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Giant of Galway arts world who nurtured young talent

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Date Published: 04-Apr-2012

A giant of a man who made a lasting impression on the the arts and creative life of Galway and further afield is how friends and colleagues have described the manager of the Town Hall Theatre, Michael Diskin, who died on Saturday last.

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina, led mourners at Michael Diskin’s removal on Monday evening, and was represented by his Aide de Camp, Cmdt Tony Whelan at Tuesday’s funeral Mass at the Jesuit Church on the city’s Sea Road.

Colleagues and friends of Michael spoke at the Mass of his contribution to the arts and his support for his native city’s creative community since 1989, when he became the first paid manager of Galway Arts Festival.

He became the first manager of the City’s Town Hall Theatre, when the former cinema opened as a municipal theatre in 1995 and apart from a three-year career break, he worked there until days before his untimely death.

Audiences at Saturday night’s performance of The Curious Savage by Compántas Lir at the Town Hall stood for a minute’s silence for Michael, which was followed by a round of applause. His colleagues at the venue led the tribute.

Forty-nine year old Michael Diskin, who was from Lenaboy Gardens in Salthill attended St Patrick’s Primary School and the Bish Secondary School before continuing on to NUIG where he graduated with a BA Degree. He did post-graduate studies in Scotland’s Strathclyde University and was awarded a PhD for his work on Unionism in Northern Ireland. He then worked with Craig Gardner accountants and the Japanese Embassy in Dublin, before returning to Galway in 1989 to become Manager of the Galway Arts Festival.

Subsequently he moved to a similar role in Galway Arts Centre and in 1995, moved on to become manager at the new Town Hall Theatre. During his career break, from 2007-2010 he worked at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre for a period.

Michael Diskin was a leading figure in the campaign by Galway arts groups to support Michael D Higgins’ bid for the presidency last year and was subsequently invited to the inauguration with his wife, Evelyne. Although unable to attend due to his illness, the Diskins were present at a party in Áras an Uachtaráin last month, held to honour the Galway arts community. They stayed at the Áras on that occasion, as guests of President and Mrs Higgins.

That happy occasion was recalled at Michael’s funeral Mass on Tuesday. So too was Michael’s work in helping to set up the Blue Teapot Theatre Company, which provides a platform for people with intellectual disabilities to create drama.

Breandán Ó hÉadhra of Galway City Museum, spoke of Michael’s love and support for the Irish language and how he believed the Irish language artists were sometimes sidelined unfairly. However, Michael refused to differentiate between arts in Irish and English; “to him they were all arts”.

Playwright and performer Little John Nee stirred mourners to laughter and tears when he said “Michael didn’t suffer foods gladly, but he suffered me”, as he described how Michael Diskin helped him forge an international reputation for the show, The Derry Boat and supported him through the creation of subsequent shows.

Michael was also praised for his honesty and his intelligence, his humanity and his bravery during his long illness, which he faced with profound courage.

His colleagues in Galway City Council, which is responsible for the Town Hall Theatre, have lost a great friend, according to City Manager, Joe O’Neill, who praised Michael for “the way he made the Town Hall one of the most successful city theatres in the country”.

“He had a real love of the arts, he was very pragmatic, he had great organisational skills, he was able to manage people, and he always delivered on what he set out to do,” said Mr O’Neill, who said Michael helped place Galway firmly on the artistic map.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

You can leave a tribute to Michael Diskin here.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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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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Galway have lot to ponder in poor show

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

SLIGO 0-9

GALWAY 1-4

FRANK FARRAGHER IN ENNISCRONE

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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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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