Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tynagh Mines - Gold in them there hills.

On a sunny afternoon in the early 1960's a Canadian sea-plane touched down on the silvery-grey waters of Loughrea lake, taxied to a jetty and tied off. The children swimming at Long Point were distracted by the unusual sight, but pretty soon were back at doggy-paddling in the lake and playing ball on the shore. 
Within hours a couple of bemused geologists working in the make-shift laboratory on the lake's shore, started analyzing the 4 foot long core-samples taken from a farm near the village of Tynagh, a tiny one-pub hamlet, situated between Loughrea and Portumna in the south-east of County Galway. Very quickly they realised they were looking at no ordinary core-samples, these were golden...well not quite golden, lead in fact, and zinc, copper and silver, in traces that hinted at much bigger reserves below ground than previously imagined. They made a call to Toronto, on a windey-up phone in the office, to the CEO of Northgate Exploration....and the rest is history.
All during the 1960's and 1970's Tynagh Mines were the defining industry that was a constant in the lives of communities all over East Galway providing much needed work, wages and opportunity to the mostly rural Galway region, underpinning the economies of Loughrea, Portumna, Balinasloe, Galway City and every village and parish within twenty miles radius..
'The Mine's' as we called them, though there was only a big hole, defined my youth. It was our very own, local Klondyke. Hundreds of people who would otherwise have emigrated, perhaps forever, found work there. And not just work, overtime, a word that had never been heard outside of Dublin heretofore. Very soon the entire area   began to benefit, new cars, new houses, more stock on the farms, better roads, singing pubs.
Each day, and night, all day and all night, for twenty years, the big 40 ton truckloads of grey ore on Iggy Madden trucks trundled through the village of Gurtymadden, on through Loughrea, changing gears as they strained up the hill on the Main Street, shaking every building to their 14th century foundations, on out the yellow bog road, shaking-up Craughwell and Oranmore, turning at McDonagh's thatch pub there, blackening the thatch with their diesel exhaust fumes and hauled on, under the battlements of 15th century Oranmore castle, turning left at Moneenageesha, passing along the shores of Lough Atalia, to tip the dry ore into the big silo at the docks in Galway, where the ore was loaded onto cargo ships and out onto Galway Bay, by the Aran islands, down past the Cliffs of Moher, and Skellig Rocks, southing Kinsale, sailing across the Irish sea and the English channel to Rotterdam, where the mounds of grey Irish rock were processed by the ever-hungry, smoke-belching smelting plants in Germany. 
Not that we knew it, but for thousands of years, we had been sitting on the richest vein of zinc, lead and silver in Europe. While we starved in our blight-surrounded cottages in 1847, our potential salvation lay just a few hundred feet below us, unseen, unsuspected. Well not quite unknown, some mining had been done there in the 18th century, but British tarriffs on Irish goods made it non-viable and the mine-workings were quickly forgotten. Lord Clanrickarde owned all that land, and most of southeast Galway and he brooked no nonsense from his tenants, evicting them at will and opposing the Land League at every step in The House of Lords. He only visited his vast estate once and declared it awful and tedious. So he employed land agents to milk his tenants dry, and perhaps never heard of the old mine, back at Tynagh. He died, a lonely recluse on a park bench in Hyde Park. No one in Tynagh mourned his passing.
The new Irish State had not heard of Tynagh either. They were too busy fighting each other and making sure the Catholic Church was kept abreast of every penny and pound in the new Ireland. So it came as news to us all when these mad Canadians started buying up the land locally and digging up perfectly good farmland. Fools' gold we thought, while we took their money and dug where they pointed. And while we worked hard while it lasted, we were the victims of our own greed. The mine that should have lasted fifty years was open-cast mined and exhausted within twenty years. Yes it was great while it lasted, but it didn't last long.
The caveat,' beware of Greeks bearing gifts' hold true here especially. Northgate Exploration, a Canadian mining company, and their international shareholders, made multi-millions of pounds, tax free, from this massive hole in the ground in Tynagh, and when they left, all we inherited was an environmental disaster, with little or no lasting benefits to the community. No swimming pools, community centres, industries, social services, university scholarships, endowments, philanthropic enterprises, nothing, just a few nice houses, some better roads, bigger pubs, a rotting jetty on Loughrea Lake, and lots and lots of arsenic and old slag.
The Erris Peninsula and the North Mayo communities are right to demand more from Shell Oil for the massive reserves of natural gas that Shell will siphon, tax free, from the Atlantic off Belmullet. Shell, like Northgate Exploration, have done their homework well. The tax regime in Ireland benefits them hugely, and our politicians are either afraid to make a stand, or possibly, too 'involved' to make one. Some local people in Pulathomas, near Belmullet, protesting with the 'Shell to Sea' group, have been jailed by the Irish State for their temerity in 'asking for more', but this is no Dickensian tale. This is real life for the people on whose turf, or under whose turf, these millions, nae, billions of Euros will be made.
Loughrea is a living example of short-sighted gain, versus long-term sustainability. Northgate Exploration's success and the unseemly rapid pace of their mining, was driven by tax incentives, share price, commodity markets, political expediency, and greed. If anything greed was the vice we all succumbed to, cashing our overtime checks, while the long-term societal benefits of such a rich resource in our backyard were ignored, largely.
Yes the wages were great, while they lasted, in the poor 1960's and 70's. Few people emigrated from Tynagh, Duniry, Killimor, Mullagh, Cappaghtaggle, Kylebrack and Abbey. The pubs were busy and we certainly benefited from an influx of amazing and talented people, who contributed to the county and our communities in many, many ways, even now, but we cannot look back at the Tynagh Mines now and not wonder if we could have done it better. 
A bittersweet documentary. Do tune into it. 
Thanks. Brian Nolan

