The man who ran the ‘Corofin mile’

Thu, Jan 07, 2010

One of the most dramatic and legendary events in the history of Irish foxhunting took place with the Galway Blazers on December 19 1953 between Cregg Castle, Corandulla, and beyond the Clare river, near Anbally. This is great fox hunting terrain. It’s level going, open and free. When on a good scent the hounds will skim the walls and allow no time for man or beast to make mistakes if they want to stay close to them. December 19 1953 was a clear, frosty day, with similar temperatures to those we are enduring these past few weeks. The hounds were in full pursuit ‘skimming the long low walls the way the swallows do’. After a four mile chase they hit the river Clare about a mile short of the nearest bridge at Corofin village.

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Chasing the girls, and hunting the wren

Wed, Dec 23, 2009

Even though mistletoe is not native to Ireland it has long been associated with Christmas here. The tangled green plant, with its soft white berries, has been introduced in some Irish counties (grafted onto apple trees), and was being sold in basket fulls at the Galway market last December.

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Animals at war, virgins in Loughrea, poitín, and peace at the ‘Augi’...

Thu, Dec 17, 2009

World War 1 is the backdrop for the London box office success War Horse. It’s the story of bravery, loyalty and a mutual bond that grew between a young farm boy and his horse. But it is the highly imaginative and skilful way that the story is presented that has caught London’s imagination. The play is based on a book by Michael Morpurgo; and a recent acknowledgement by the public of the role animals have played in war, from the horse, the mule, the dog, the pigeon, even the humble glow worm used by sappers in No Man’s Land as they drew maps in the dark*. During the merciless, and relatively recent Battle of Stalingrad, (July 1942 to February 1943), 207,000 horses were killed on the German side alone (the human cost was an unimaginable one million). Animals are still used to help solders navigate rough terrain, or for dolphins to seek out mines, and dogs to sniff out contraband.

I was struck at the observations made by U boat commander Adolf KGE Spiegel, as he prepared to attack an allied ship in April 1916. To his surprise he saw long rows of wooden partitions along the deck from which gleamed the shining black and brown backs of horses. His reaction: ‘What a pity, those lovely beasts.’

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A Taste of Galway

Thu, Dec 10, 2009

Emer Murray, crowned by food writer John McKenna as ‘the best baker in Ireland,’ was an unhappy law student at NUIG. She came from a business and insurance agents background, and the law just didn’t have the excitement she thought it would have. One day her mother Ena told her that John and Anne Sherry were looking for outside caterers. They had recently taken over Lydon House, and wanted croissants and Danish pastries for their breakfast menu. Emer, who had a passion for cooking, went into O’Gorman’s bookshop, bought a book on making breads and pastries, and, that evening called round to the Sherry household with samples. She got the job.

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When it comes to Christmas, the best is always worth it

Thu, Dec 03, 2009

“Christmas dinner is the most important dinner of the year,” says Ray Colleran, third generation butcher in the city’s Mainguard Street. “And this year it’s more important than ever.” I was challenging Ray on the price of turkeys. One international supermarket chain is selling frozen geese for €25, how can they do that?

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Opening a door on the Clarinbridge community

Thu, Nov 26, 2009

Not so long ago December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, a day when schools were closed, was the start of Christmas for most people. There were not the long gruelling hours of late-night shopping that are par for the course today. Perhaps in the final days before Christmas, most shops would open late; but generally in the weeks leading up to December 25, it was the normal week’s opening times. Believe it or not, everyone got their shopping done.

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Gallows humour, and the late Ms Barbara Cartland

Thu, Nov 19, 2009

I was surprised to learn recently that I shared a theatrical experience with the journalist and commentator Fintan O’Toole. Years ago Fintan went to the toilet during one of the many intervals in John Arden’s The Non-Stop Connolly Show (it was non-stop for an amazing 24-hours). The toilet was just behind the stage. When Fintan came out, the performance had restarted, and he was on stage. The audience applauded the embarrassed young Fintan.

I was in London in the late 1960s and was sitting in the audience at the Roundhouse Theatre, Camden Town, enjoying Arden’s The Hero Rises up. In the Arden style, the play was a burlesque debunking of the much revered Horatio Nelson. Inevitably there was a huge battle scene. The playwright, wearing a long overcoat, suddenly came on stage. He shouted over the noise of battle, and a manic steam organ, and divided the audience with his hands saying: ‘This half are the French; this half are the British. Now everyone on stage, and let’s have a battle’. And that’s what we had. But the French ‘won’ which was not supposed to happen. For a time there was confusion, before the play got back on track.

