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Ex-banker Ken gives food for thought



Date Published: 22-Nov-2012

It is hard to equate the friendly, smiling face behind the counter of Food For Thought with a shark from a City of London investment bank.

But the story of Ken Walsh is a story of two distinct lives.

The man sitting having a cuppa on the other side of the table is the epitome of contentment – somebody who loves his job, adores his wife and three kids and is a pin-up for the relaxed lifestyle that Galway promises.

He lives in Salthill, has two dogs, three cats and enjoys the banter with customers more than anything else. So much so that he once sold a second café that he had bought and gave up his plan to purchase two others in Galway because he did not want to be upstairs strategising about how to keep growing the business.

He decided his correct place in the world was to be dealing with the public and making them happy with wholesome food and maybe a little piece of pie.

It all seems like a universe away from his five years ensconced in Lehman Brothers, where he worked his way up to senior associate in treasury.

It was 1998 when he joined what was then the fourth largest investment bank in the world and he had a baptism of fire.

“It nearly went under back then. I joined Lehmans’ on a Monday and on Wednesday I genuinely believed I would have to find a new job. There was a Russian ruble crisis and rumours were being circulated about its liquidity,” he explains. “The first three months all I was doing was fire-fighting, everything was about trying to convince enough people we were sound and to lend us money. It was hugely exciting.”

Once that particular liquidity crisis was overcome, he worked on various projects raising finance for companies such as Vodafone, Ferrari and Santander Bank.

“They were very complicated deals. You’d have a number of different parties in every transaction, everyone was a little wheel in the cog and I was one of those wheels,” he recalls.

When you push him about the lifestyle, he squirms, afraid of sounding obnoxious. He reluctantly reveals that rounds among colleagues after work would entail £100 bottles of Cristal Champagne.

“I was reasonably well paid for what I was doing,” he grins shyly. “It was a very well paid industry. I could never understand why, really. The chief executive of Lehman was earning £14m a year. There was a big bonus pool that’s divided up by section, they give themselves a certain percentage of it, then it trickles down. A large percentage of the Lehman bonus was shares. Employees owned a lot of the company, it’s what ultimately led to their downfall.”

The company infamously went bankrupt in 2008 after posting big losses for two quarters in a row and the market lost confidence because of the size of its real estate book, pumped up by the notorious sub-prime mortgages.

But by 2003 at the age of 33 Ken had decided to pack it all in. For the previous year he had begun to look at his life and thought he did not want to be in the City of London at 40.

“It’s a very interesting life but it’s very intimidating. You start at 7am and could be working till 1am. There’s no clocking in and out, you did it because you want to succeed. All investment banks are very aggressive by nature and it’s also the nature of the employees.

“The money was a bonus. I didn’t go into it for the money, it’s just so exciting being involved in these mega deals but I wanted some sort of a life balance.”

A Galway boy through and through, his home town was calling. His mother was Julie Lydon from Prospect Hill and his father Johnny Walsh from Fr Griffin Place. He grew up working for Harry Lydon in the famous bakery, cafe and restaurant which had been synonymous with the tea-drinking set since 1885. It was sold in 1999.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Galway have lot to ponder in poor show



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013




GALWAY’S first serious examination of the 2013 season rather disturbingly ended with a rating well below the 40% pass mark at the idyllic, if rather Siberian, seaside setting of Enniscrone on Sunday last.

The defeat cost Galway a place in the FBD League Final against Leitrim and also put a fair dent on their confidence shield for the bigger tests that lie ahead in February.

There was no fluke element in this success by an understrength Sligo side and by the time Leitrim referee, Frank Flynn, sounded the final whistle, there wasn’t a perished soul in the crowd of about 500 who could question the justice of the outcome.

It is only pre-season and last Sunday’s blast of dry polar winds did remind everyone that this is far from summer football, but make no mistake about it, the match did lay down some very worrying markers for Galway following a couple of victories over below par third level college teams.

Galway did start the game quite positively, leading by four points at the end of a first quarter when they missed as much more, but when Sligo stepped up the tempo of the game in the 10 minutes before half-time, the maroon resistance crumbled with frightening rapidity.

Some of the statistics of the match make for grim perusal. Over the course of the hour, Galway only scored two points from play and they went through a 52 minute period of the match, without raising a white flag – admittedly a late rally did bring them close to a draw but that would have been very rough justice on Sligo.

Sligo were backable at 9/4 coming into this match, the odds being stretched with the ‘missing list’ on Kevin Walsh’s team sheet – Adrian Marren, Stephen Coen, Tony Taylor, Ross Donovan, David Kelly, David Maye, Johnny Davey and Eamon O’Hara, were all marked absent for a variety of reasons.

Walsh has his Sligo side well schooled in the high intensity, close quarters type of football, and the harder Galway tried to go through the short game channels, the more the home side bottled them up.

Galway badly needed to find some variety in their attacking strategy and maybe there is a lot to be said for the traditional Meath style of giving long, quick ball to a full forward line with a big target man on the edge of the square – given Paul Conroy’s prowess close to goal last season, maybe it is time to ‘settle’ on a few basics.

Defensively, Galway were reasonably solid with Gary Sice at centre back probably their best player – he was one of the few men in maroon to deliver decent long ball deep into the attacking zone – while Finian Hanley, Conor Costello and Gary O’Donnell also kept things tight.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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