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Titanic - The Galway Connection


RMS Titanic was the greatest ship of her age. Thought to be unsinkable, Titanic was 882 feet long (this replica model, pictured above on the Prom in Salthill, was built by a Men's Shed project in Lahardane, County Mayo, to mark Titanic's 100th anniversary in 2012 is 1/10th scale). The real Titanic was built in Belfast to be the fastest liner in the world. Titanic struck an iceberg some 200 miles off Newfoundland, at 11.20pm on the night of the 14th of April 1912. She sank at 2.20 am on the morning of 15th April 1912, while on her maiden voyage to New York, from Southampton, England, via Cherbourg, France and Cobh (Queenstown), Ireland.
There were 2,223 passengers and crew aboard Titanic when she sailed from Queenstown (899 crew and 1,324 passengers) on the morning 12th of April 1912.
In total, 1,517 people died when Titanic sank (685 crew and 832 passengers). 120 Irish passengers boarded Titanic at Queenstown (42 survived, 78 died). 37 of the Irish passengers were from Connacht.
Nine passengers on Titanic were from County Galway. 2 others aboard had a very strong Galway connection.
Hanora "Nora" Healy, 29, of Athenry, Co Galway boarded the Titanic at Queenstown as a third class passenger. Her ticket cost £7-15s. Nora escaped the sinking in lifeboat 16. She died 11 March 1919 aged 36.
Andrew ‘Andy’ Keane, 20, Derrydonnell, Athenry, Co. Galway. He was a keen hurler and brought 2 county medals and a dozen hurley sticks with him on Titanic. He died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified.
Margaret Mannion, Loughanboy, Caltra. Co. Galway. She survived the sinking and returned to Ireland in 1919. She married Martin Hopkins of Ahascaragh. She died in Clontuskert on 15 May 1970.
Ellie Mockler, 23, Caltra, Co. Galway. She survived the sinking and in 1917 became a Mercy Nun in New York. She died in 1984, aged 95.
Martin Gallagher - Currafarry, Caltra, Co. Galway. A hero of the tragedy, he saved several women to escape certain death by helping them into lifeboats. He died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified.
Thomas Smyth – Chapelfinnerty, Caltra, Co Galway. He died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified.
Thomas Kilgannon - Currafarry, Caltra, Co Galway. He died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified.
John Flynn, Carrowhakin, Clonbur, County Galway. He emigrated to America some years previously and was only home on a visit. He died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified.
Patrick Shaughnessy, 24, Tynagh, Co Galway. He died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified.
Other Galway Connections;
Bruce Ismay, head of the White Star Line, the company that owned ‘Titanic’, was a captain of industry, an extraordinary entrepreneur, and the driving force behind the new breed of luxury liners purpose built to race across the Atlantic. He was vilified after Titanic sank and shunned as a social pariah. He left his life in London and moved to Connemara where he mostly lived from 1913 
Eugene Daly -Athlone, Co.Westmeath. 
A weaver and a talented piper, sailed on Titanic. Luckily he survived the sinking by clinging to an upturned liferaft. He testified at the Titanic hearings in New York. He married in New York and in 1921 returned to Ireland initially to Athlone. Later, he settled in Galway city and after his wife died in 1961, he flew back to America where he lived with his only child, Marion Joyce, in Missouri. He died on 30 October 1965. (see his story, Erin's Lament, below)

