first came to Dublin in 1939 it was with great expectations. What better city could there be for a poet than one so rich in famous writers. AE (George Russell), always kind and encouraging towards new poetic talent, took him under his wing, and, as Kavanagh appeared to him to be the peasant-poet of Irish tradition, he was initially accepted by the establishment. That idyll did not last, and, for one reason or another, he spent most of his life as a loner.

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A Christmas Song

Tue, Dec 30, 2008

Why is the baby crying

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The mistress of the Fine Gael party?

Tue, Dec 30, 2008

In 1966, the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, Eamon de Valera confidently put himself forward for re-election. Fine Gael decided to contest the election and put forward Tom O’Higgins. The idea of Fine Gael opposing ‘The Chief’ in the same year as the golden jubilee of the Easter Rising greatly irritated many within Fianna Fáil. Some members of the party blamed The Irish Times, which had insisted that the electorate be given a choice of candidates. In November 1965 it had declared that ‘the spirit of 1916 would be well borne out if next year were to see a Fine Gael President. For the other side of the old Sinn Féin house has still its part to play and that party is not lacking in men who could with dignity and vigour fill the office.’ It also welcomed O’Higgins’ candidacy by noting that the electoral contests were ‘the essence of a healthy democratic system’.

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Books on my table this Christmas

Tue, Dec 23, 2008

I have often been intrigued by the stories of German spies parachuted into Ireland during World War II. It was quite an intriguing time. De Valera was anxious to steer the country in neutral waters, despite serious pressure from Britain and America to at least open our ports to the transatlantic convoys which were being hammered by German U-boats. The IRA and its sympathisers, were pro German to such an extent that Germany believed it could foster a lot of trouble in Britain’s ‘back yard’ by encouraging the IRA to make mischief.

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A Christmas made in Galway

Thu, Dec 18, 2008

This year in the belief that money spent in Galway goes around Galway, I have concentrated on what I consider would make amazing gifts, by just looking at the wonderful range of crafts, beautiful things, skills, and services actually made in the city and nearby. I had a marvellous time and I thank everyone who showed me what they are doing. It was truly a journey of discovery. I was very impressed with a little boutique in Kirwan’s Lane called Cloon Keen Atelier, and the heavenly smell as I opened the door. Run by Margaret Mangan and her partner Julian Checkly, they offer more than 35 scented hand -poured candles, all made at their larger shop and factory in the craft and design studios, Ceardlann, at An Speidéal. I’ll come back to the Ceardlann in a moment, but I was intrigued by Cloon Keen, named after the village, near Tuam, where Margaret was born. Very professionally wrapped and presented, this is an outstanding product. If you ever wondered what is the smell of Christmas, three particular candles caught my nose and made me smile: Christmas Pomander, Christmas Tree, and Christmas Morning all €14.95.

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A Christmas made in Galway

Thu, Dec 18, 2008

This year in the belief that money spent in Galway goes around Galway, I have concentrated on what I consider would make amazing gifts, by just looking at the wonderful range of crafts, beautiful things, skills, and services actually made in the city and nearby. I had a marvellous time and I thank everyone who showed me what they are doing. It was truly a journey of discovery. I was very impressed with a little boutique in Kirwan’s Lane called Cloon Keen Atelier, and the heavenly smell as I opened the door. Run by Margaret Mangan and her partner Julian Checkly, they offer more than 35 scented hand -poured candles, all made at their larger shop and factory in the craft and design studios, Ceardlann, at An Speidéal. I’ll come back to the Ceardlann in a moment, but I was intrigued by Cloon Keen, named after the village, near Tuam, where Margaret was born. Very professionally wrapped and presented, this is an outstanding product. If you ever wondered what is the smell of Christmas, three particular candles caught my nose and made me smile: Christmas Pomander, Christmas Tree, and Christmas Morning all €14.95.

It’s hard to pass through Kirwan’s Lane without visiting Judy Greene’s beautiful shop. Her Connemara floral designs on her tableware are famous, but check out her new An Dressiúr range which include the popular ‘Malaí Tae Caite’(€17. 50) for the old tea bags, and the cups with ‘An Múinteoir is Fearr (€15), and ‘An Boss Beag’.

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Whatever happened to Barry’s tea? And other food conundrums

Thu, Dec 11, 2008

Barry’s tea still has that kick-awake taste in the morning when you take the first gulp; but tea in general has changed, and changed dramatically. Just look at the choice of teas next time you reach for a packet. Where once there was only Lyons, Barry’s and PG Tips, now there has to be a choice of at least 50 different blends including herbal, organic, loose or bagged, or the plain ordinary black. And I was surprised to learn that there are at lest two tea blenders in Galway; including Solaris Botanicals, which not only won last month’s Junior Chamber of Ireland Entrepreneur of the Year, but in the same week clinched a deal to supply Harrods of London.

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The sad leaving of Mary Mally (Malley?)

Thu, Nov 27, 2008

The anger and violence that erupted against the Protestant Irish Church Missions and their schools and orphanages in western Connemara towards the end of the 19th century, makes for harrowing reading today.

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An unseemly brawl over God and scripture

Thu, Nov 13, 2008

In a week when The Irish Times reports an unseemly brawl between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks who physically battled over turf and influence in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, revered as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, I was reminded of the unfortunate battle for the souls of Catholics in the aftermath of the Great Famine. This episode in Connemara’s long history still engenders passionate feelings today. The expression ‘they took the soup’ is still very much alive. At the time the campaign for souls splintered communities, and divided families. In a new book Soupers and Jumpers* Miriam Moffitt reminds us that Catholics and Protestants were convinced that their religion - and only theirs - was the ‘one true faith,’ and that anyone who lived, or more importantly died, outside their particular belief system could not enter heaven. From the middle of the 19th century, the poor of Connemara and the Dublin slums were targeted by the well intentioned Anglican Irish Church Missions.

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