‘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.

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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.

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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

On this, his special day,

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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.

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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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The Oliver St John Gogarty Literary Festival

Thu, Nov 06, 2008

Poets, writers, discussions, music and workshops feature in the second Gogarty literary festival to be held in Renvyle House Hotel this weekend. Poets Michael O’Loughlin, Gerald Dawe, John O’Donnell and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill will give readings, Dr Nicola Gordon Bowe will give a talk on the famous stained glass artist Harry Clarke, there will be a guided tour to Tullycross church to see the Harry Clarke windows there; a talk by Jim Carney on Louis Mac Neice and Omey Island, and lots more.

Limited places only.

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Dick Byrne - The man who brought light to Mayo

Thu, Oct 23, 2008

Terrible punishments awaited young transgressors in the Ireland of the 1950s. If a boy mitched from school he could end up in Letterfrack, the notorious so called industrial school, run by the Christian Brothers. It was a type of borstal, where, for almost a century, troubled boys were brutally chastened and subdued. Its grim, grey buildings still stand today, and if you pass them on a wet Connemara day, you wonder about the boys who were sent there from cities and towns around Ireland. Despite its change of usage to one of the foremost craft training centres in the country, it still looks a sad place to me. But back in the 50s and 60s its name struck terror in the hearts of most boys and youths. I remember seeing a boy handcuffed to a policeman sitting on the Dublin train. Word was whispered around the carriage that the boy was from Letterfrack. We all stared at him as if the poor fellow was an alien.

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‘Keep your mouth and your legs closed. Keep your ears open, and send a ticket for Anne’

Thu, Oct 16, 2008

Every time I see the long angular shape of Ken Bruen loping through the back streets of Galway, I say to myself: ‘Bet he’s on a new case.’ Ken Bruen is acknowledged as one of the world’s best crime writers. He has written an amazing 27 novels, compiled numerous collections, and won heaps of awards and nominations, especially for his first Jack Taylor series beginning with The Guards (published 2001).

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The Man Who Saved Barcelona Football Club

Thu, Oct 09, 2008

If you walk down a street named Calle de la Mar in the town of Denia on the Costa Blanca in Spain you will see at number 20 an Irish bar called Paddy O’Connell’s.

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Lady Gregory’s ‘missing’ grandson

Thu, Oct 02, 2008

Following the success of the publication Me and Nu - Childhood at Coole published in 1970,* it is sometimes forgotten that Lady Augusta Gregory had three grandchildren, and not two as is often assumed. Written by Lady Gregory’s granddaughter Anne, Me and Nu is a charming account of life at Coole, as the children watched with amusement (and disillusionment at their human foibles), many of the great figures of the Irish literary movement of the 20th century as they came and went.

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Some of the awful things George Moore said...

Thu, Sep 25, 2008

You might think that those at the core of the Irish literary renaissance at the beginning of the 20th century, were one big happy family beavering away in their rooms at Lady Gregory’s home at Coole, Co Galway. In those early days it was a house full of voices and sounds. Sometimes you heard WB Yeats humming the rhythm of a poem he was cobbling together; or the click-clacking of Lady Gregory’s typewriter as she worked on another play for the Abbey. There was the sound of the Gregory grandchildren playing in the garden; the booming voice of George Bernard Shaw, as he complains that he is only allowed to have either butter or jam on his bread, but not both to comply with war rations (He cheated by the way. He put butter on one side of his bread, and when he thought no one was looking, piled jam on the other!); or the voices of the artist Jack Yeats and JM Synge returning from a day messing about on a boat calling out to a shy Sean O’Casey to come out of the library for God’s sake and enjoy the summer afternoon.

And then there was the flamboyantly Bohemian Augustus John, who was her son Robert’s best man at his wedding. John was a bit wild, and loved to pinch maids’ bottoms as he swept by (“Oh! Mr John!”). It was unlikely, however, he ever pinched Marian. She was the kindly but formidable Lady Gregory’s right-hand ‘man’ in all domestic arrangements. Marian saw that guests dressed properly for meals, which were always served punctually. Despite his wickedness, she had a soft spot for Augustus. Augustus would climb to the top of the highest trees at Coole, and lie on the uppermost branches swaying in the breeze. Marian’s voice could be heard shouting up to him to come down or he’d be killed, and that dinner was on the table.

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