The Piper on the Titanic;
Erin’s Lament, Galway’s Gain - A Titanic tale
In April 1912, Eugene Patrick Daly, 29, a weaver from Athlone, County Westmeath, Ireland, was travelling to New York City, just one of 113 Irish passengers who unfortunately chose the Titanic to emigrate to the USA. He boarded the Titanic on the 11th of April, 1912, at Queenstown (ticket number 382651). The ticket cost him £7-15s (seven pounds and fifteen shillings) or almost 6 months pay for a working man.

It has been confirmed in eye witness accounts of the Titanic’s call to Cobh, that Daly played "Erin's Lament", "A Nation Once Again", "Boolavogue" and other well known nationalist tunes on his uilleann (elbow) pipes (a traditional Irish instrument) for his fellow steerage passengers, as America, one of the two tenders to the Titanic steamed away from Queenstown harbour, bound for the gleaming liner that lay at anchor far out in Cork harbour, near Roches Point. It was both a heartening and a poignant moment listening to those traditional airs as the passengers left Ireland, most of them for the last time. In the Titanic Movie one of the band who played the dance music that Rose and Jack enjoyed below decks was playing an uileann pipes, no doubt a reference to Eugene Daly.

When Titanic sank, Eugene Daly was cast into the waters and no doubt he thaough his hour had come. However, amazingly Daly survived the Titanic’s tragic sinking by clinging to an upturned collapsible lifeboat (Collapsible 2). He credited his survival to his heavy overcoat. It had been his grand-father's coat and his mother had insisted on his wearing it. Though frost-bitten and near death, he was rescued, but he lost his precious pipes. He would later file a claim against the White Star Line’ for $50 for their loss. Similar pipes, possibly Daly's, were recently salvaged from the Titanic wreck and are now in the Titanic Museum collection.
Eugene Daly got married in America to Lil Caulfield from Co. Mayo, and whether he was homesick or inspired by the Irish Free State, he returned to Ireland in 1921. He suffered terribly from paronia on the return ship journey and never again set foot aboard a ship once they arrived home. With his new wife he moved to Galway where he found work in the Galway Woolen Mills. He lived at 7 St. Johns Terrace in Galway and was a popular musician in the city, playing pipes and flute in ceili bands around the city.
In 1961, after his wife died, he emigrated one last time to the USA, to Missouri, but this time by plane. He lived out his last days there with his only child, his daughter Marion Joyce.
Eugene testified at the Titanic Hearings in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel New York and his description of the sinking, the inadequate lifeboats and especially his eye witness testimony of a ship’s officer shooting third class passengers who were trying to board a lifeboat has been relied on heavily by historians of the Titanic and is the stuff of film legend now. His credible eye witness testimony of the chaotic scenes and passenger discrimination onboard Titanic was instrumental in the passing of new Lifeboat laws for passenger ships.  He helped save many lives in subsequent ship wrecks because of the new Lifeboat laws.
His account of the tragedy was used as research in many movies and stories about the great liner. He was unique amongst survivors in his willingness to recount the story whenever asked, as most other survivors, no doubt suffering from post-traumatic shock, or grief, rarely or never uttered a word on their brush with death when Titanic sank.

