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Memories of one of the great poteen raids of our time



Date Published: {J}

The death in recent weeks of Cathal O’Shannon has stilled one of the great broadcasting voices of our era – but for me it brought back memories of one of the great poteen raids of all time.

O’Shannon, who in his career was everything from an RAF man to a top class documentary producer, was involved in RTÉ during one of its most successful periods in the ’70s, when names like Cathal O’Shannon and Frank Hall could strike terror into the hearts of ministers. I was their local contact in the West.

Frank Hall, who edited Hall’s Pictorial Weekly, brought together a team who almost single-handedly turned the Liam Cosgrave-led Fine Gael-Labour coalition into a caricature.

It helped that Cosgrave had a gravelled and somewhat miserable sounding voice but when the Cosgrave caricature ‘The Minister for Hardship’ was played by Eamon Morrissey, it took on an extraordinary resonance among the electorate.

‘The Minister for Hardship’ appeared on telly making ministerial broadcast in a Homburg hat, a Rab C Nesbit string vest, the set was lit by a single guttering candle and in the background the gale could be heard howling as ‘old hardship’ told how times were bad now, but they were going to get worse.

Meanwhile, other members of the Cabinet were given an equally cruel Scrap Saturday treatment – Posts and Telegraph Minister, Conor Cruise O’Brien, was ‘Con the Post’ Finance Minister Ritchie Ryan was ‘Ritchie Ruin’ and the handsome young Labour member Michael O’Leary was ‘Dimples O’Dearie’.

Into the middle of this potent news mix came Newsbeat where people like Cathal O’Shannon and Michael Ryan and Bill O’Herlihy travelled around the country doing unusual stories in unusual ways . . . and none was more unusual than the Cathal O’Shannon poteen raid in Connemara.

The day had been set up by a very good friend, Garda Superintendent Paddy (PJ) Gallagher and, unless I’m mistaken, among those in the raiding party would have been people like Gabriel Colleran and Michael Needham.

On a day when nobody should have been out in a boat, we set off from near Lettermore to search a number of islands in the locality. The islands were used because of their isolation, because they were difficult to get to, because you were less likely to get the stink of distilling going on and because even then, some of the poteen makers were still using turf to distil poteen, though cylinder gas was odourless and reached the necessary temperatures much quicker.


The formula for making poteen is pretty simple – soak barley, oats or wheat in water until the individual seeds begin to sprout, take them out and put them in a barrel, put in an enormous amount of sugar, a bit of yeast and bring to the boil collecting the precious ‘steam’ which flows out of the makeshift distillery, usually through a piece of copper pipe.

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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