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Máirtín Mór – the man who made Galway



Jackie Uí Chionna at the former McDonogh hardware store in Merchants Road. “Máirtín Mór didn’t have a family of his own, so Galway becomes his responsibility,” she says. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Lifestyle –  Judy Murphy meets Jackie Uí Chionna, biographer of the colourful tycoon who wielded an enormous industrial influence

I’m not sure I like him, but I certainly admire him. He had a real sense of civic duty. A lot of what he did benefited the company, but a lot benefited Galway, too. He always saw the bigger picture and you don’t see many people like him.”

That’s the verdict of biographer Jackie Uí Chionna on Máirtín Mór McDonogh, a colourful character who built Thomas McDonogh & Sons, the business started by his father in the 1860s into one of Ireland’s most influential companies.

At its height in Galway, Thomas McDonagh & Sons employed 700 people, making it the biggest employer in the West of Ireland in a time of great poverty, when Ireland had very few successful businesses and no multi-nationals.

“Guinness would have been the only comparison,” says Jackie. Under Máirtín’s direction, the McDonoghs portfolio included everything from a fertilizer factory to farms, a saw mills, electricity, coal to cloth. And they harnessed electricity from the Corrib to power their many factories.

“Half of Galway was employed by them and the other half looked on in envy,” was a catchphrase at the time.

In addition, Máirtín, the second son in a family of six surviving children, was involved in all aspects of Galway’s civic and sporting life for more than 50 years until his death, aged 74, in 1934.  His friends described him as ‘impatient’ and ‘brusque’, while to his enemies, he was ‘terrifying’.

But, so great was his influence that one obituary, in the Connacht Sentinel, stated that ‘for half a century he was Galway’.

That’s the phrase that gave Jackie the title of her book, ‘He Was Galway’ – Máirtín Mór McDonogh 1860-1934, which was commissioned by the current owners of McDonogh’s, Thomas and his son Tom.

Máirtín’s nephew and grand-nephew approached Jackie, through NUIG, where the PhD graduate lectures in history, to commission this biography. They’d previously commissioned local historian Peadar O’Dowd to write an account of the company, which was published as ‘In from the West’.

These days, the McDonogh property portfolio spans the globe and includes Avenue de Beaulieu, 22-24, 1160 Brussels, which houses the European Commission offices.

It’s a far cry from the cottage in Gorumna, South Connemara, where Máirtín Mór was born to Thomas McDonogh and Honoria Hernon, from an influential, but unpopular, family on Inis Mór. The couple moved to Galway in the early 1860s when Thomas began working with his brother’s in-laws’ business and rose swiftly until he owned it. Meanwhile, Honoria, an astute businesswoman, started her own shop near the docks, supplying Aran people.

Máirtín, who spent time studying at UCG, joined the business in 1879 at 19, developing it with extraordinary foresight and drive. He never drank and never married.

“Máirtín Mór didn’t have a family of his own, so Galway becomes his responsibility,” says Jackie. “He cares for it in a way that any responsible parent of that time would have, and in that way, he disciplines people when he feels they need it.”

Violently anti-trade union, Máirtín was renowned for conflicts with workers’ groups, but during a famous strike in 1913 he secretly distributed money to workers’ wives and children, via local clergy. Such a gesture captured his “complex nature”, according to Jackie. Similarly, he never played golf and never swam but he became chairman of the golf club and the swimming club. And it was Máirtín, a racing enthusiast and Chairman of the Galway Races, who ensured Ballybrit Racecourse was put in trust for Galway.

Jackie ran into several obstacles when it came to researching the book. Firstly, Máirtín had left no personal archive of correspondence – despite being a Cumann na nGaedheal TD from 1927 until his death. In addition, many of the McDonogh archives had been destroyed in a fire. That “didn’t help”, she says – an understatement for sure.

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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