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Some personal encounters with Dr Garret FitzGerald



Date Published: {J}

As someone who has been involved in writing politics for the best part of 40 years, I met Garret FitzGerald when he was a young Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Liam Cosgrave administration, and later as Taoiseach, and over many years as a commentator.

He was a man of extraordinary attainment – economist, politician, political commentator, writer, and passionate conversationalist. But he carried the attainments lightly and without the slightest hint of self-importance.

He was more likely to appear with two odd shoes and a hole in the sole of one of them. Not for him the Charvet Shirt and the designer suit . . . indeed, if you put him into a designer suit, chances were that within a few hours he would be rumpled once again into the familiar figure you started out with some hours previously!

I first met him in Seapoint at a conference where he was a speaker as the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I can’t put a year on it, but it seems to have been in the early years of the 1973-77 Fine Gael-Labour Government which was led by Cosgrave.

As a reporter covering the event for some paper or other, I approached Dr FitzGerald for his script. He was embarrassed that he didn’t have one – especially as someone who had been making part of his living from journalism in one of his many other pursuits.

Quick as a flash he commandeered one of the ancient Remington typewriters which was in the press room, slammed into the machine a few sheets of paper with carbon between them, and lashed-off four typewritten pages in a matter of 20 minutes.

It was a can-do attitude which he never lost over all the years. I think I told you previously about the time they called the General Election in 1977 and had forgotten that, though they were ministers and still in government, the civil service availability was now withdrawn because of the election. Garret was the man who went out to Eason’s to buy the folders for the minister’s scripts, and admitted it years later.

One of his most enduring traits was approachability. I remember on one occasion when he was Taoiseach and I needed to collect a script. He was staying in the Ardilaun House Hotel and when I called there I was told that he was resting in his room. However, the word came down that I should go on up to the room.

In the room was his unfailingly charming wife, Joan. She offered me a cup of tea and we had the tea and talked while Garret was taking a nap on the bed in the same room. Garret, she said, liked to take a lie down for 15 minutes in the afternoon and found that the way to get to sleep was to bring any old sort of a novel with him and he would nod-off instantly. A few minutes later he was up and buzzing about the place.

One could imagine what would have happened had he brought something like the Aer Lingus schedules with him. On holiday, he liked to plough through the schedules and work out more efficient times for arrivals and departures. He was always something of a ‘number cruncher’.

Garret FitzGerald, to the dismay of some of his handlers and campaign managers, was hopeless in the middle of a crowd, talking smalltalk and clasping hands. Someone said Garret FitzGerald would shake hands with a baby while his arch rival Charlie Haughey would kiss the child.

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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