Eugene Daly died on 30 October 1965 aged 82. He is buried in St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx

He lived at 7 Johns Terrace in Galway's 'West' district. He played music in Galway at various halls, but strangely never played the uileann pipes again, preferring to play the concert flute instead. He was invited as a guest of honour to the opening of the film about the Titanic, 'A night to remember' at The Claddagh Palace theatre in Galway and it is said he attended the showing every night of it's run there. 

Recently, I heard a story of how local children in the early sixties would chide him as having been a coward and dressing up in womens clothing, confusing him with Bruce Ismay, perhaps and not knowing the full story of his bravery and character. They taunted him with cries of  'Did ya get a white feather for your birthday from the Queen?' and worse I am sure. In Missouri he is remembered as a daily mass-goer and a community volunteer. I am not able to throw any light on why he is buried in the Bronx. His house in John Street is still there today. 

I tell this story and many more about Galway and its interesting past on my 'Walking Tours of Galway' and my 'Fireside Tours' at O'Connors Pub in Salthill. For more information see the Galway Walking Tours website or email me at for tour times and booking. Galway Walks - more than just a leisurelay stroll!

The above notes and story were prepared by me for the exibit of the replica Titanic at the Prom opposite the Aquarium.

Here's what was on show then:

From Mayo to Galway - with love, ' The Titanic' on the Prom!

Visitors to Galway, and locals alike, might be surprised this week by the graceful presence of the Titanic, 'moored' on Salthill's promenade, one of Ireland's best known seaside resorts. The replica 1/10 scale model of the famous ship, is on loan to Galway from the Mayo community of Addergoole, who celebrated the centenary of the ship's sinking last April. The commemorative events in the tiny Mayo village of  Laherdane were the focus of national and international media coverage, and 'the boat on the bay' is already attracting hundreds of curious onlookers to Salthill. The Titanic replica is 88 feet long, and is accurate in every detail, down to the portholes, smokestacks and anchors, and the decks are fully illuminated at night. 

Eleven young emigrants from Mayo lost their lives on the ship, a tragedy which devastated the local community, and prompted a group of local men from Addergoole to build a model of the liner. They worked tirelessly and in secret over a period of eight weeks, to ensure that the replica was in place for the opening ceremony in April this year. The 'gift' from Mayo is an acknowledgement and mark of respect to the nine Galwegians who boarded 'The Titanic' at Cobh in April 1912, six of whom lost their lives. "It was a real labour of love," according to Brian Nolan from Salthill, who is also a founding member of the Addergoole Titanic Society, "and while the locals are missing it terribly, it's great to be able to recognise Galway's loss on the Titanic too," he said.

Martin Gallagher, from Galway, was one of those who selflessly helped up to nine women into lifeboats before he lost his life. Another of the more well known Galway connections to the ship is Eugene Patrick Daly, a weaver, originally from Athlone, but who subsequently settled in St John's Terrace, Galway., where he worked at the Galway Woolen Mills, and was also a popular local musician.  Eugene testified at the Titanic Hearings in New York, and his credible eye witness testimony of the chaotic scenes and passenger discrimination onboard the Titanic was instrumental in the passing of new Lifeboat laws for passenger ships.

The West of Ireland connection to the ship extends to Connemara where Bruce Ismay, owner of the White Star Line, lived for thirty years.  He escaped the stricken ship on the last lifeboat, but his reputation never recovered.

In spite of it's tragic history, the Titanic and it's present-day replica continue to fascinate and attract the interest of passersby. Managing Director of Salthill Tourist Board Roger O' Sullivan, was impressed by the efforts of the Mayo community to keep the story alive, and he took the initative to bring the ship to Salthill in memory of the lost Galwegians. "The Titanic is just one of many welcome visitors to Galway this week, and is a continued boost for local business who are delighted with the increase in trade," he said. The arrival of the ship was celebrated at a launch in the Galway Business School in Salthill on Friday, where the Mayor of Galway Terry O'Flaherty welcomed the local tourist initiative.(pics in circulation)  

Situated on the prom, opposite the Aquarium, it's an ideal spot for a fun day out, with many visitors already enjoying close access to the ship for family photos. Titanic memorabilia and souvenirs are available from 10 am in the adjoining tent where talks on the boat's history will take place each evening at, beginning on Saturday August 4th,and continuing until August 20th. 
Volunteers who would like to take part in promoting Galway's historic link with the ship, are invited to contact Brian Nolan directly on 086 327 3560.

