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Father and son all fired up by love of pottery



Date Published: 14-Feb-2013

After over 30 years teaching pottery classes, Laurence O’Kelly has taken a leaf out of the books of his tiniest students.

“Rather than doing stuff on the wheel, I’d rather create a monster,” he smiles. With a twinkle in the eye, he talks about one of his most favourite pieces in the workshop in Lower Merchants Road.

“I hope he didn’t throw it out. He throws everything out,” he nods at his son Kevin.

The figurine is a tiny horse, with one foot in front and one in the back. “I love that piece, a child made it and it’s just so full of character. It’s character that’s the important thing. I can’t compete. I can do something perfectly but it’s got no character,” he insists.

Kevin disagrees. “That’s not true. You do have the skills,” he retorts.

The easy friendship between father and son is palpable. Just as well, seeing as though they will be working side by side from now on in the pottery business.

After completing the two-year Ceramics Design & Skills course run by the Crafts Council of Ireland in Thomastown, Kilkenny, Kevin will divide his time between doing his own work and sharing pottery classes for kids and adults.

No different then to how things were since he was a boy.

“When he was very small he used to come back to us from school to do jobs for me and of course you’d have to pay him. So right from an early age he was slave labour,” grins Laurence.

Despite his well-honed skill and love of the craft, it took a long time for the 32-year-old to immerse himself fully in pottery.

After school in St Enda’s, he travelled for a few years, with stints in London, Australia, Germany and Holland before returning to Galway where he concentrated on his first love, music.

“I was in a band, Cuckoo Savante. I found I put a lot of work into drumming. One year I had a broken ankle so I couldn’t play for a few months. I made a head and when I was making it I realised I was naturally better at it than I was at drumming,” Kevin recalled.

“I’m a good drummer but that’s from effort and learning whereas with the pottery it was more natural. It was hard to go, OK, right, instead I should be doing the pottery.”

Laurence was an art teacher in a secondary school when he first spotted a potter’s wheel. He decided to take up pottery full-time and for a long spell much of his time was taken up with travelling around to schools teaching them the art.

With the downturn, that work has dried up and classes are mainly based at the workshop, which doubles as the family home. The workshop boasts six wheels and its own kiln which heats to at least 1,300 degrees.

Favourite pieces among adult students are pots, vases, bowls, candle-holders, egg cups, jewellery and heads. However, children have altogether more exciting ideas.

“Aliens, monsters, castles. The wonderful thing is if a small child comes in you really just give them the clay – of course you suggest things – but they just do what they want. I’ve given babies clay and once they get over the stage of trying to eat it, you’d be surprised at how a child will look at it,” enthuses Laurence.

“I remember a child wanted to make Croke Park once with this small amount of clay. I thought, no, that won’t work. But the child did it. It kind of taught me a lesson. There’s nothing a child can’t make. Clay has got such a range. It’s perfect for different age groups, different styles.”

Anyone who has ever taken up pottery attests to its therapeutic powers.

Laurence remembers one family who had endured a particularly tragic death. The mother wanted the kids to try and return to normal life so she enrolled them in classes. They were very subdued for the first few classes. One week one of the children made a tombstone with the relative’s name on it. The children never returned. It was like as if they had accepted the death and no longer needed the therapy.

Back in 2010 he invited 32 members of the public to take a piece of clay and, armed with an instruction sheet and a few hours of tuition, go off and make their own figurine which would form part of a chess set inspired by Galway.

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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