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Archive News

Saving the vulnerable from Africa’s scrap heap



Date Published: 26-Apr-2012

The registration number on the fancy hearse entering the city of Mzuzu in Northern Malawi read RIP 1. It pulled a glass covered cage, carrying the body of the country’s recently deceased president Bingu Mutharika, accompanied by a cavalcade of jeeps and cars filled with dignitaries, army and secret service. It was a procession that would have done President Kennedy proud.

The democratically elected president of this South East African nation, who plundered Malawi for almost a decade, died on April 5. Two weeks later his body was touring the country before burial last Monday in his massive farm near the southern city of Blantyre.


Mutharika’s ostentatious funeral took place in a country which is falling apart – where problems with foreign exchange means that garages have no petrol or diesel, shops have no sugar and, worst of all, hospitals have no drugs to treat sick people. Last summer 18 people were killed in anti-government riots, nine in Mzuzu.

Against this backdrop Irish man Brother Aidan Clohessy operates an extraordinary service to assist the most deprived of all Malawi’s citizens – people who are suffering with mental health issues and children with special needs. In a country where survival is tough, these people are often left on the scrap heap.

But not in the Mzuzu area, thanks to the St John of God brother, who began providing healthcare locally in 1993.

Today, St John of God provides Mzuzu with mental health services and special needs education that are from the first world. Its 152 employees – all Malawian – reach far into the community, with outreach programmes for clients living in the most remote areas who cannot travel across the vivid red-earth dirt roads to the city.

In fact, Mzuzu is not a city as we in Ireland would recognise it. It’s a cluster of shops and business and a market along a few dusty streets. Outside that main area are 11 crowded townships, where chickens roam freely, women carry heavy loads on their heads and better-off residents have galvanised roofs and satellite dishes on their dwellings. The surrounding countryside is inhabited by subsistence farmers, with most people living on maize, resulting in malnutrition and famine when the crop fails.

Brother Aidan came here in 1993, invited by the local bishop to set up a community based mental health service. Before that the Tipperary born psychiatric nurse and special needs teacher was principal of St Augustine’s special school in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

In Mzuzu his first clinic for people with issues around mental health was in the town’s main street, over a shop.

Today, St John of God has a purpose built clinic for drop-in clients, a centre for people who need residential care, and a college which offers a nursing degree, a degree in clinical medicine and a diploma in counselling, all mental health related.

The St John of God buildings shine like a beacon in a city where most structures look like they have been thrown up. Built from local red brick, with pitched roofs, they are bright and spotless – an uphill struggle in a place where dust is everywhere.

The clinic is the first point of contact for all clients, who sometimes arrive in chains, says Brother Aidan. But, as the manifesto inside its door explains, dignity is paramount and once they enter, they are in a safe place.

People needing short-term residential care are accommodated in a centre known as The House of Hospitality. The sign over its door is from Matthew 25:40 and reads “whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me”. Here there is a 12-bedroom acute unit, a 24-bed stabilising unit and a facility, where clients are helped back into the community through counselling and training in areas from home management to carpentry.

This complex also houses a new residential centre for drug and alcohol addiction, the only one of its kind in a country of 15 million people.

For more, read this week’s Connacht 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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