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The priests were on the ball...

Thu, Nov 12, 2009

Nothing more symbolised the relationship between the Irish Catholic Church and the GAA than the formalities in the lead up to an All Ireland final in Croke Park. To the musical accompaniment of the Artane Boys band, there was the parade of the players, then a rousing version of the national anthem, followed by Faith of our Fathers, and then the sight of a bishop throwing in the ball to begin the game.

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The crucial match that Loughrea lost

Thu, Nov 05, 2009

One of the many voices in our kitchen when I was growing up was Michael O’Hehir and the Sunday afternoon game. The GAA (Chumann Lúthchleas Gael) has been blessed with its RTE broadcasters. I don’t think anyone can equal the inimitable Míchéal Ó Muircheartaigh, whose all inclusive broadcasts today are a performance in themselves. I think I am the same as most people to say that I turn down the sound on the TV, and turn up the volume on the radio when Ó Muircheartaigh takes flight.

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The strange case of Warden Bodkin’s hand...

Thu, Oct 22, 2009

In March 1838, workmen, under the supervision of a Mr Clare, were carrying out repairs on the vaults and tombs near the main altar of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church. They made a remarkable discovery. A body, which had rested in a tomb for 129 years, had been discovered incorrupt. Incredibly it was the remains of the last Roman Catholic warden John Bodkin, who when handing over the keys of the church to Williamite soldiers, after the town’s surrender on July 26 1691, cried out in despair: “ My God, that my right hand may not decay until the key of this church be restored to its proper owners”.

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Portrait of the writer as a young man

Thu, Oct 15, 2009

The great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Oct 27 1914 - Nov 9 1953) had absolutely no interest in school. He attended Swansea Grammar where his father, DJ Thomas, was the much feared English teacher. Both the boys and the staff were afraid of his temper, so much so that when Dylan, frequently bored with school, walked out murmuring that he was gong to write ‘bloody poetry’, if he met the headmaster on his way, the head would only nod, and say; “Don’t get caught, will you?”

In was amused to see that when the Galway writer Walter Macken was at the ‘Bish’ and asked to be excused from class for the toilet, Bro Leonard, who had a sense of humour and knew most of the boys hopped out for a ‘quick smoke’, would say: ‘Do you want a match Macs?’

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A risen people achieve their own miracle

Thu, Aug 27, 2009

An unusual feature of the apparition at Knock on August 21 1879, was that it was silent. On all other occasions when the Virgin Mary has appeared, a verbal message was imparted to the visionaries. It was usually an exhortation to pray. But the Knock vision, consisting of Mary, St Joseph, St John the Evangelist, and other religious images, was motionless. There was no verbal message.

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In the summer of 1879, the role of the Church in the Land Movement was centre stage...

Thu, Aug 20, 2009

Week II

The fledging Land League, officially founded in Castlebar October 21 1879, had every reason to believe that the influential Archbishop of Tuam, John MacHale, the great supporter of Daniel O’Connell and Fenianism, would support them.

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Miracle at Knock, and a disturbed County Mayo...

Thu, Aug 13, 2009

If any reader thought that spirituality was a dying aspiration of the Irish people, they might recall the 20,000 or so who climbed Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday of July, or go to Knock, Co Mayo, on August 15, the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Assumed into Heaven, to see thousands of people, many in family groups, happily attending Mass, saying the Stations of the Cross, eating ice-cream and chips, thoroughly enjoying the day out.

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Gala night for Druid: Magnificent Gigli Concert in new theatre

Thu, Jul 23, 2009

It is exactly 30 years since Thos McDonogh and Sons presented Druid Theatre, for a peppercorn rent, with an old warehouse in Chapel Lane, in Galway’s Latin Quarter. It was far from a Latin Quarter at the time. Like other parts of the old city most of it was falling apart. Old 18th and 19th century buildings were roofless and derelict, a home for cats and rats. But it had a rough diamond look about it too with its pawnbrokers, ‘Nora Crubs’, the always warm Tigh Neachtain’s (if you could get in!), the Pedler and Kenny bookshops, Sonny Molloy’s very modest women’s undergarments shop, and the larger than life Mrs Mc Donagh, who showed us all that there was more to the fish industry than a stinky grilled herring, fried mackerel, and the auld cod.

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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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