The replica is now housed in a warehouse in Castlebar, awaiting sailing orders. Who knows where it will go next (after necessary repairs and refurbishment!

Monday, January 6, 2014


She looked up from her chair by the window, as though she’d just awoken from a pleasant dreamless nap when I walked into her room overlooking the lake. She was fully dressed, her hair washed, looking radiant. At 91, she still cut a dash. ‘Happy New Year’ she beamed, drawing me into a warm, heart-felt hug, surprising me by her strength and her awareness of the date.
‘I brought you a little present Mum’, I said. Her eyes twinkled, a little girl smile. I opened my bag, carefully setting out two, too-dainty Waterford crystal glasses that I’d picked up from her house a little earlier. They sparkled in the pale winter sunlight that reflected off the frantic little waves dancing endlessly across the lake outside.
She edged a little closer, my co-conspirator, as I reached into the bag again, rummaging for the little bottle of Baileys I’d bought in McInerneys on the way to the nursing home. ‘Ooh, that looks nice’ she cooed, eyeing the festive bottle, anticipating the molten delight inside, ‘I don’t know when I last tasted Baileys, must be years. Dad used love a glass when he was in the nursing home, do you remember, how he’d lick his lips afterwards, he really looked forward to his night-cap and a chat before bedtime, he’d love to be here with us now, listening to all the news.’
I poured a measure into each glass, the scent of coffee and chocolate and whiskey immediately filled the room, banishing the other smells that mark a long-term stay home, conjuring up a party atmosphere, excitement in the whiff. ‘Slainte’ I said, ‘Happy New Year’ she replied, ‘To absent friends’, I toasted, as we both raised the glass to our lips, sipping the café-crème delight, a burst of delicious flavours and memories suddenly all conjured up together in the delicate glasses. She took a tiny sip, delighting in the taste, savouring the Baileys in her sore mouth, loving the salve and the change, smacking her lips and her eyes together, all smiling. She sat back against her pillow, replacing the glass carefully on her day-table. She’d hardly drank a drop, I noticed.
‘I haven’t seen you since your trip to New York. Tell me all about it, what did you do, who did you meet?’ Though it was almost two months ago, and I’d told her a half-dozen times already, I proceeded to tell her again of the weekend I’d spent visiting friends in Manhattan, the business function I went to, the chilly weather, the Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings.
‘Sweet Potato, they must be nice,’ she said, drying her lips with a tissue, ‘I cannot imagine what a sweet potato tastes like, must be odd putting butter and salt on something sweet, you wouldn’t do that to a strawberry, or a bowl of trifle.’ She took another tiny sip, delighting again at the treat. ‘Did you have a nice Christmas?’ she asked, ‘were the girls home? Is everyone ok, at home, in your house?’ Her face changed, as a tiredness came over her. ‘Yes, we were all home for the holidays Mum. We had a lovely Christmas. The girls really enjoyed meeting you on Christmas day at Mary’s house, after the Christmas swim at Blackrock, they thought you looked great.’ She pressed her head back against the pillow, concentrating, as though waiting for a small pain to pass.
