Colm Tóibín’s praise: Druid’s new light on the world

Thu, Jul 23, 2009

Speaking at the official opening of the new Druid Theatre last Friday evening, the award winning writer Colm Tóibín firmly placed this Galway theatre at the centre of “ the very life of the country itself, in its shifting sense of itself, in its very reality”...

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Gardens and history roll into one at Woodville

Thu, Jul 02, 2009

Once off the duel-motorway at Athlone, the traffic on our main roads is often so heavy that if I have time, I will take a country road home. Loughrea’s welcome new by-pass makes a visit to that old busy town now worthwhile, and easy. Its difficult to pass St Brendan’s Cathedral, and its magnificent Celtic stained glass windows and sculpture, without a visit. And then, take the Gort road to Galway. On a glorious summer afternoon, the hedgerows are bursting with white blackberry blossom, wild irises, fuchsia, honeysuckle and foxglove. I was looking for Woodville House and its newly opened walled garden, but ruined cut-stone walls, and high gates reminded me that here, in this corner of Galway, poor tenant farmers stood up to the powerful Marquis of Clanricarde to own the land they worked on. The so-called Land War was fought nowhere more fierce, nor attracted more world wide publicity than on the Clanricarde estates in Portumna, Woodford, Eyrecourt and surrounding areas.

Not all landlords were bad, but Clanricarde was the archetypical landlord scoundrel. He was described as having a miserly personality, eccentric and reclusive, with a fundamental inability to compromise or adapt to changing circumstances in Irish society at the time. He lived in London. It was said that he only once visited his Portumna castle, and that was for his father’s funeral in 1874. Even for the time his estates were vast. They stretched from Lough Derg to Galway. He was ruthless in dealing with any tenant who couldn’t pay his rent. There is a famous letter he wrote on January 29 1881 in reply to the argument by his land agent John Blake* that some tenants were simply too poor to pay. Clanricarde refused to allow any leniency. He pointed out, that: ‘Unless husbandmen can afford to plant something better than stones (or bad potatoes which are as useless as stones) they are not fit to be tenant farmers.’

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Ross Castle - A labour of love

Thu, Jun 25, 2009

I have always had great respect for the Irish yew tree. Because of its association with sanctuary and protection in mythology, you often see the yew in old graveyards. But its strength and bulk in old age, (it can live for hundreds of years, fertile to the last bearing red berries and new growth every spring), it is also associated with love and protection. It is considered a great gift to have yew in your garden. If you are fortunate to have yew trees of a great age you are doubly blessed. Its branches are traditionally used in the Palm Sunday ritual.

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The reason why the Baroque Singers are the best in Ireland

Thu, Jun 18, 2009

There can only be two reasons why music highbrows are still a bit ‘iffy’ about the Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. One is probably a comment on his unusual route into classical music. A talented music scholar from Cardiff University and the Royal Academy London, he founded a jazz group Nucleus, which won first prize in the Montreux Jazz Festival. Then to keep bread on the table, he made a series of TV advertising jingles. One of them, called ‘got off the ground’, was for an airline. But it became so popular and catchy, that people were clogging the airline’s phones demanding what was that amazing music. Jenkins developed the theme and, extending its African and Arabic sounds, it became the energetic Adiemus. It topped the pop charts across the world.

Music highbrows distrust chart toppers.

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Old Reynard read The Tribune

Thu, Jun 11, 2009

The Easter Rising on Monday April 24 1916, not only took the British authorities by surprise but also the general population of Ireland. In many places, including the town of Galway, the news that fighting had broken out in Dublin was greeted with amazement, and disbelief. Remember World War I was raging at the time. The Battle of Verdun, which was to continue until December with horrendous casualties, was at a critical stage. Its progress was extensively covered in all newspapers. Furthermore, as a result of an intensive recruiting campaign in both the town and county, there was barely a home in Galway that was not affected by the war. Young men in their thousands joined the British armed forces to defend their homeland, to protect the women of Belgium, for a sense of adventure and a decent wage; and in the words of the Irish Parliamentary Party, ‘ to win freedom for Ireland’.

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China has its own Andrew Lloyd Webber (Week II)

Thu, May 07, 2009

A geological phenomenon in southwest China is more than 400 kilometres of towering limestone rocks covered in vegetation. It’s a spectacular landscape. Thousands of these hills soar into the sky, weathered and carved by the wind and rain, often taking on the shape of a man fishing, an elephant drinking water, or a woman feeding her baby, or eager friendly creatures looking down at you (the Chinese are wonderful for encouraging you to look at natural shapes in caves and mountains and say; ‘use your imagination, what do you see?’). These cone-shaped wonders become in effect a ‘forest of hills’, and their beauty is doubled as they are reflected in the River Li, which winds though them like a blue silk ribbon.

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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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