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Musical gives new life to Unlucky Cabin Boy



Galway actor Enda Kilroy as Captain Gorman in The Unlucky Cabin Boy.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

An 1835 shipwreck that led to the untimely death of 15-year-old Limerick boy Patrick O’Brien so he could be eaten by his fellow crew members is the theme of a stirring musical that comes to the Black Box Theatre next Tuesday night, November 10.

The Unlucky Cabin Boy from Dublin’s Gúna Nua Theatre and Verdant Productions, with music by Limerick’s Brad Pitt Light Orchestra, was commissioned for Limerick’s City of Culture last year. It has now returned thanks to an Arts Council touring grant and will visit Galway as part of a national tour.

Patrick O’Brien from Thomondgate in Limerick City, born in 1820, was the only child of a widow, Catherine O Brien, explains playwright and actor Mike Finn, who scripted the musical in conjunction with David Blake of the Brad Pitt Light Orchestra – David wrote the music and lyrics.

Mike, who is also from Thomondgate, knew of O’Brien’s story thanks to the work of the late socialist TD and historian Jim Kemmy, who had written about the boy in The Limerick Journal history magazine about 30 years ago.

The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra wanted to do something on O’Brien for Limerick City of Culture and approached Mike in what he calls an act of “serendipity”.

He describes the story as a “cracking” one and he’s not wrong. In 1835, to escape a life of poverty, 15-year-old Patrick O’Brien signed up as a cabin boy on the Francis Spaight, which was carrying some 300 emigrants from Limerick to New Brunswick, Canada.

On the return journey, loaded down with timber, the Francis Spaight encountered a storm. Due to an inept crewman, it capsized, resulting in several deaths.

The survivors, including Patrick, were able to right the ship by cutting the mast – but they were stranded in the vast ocean, without food or water and with just a tiny cabin space to shelter in.

After two weeks of clinging to life in appalling conditions, Captain Timothy Gorman resolved that one crew member should be killed and eaten in order to give the others a fighting chance of survival.

Contemporary accounts state that Patrick O’Brien challenged the notion that only the cabin boys should be eligible to be killed.  He was given the job of casting lots and drew his own name – there are suggestions that he was set up by the captain.

He was killed, pretty horribly, and eaten by the other crew. These men began to go slowly mad and two more members were killed and eaten before the wreck was discovered by a passing ship, 19 days after it had capsized.

“There was a conspiracy of silence when the crew returned to Limerick,” explains Mike Finn, who is best known for his work with Limerick’s Island Theatre Company.  “It wasn’t something they’d have been boasting about,” he says of the cannibalism.

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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