‘I don’t remember Christmas. I don’t remember meeting your lovely girls. Isn’t that terrible? How are her children? Is everyone ok?’ She looked so vulnerable, so innocent and fragile, needlessly worried. ‘Yes Mum, everyone is fine, thank God.’ She relaxed, tried another sip, again, hardly a drop, but nonetheless delicious.
‘Swimming on Christmas day! Did you do that? The water must have been terribly cold, brr! ! love my room here, its so warm and cosy, you don’t even hear the wind here and look’, she pointed out the window at the aurora of pastels the sunset was creating, ‘look at the gorgeous colours, purple, pink, silver, the blues, the reds, all changing and matching, like a fashion parade. I love this time of day, I love this view, the colours are so striking, every evening is different, it is so nice here.’
She gazed out the window, lost in her reverie, in her thoughts. I looked at her face, so soft and beautiful. She was silent, lost in the moment, content, as she drifted away to another place, hypnotised by the kaleidoscope the sunset on the lake was creating. Inside her gaze, I imagined her remembering her life, as a young girl, a beautiful woman, a nurturing mother, a businesswoman, a wife, a mum, a grandmother, a great-grandmother.
We sat together, silently, comfortable, my hand on hers, surrounded by the scent of the Baileys and the fresh flowers my sisters had brought. I wanted that moment to last forever, to remember this peace forever, our shared happiness, imprinted in my mind, soothing my heartache. It struck me it could possibly be my last shared sunset with Mum. For a moment, I was incredibly, profoundly sad. We sat, and looked and listened. A flight of crows passed by the window, silhouetted in the sunset, heading for the nights roost. A few cars passed, their lights replacing the sinking sunset’s glow.
It seemed like an age before she looked up again, strong again, gazing intently at my face, wordlessly reassuring me, startling me.  ‘What day is it?’ she asked, breaking the silence. ‘Today is the 5th of January, mother, and tomorrow is Little Christmas.’ ‘Little Christmas’ she repeated. I raised my glass, motioning her to do the same. ‘Lets have a toast Mum, a special toast for today, for you.’ She raised her tiny, almost-full glass. We clinked. ‘Cheers’ she said. ‘Cheers Mum. Here’s to Nollaig Na mBan’. She looked at me, quizzically, ‘Nollaig na mBan?’ ‘Yes mum, you know, Nollaig na mBan. Women’s Christmas, remember, the day the women of the house get to put their feet up and their men get to wait on them, hand and foot, for the entire day, doing all the house work, making the dinner, a day off for the women, just for them, a big thank you for all their hard work over Christmas.’
She looked back down at her glass and raised it up, excited now. ‘Imagine that? Women’s Christmas, a day off, just for us? Whoever would have thought of that? What a smart idea. I’ll certainly drink to that! Slainte! To tomorrow! To Nollaig Na mBan!’
I went to leave. ‘You’ll come again tomorrow, won’t you? We have so much to talk about and I want to hear all about that swim and tell your girls to be careful out there, in Dublin, in London. Tell them to enjoy the present moment, who knows what tomorrow may bring.’ ‘I will Mum, I will, love you Mum, till tomorrow then, love you.’

