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The indelible mark the Leaving Cert makes on your dreams



Date Published: {J}

You wouldn’t need Jean Byrne in her latest shiny dress to predict that the weather was always going to take a sudden turn for the better this week – after all you only have to hint at the start of the Leaving Cert for the sun to suddenly shine.

And even now – 30 years to the week after I entered the gymnasium in St Mary’s College with my sweaty pen and my unsure future in my hands – the mere thought of the Leaving can still bring me out in a cold sweat.

There are so many people who say their recurring nightmare is to suddenly find themselves sitting at their exam desk with a Maths paper and as many foolscap folders as you could ever need – only to realise that they haven’t studied a single thing for the most important three hours of their life.

That’s the impact the Leaving has and it’s an imprint that never leaves. Time may heal other wounds, but the Leaving Cert is a sore that is opened in perpetuity during the first week of June for the rest of your natural life.

I can’t remember a single thing that came up in a single exam but I can still see myself sitting at the flimsiest of folding desk – with enough room for the exam paper, some writing paper, a pen and, at a push, one elbow – with enough butterflies to qualify for an environmental grant.

And in complete contrast, at no stage in my life since have I experienced the level of euphoria that I felt as I walked out of my final exam more than two weeks later – Home Economics; Social and Scientific as it was, a subject I’d never had a class in or opened a book for and which still earned me a pass in an honours paper.

It must have been how Nelson Mandela felt as he walked from Robben Island – free at last, although there were no cameras to greet us as we exited the giant gates. But against that we didn’t have Winnie hanging onto us for the next few years either.

And now that we were all grown up, we celebrated like we’d won the World Cup, ending up on the floor of some flat off Dominick Street unable to remember your name but still able to remember your Leaving Cert exam number. That was the indelible mark it left on your brain.

It goes without saying that the Leaving Cert is unbelievably cruel and hugely unfair, but you have to have some common test and they still haven’t designed a better one.

Thankfully there’s more emphasis these days on the oral aspect of languages because back then you could get an honour in French or Spanish and not be able to ask for a beer in either country.

But the notion of your future being determined by three hours in an exam hall is ludicrous; for a start, some people perform better than others under that kind of pressure and coolness under fire isn’t an exam subject at all.

Equally – as the cram colleges have proved by taking it to a fine art – there are ways of learning off chunks of your syllabus by rote to the point where it should be called regurgitation as opposed to revision.

The fact that you retain so little of what you learn over the first 18 years of your life for use in any aspect of your life from then on, tells its own story.

It remains one of life’s great mysteries as to how you can spend so long learning something off by heart and then within a matter of minutes it is erased from your memory as though you’d experienced the very early onset of dementia.

Patronising pundits always try to hold up a handful of people who failed their Leaving but still did well in life, as proof that the world doesn’t end with a bad result.

Everyone knows it doesn’t – but a poor result sure stacks up the odds against you.

The pressure that will be placed on 60,000 Leaving Certs next week – and in a relative way on their Junior Cert counterparts – is way too much, but it won’t be changing any time soon.

The only consolation, as they sit there in the shadow of the sunshine, is that life will never ever throw up three weeks as stressful again.

And presuming that all goes reasonably well between now and June 24 at the latest, you can at least look forward to that sense of relief and euphoria that – like the exam itself – you will never experience again.

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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