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Book on love songs gets to heart of the matter



Joyce Redmond and Gerard Hanberry performing The Galway Girl at the launch of On Raglan Road; Great Irish love songs and the women who inspired them. PHOTOS: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

Lifestyle –  Judy Murphy meets multi-faceted Gerard Hanberry who explains the stories behind our romantic ballads

Sometimes an idea is so good when it’s finally been executed, you wonder why nobody had thought of doing it before.

On Raglan Road: Great Irish love songs and the Women who inspired them, a new book by Galway teacher, writer and musician, Gerard (Gerry) Hanberry certainly ticks the ‘good idea’ box.

It tells the stories behind 15 great Irish songs, from Danny Boy to Raglan Road and Grace, as well as later works including After All from the Frank and Walters and Steve Earle’s Galway Girl.

The range is broad and Gerard’s only stipulation was that each song had been inspired by a real and identifiable woman, he explains.

Gerard, whose previous books include a biography of Oscar Wilde’s family, as well as four collections of poetry, hit upon the idea for this book after being asked to participate in a concert a few years ago that was organised by the Galway Percy French Society.

The event, at An Taibhdhearc, included works by the renowned songwriter and painter, French, as well as other well-known Irish songs and ballads. It was a sell-out. Gerard narrated the concert and afterwards was approached by audience members who wanted to learn more about the songs.

Initially, he felt the concept could be developed into a touring show, but as he mulled over the idea, Gerard realised that if he selected songs based around a particular theme – namely, love – he could produce a book.

That’s what he did. All the songs in On Raglan Road are about women – Gerard says that’s because women tended to be the subjects of love songs, rather than their authors – and the material covers a huge span of time and genres, from the 40-verse Una Bhán to Johnny Duhan’s The Voyage. The lyrics of the songs are also included, with an abridged version of Úna Bhán.

That broad embrace was something Gerard, a singer himself, was keen to achieve.

“It brings together all my circles and my interests,” he says of the book, which took him some two years to research and write – with great help from freelance researcher and music journalist, Kevin Maguire, he adds.

“I live a very compartmentalised life,” Gerard observes. “I’m a published poet, a biographer, a working musician and a teacher, so I seem to have these circles that don’t intersect. But this book brings them together – music, writing lyrics and poetry and education.”

For the songs by living writers, Gerard conducted interviews using an old dictaphone to record the men’s insights. In the case of the older songs, he did extensive research in the National Library.

Gerard shares the fascinating stories behind songs such as Danny Boy, which was written to a traditional tune following extensive work by two women, although it was a man, Frederic Weatherly, who finally put words to the air.

The much-loved song Nancy Spain, made famous by Christy Moore, was written in the 1960s by Dublin-man Barney Rushe when he was just 18. Its subject was a young woman from the Irish midlands, but her name was not Nancy Spain.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.



Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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