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Winter Solstice, Yule and An Mairgead Mór

Over most of Western Europe, particularly in those areas connected with the ancient Celts, December 21, the shortest day of the year fell during the Druidic festival of 'Yule'. Today it is better known as the festival of the ‘Winter Solstice’.
‘Thoul’, an ancient word for wheel, has been handed down to us as Yule. The sun was likened by the Celts to a wheel, traversing the heavens, giving long and short days. The shortest day, and thus a good reason to be of good cheer in anticipation of longer days ahead, was known as Yule. This celebration of light survives in many of our Christmas traditions with the hanging of mistletoe (a white berry), Holly (a red berry) and the lighting of the Yule-log, whose faint light kick-started the longer days Spring. It was an exciting festival for the ancient Celts, coming as it did at the darkest time of year.
In Ireland Yule was eventually replaced by the Catholic traditions surround the religious feast-day of the Immaculate Conception, on the 8th of December and the longer festival of Christmas. However, outside the city, the old pagan traditions continued to be marked by the holding of the Mairgead Mór or the "Big Fair Day, in country towns all around Ireland.
"Brian Nolan, a Loughrea, County Galway native, remembers it as a day of great celebration, when farmers would converge on town to sell their crops, livestock, and poultry, and women would come with them to spend their "butter and egg money" on holiday gifts and goodies.
According to Nolan, "Mairgead Mór was an amazing sight to me as a child in the early 60s before marts and supermarkets modernized everything. On that day, everyone came to town — the ruddy-faced, wool-capped men with their sturdy womenfolk; the too-thin gaggles of wide-eyed children — on horses, in donkey and cart, on bicycles, and on foot, and everyone carried something for the fair. They arrived before dawn, and left, a mess of straw and leavings behind them, after dark".
"Geese by the hundred, turkeys and chickens by the thousand, all 'live,' tied to the back of upturned donkey carts between loads of turf. Mounds of potato sacks brimmed with Kerrs Pinks and Banners from Clare; huge heads of cabbage and turnips; bunches of parsnip and carrots, and the very rare bushel of brussels sprouts. Wheels of hardy cheddar, and what seemed like acres of flats of eggs in hues of brown and white, with the bigger duck-eggs, bluish in the winter sunlight".
"The fowl would be raucous, hog-tied or closeted in bushel baskets with their heads poking out, or in more modern times, poking their heads out of car-boots, and all cackling and clucking and gobbling away to their hearts' content. The 'townies' and some city market buyers made their canny way, back and forth between the rows of sellers, examining here, feeling there, commenting on the size and weight, and what they were fed on, and whether they were spring or summer birds".
"Amid all that was the excitement of the shops, the bustle of the women going in to settle their account with the harvest, butter, and turkey money enabling them to pav down their tab and get some new clothes for themselves and the children, now wide-eyed in expectation and appreciation of the beautiful goods and sweet chocolates they were able to see and touch now and maybe even take home".
December 21st was one of the most important dates in the Celtic calendar as it marked the celebration of a farmer's success and the approach of the New Year. The Mairgead Mór did not always co-incide with December 21, in fact it was usually held on the Wednesday or Thursday that fell in the week after the next Sunday after December the 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  So it was held approximately a week or so before Christmas, giving folks enough time to kill, hang and pluck their turkey or goose.
These days In modern Ireland, the Mairgead Mór is no longer held, it's now just another big shopping day before Christmas, but in country folks’ minds, the time for cutting mistletoe is nigh and they’d best be getting the turkey ready for market’ Today, the 18th of December would have been a perfect Mairgead Mór.
The story above is typical of the tales I tell on my Galway's Horrible History Walks around the city. Please visit my website for more information on these fun and fact filled walks.

This particular story 'Mairgead Mór', which I wrote over a decade ago, appears in edited form in Margaret Johnson’s latest cook book, ‘Christmas Flavors of Ireland’ which is available now through her website or on Amazon.  The book is delightfully written and presented and would make a lovely Christmas gift.
It is published by Ambassador International., Belfast, N. Ireland 
Margaret M. Johnson

Monday, November 25, 2013

Shooting the Messenger

Shooting the Messenger! 
So...50 years ago, today, I was just 7, and was playing by myself in our back-yard on Main Street, Loughrea Town ('cause no one would play with me), hitting a tennis ball with my hurley against the big wooden gate that closed off our yard from the street. My brother Paul had numbered the squares on the gate, assigning scores to each target, the smaller the square, the bigger the score. I was aceing the hard-to-hit-for-a-seven-year-old #3 target that was the wicket gate, when the window above me opened up, in what was Sweeneys Grocery then, but now is AIB Bank. Gerry Sweeney popped his head out, a mass of ginger hair, animated, 'JFK has been shot' he roared, before slamming the window shut. 
I had no idea what this utterance meant, but given the nature of its delivery, felt obliged to drop the hurley and dash into our Kitchen, where mum and dad and who knows how many of my 6 siblings were having their tea (supper, whatever) and waiting for the 6 o'clock news to come on the warmed-up wireless, after the Angelus, that was chiming away sonorously amid the clack and clatter of cups and saucers and spoons. I blurted out Gerry's news, 'JFK has been shot' to be met by incredulous stares and the rebuke, 'Shut up, the news is only coming on, what would you know about JFK, sure wasn't he just in Eyre Square a couple a months ago, shot??? Shure who would shoot a man like that, shame on you for your wicked imagination, go up those stairs to your room, what a thing to say, shhh, here's the news just coming on now...get, get you up those stairs, and don't come down until you have had a long think about what trouble telling lies gets you, boyo, ...pass the milk Clare please, shush, whisth!!, ...what's that they just said?.. JFK, Oh my God......!'
"Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot.
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot."
-- Alan J. Lerner (a classmate of JFK's at Harvard)

Later I wrote a piece from the walking tours I give in Galway. I call the tours Galway's Horrible Histories Walking Tours...but in fairness, only some of them are horrible.

