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This area of the Claddagh was known as ‘the Big Grass’ or ‘the Green Grass’. It was the one open space of ground in the village and faced what is known as the Swamp today. It was very marshy, though some of it was used as a playground by local children, and it was also where the Claddagh Races took place.
In late October 1890, Arthur J Balfour, nephew of the Conservative leader Lord Salisbury of the time, and recently appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland, went on a walking tour of the distressed districts along the Galway and Mayo coast. Accompanied only by his sister, and local officials who joined them as they passed through different districts, they travelled without police escort. Remembering that it was only eight years since the Phoenix Park Murders* it was a brave gesture. But Balfour was probably the best of them.** He was genuinely anxious to improve the conditions of the area. He had influence in London, and an imaginative grasp of his brief for Ireland. He met and talked with the local community leaders, listened to what they had to say; and sat by the open fires listening to the mná tí.
Last September I wrote a number of Diary entries on the wonderful reception that Galway extended to the survivors of the SS Athenia, torpedoed off the Donegal coast on September 3 1939, the very first day of the war. The ship was sunk by Fritz Julius Lemp, the commander of the U-30. The Athenia was obviously a passenger boat on its way with refugees from Europe to Canada. This wasn’t the start to the war that the German government wanted. Initially it denied that any of its submarines sank the Athenia, and suggested that it was sunk by the British on orders from Winston Churchill in the hope of getting America into the war.
Geoffrey Russell, fourth Lord Ampthill, died at the age of 89 last April 23. His mother Christabel, Lady Ampthill, bought Dunguaire Castle, Kinvara, Co Galway, an old tower house with a bawn and smaller tower on a creek of Galway Bay, and restored it most sympathetically. It is now owned by Shannon Development and used for mediaeval banquets.