Earlier today I was asked what did JFK ever do for Ireland? What indeed, quite a bit I'd's how I answered the question.

Social Media, Blog & Content Creator - Walking Tours
Earlier today I was asked what did JFK ever do for Ireland?
When I do my Galway's Horrible Histories Walking Tours ( ), I stop at the Browne Doorway in Eyre Square and tell the story of how JFK won the hearts and minds of Galway and Ireland ..and I quote from his speech (in Cork)..."I bring to you today the greetings of the people of Galway, New York; Dublin, New Hampshire; the people of Killarney, West Virginia; Kilkenny, Minnesota; the people of Limerick, Maine; and the people of Shamrock, Texas." Whoever wrote his speeches, knew his craft right well. I then tell how he and Eamon Devalera signed an agreement which limited future Irish emigration to the US, but the quid pro quo was the promise of FDI from US companies...including Boston's Digital Equipment Company (Digital), who 10 years later employed over 1,000 people in Galway. The rest is history. The foundation for modern Ireland's prosperity was laid right there in Eyre Square by JFK, who was assassinated in Dallas just 5 months later.

and Finally, just to cap it all off, two other progressive paople died the same day as JFK. They were C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley. What an astonishing co-incidence, three of the most visionary men on earth...all gone in one day. Air dheis De go raibh a h-anamacha.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Drowning At Sea - I Have A Dream

Baffle 2013

I have a dream, ladies and gentlemen, yes, I have a dream.
No, not the Martin Luther King kind, though it may seem,
that I might indeed have conjured up such a glorious triptych scheme.

No scheme, and it’s not a plan either, no grand design to conquer or win,
in some devilishly clever manner, the hearts of women and men,
nor even saving their souls, or taxing the wages of sin.

No my dream is much less laudable, far less fanciful and rare,
for my dream is simply the worst kind of scary nightmare,
where I am the hapless victim, the sacrificial lamb, in terrible danger

In my dream, I am alone in an angry ocean, of wave, after tumultuous wave.
No, I am not on a boat, or a ship, not even a raft, I am swimming, like mad, to save,
myself from drowning, from dying, from sinking helplessly into a cold, watery grave.

Yes, I imagine you have been there yourself, on occasion, permit me -
You are on holiday, had a few, went swimming, too far from the shore for safety,
you panic, swallow water, but just for a moment, it’s ok, you’re still in depth, you see.

Not me, in my dream the ocean is fathomless, deep, dark and forbidding
There is no reassuring shore, no tanned lifeguard to answer my frantic bidding
And by the way, there are sharks, all around, sharp-toothed and hungry, no kidding!

The ship that I fell off, though in my dream I can’t remember falling,
is sailing away, towards the horizon, totally ignoring my panicked bawling
I reach for my mobile, it’s on roaming, no signal, wet, no point calling

I’ve heard it said that when you’re dying your whole life flashes before you!
Not true, or at least not true for me, all I see is darkness around me, not a clue,
how did I get here, who I am, I’m alone, just me drowning again, hopeless déjà vu

Truth be told, this dream, this nightmare, visits me often, nearly every day.
At each replay, it gets worse, I’m worried, terrified, I’ve aged, I’ve gone grey.
The doctors can’t help me, prescribed everything, they even suggested I pray.

I’ve tried that of course, and I’ve found that it helps, praying sincerely
to St. Anthony for my lost life-vest,  begging St. Christopher to steer me
and St. Jude, for lost causes and hopeless cases, God bless him, he hears me

He must do, ‘cause in the dreams, just as I am about to drown, or be eaten
I am rescued by an off-course helicopter, or a pod of dolphins have beaten
the sharks, a currach skips across the waves, I’m snatched to safety, death-cheatin’.

Saved from the sea, exhausted, I drift back to sleep, though my relief is short-lived,
as each mornings news brings word of yet another family, devastated, bereaved.
The sea claims her own, but if cheated, another is soon taken, ‘tis believed.

I’ve cheated the sea quite a few times, in life and in dreams, though I still love to swim.
Floating on my back in Salthill last Wednesday, I basked in my vast, outdoor gym,
rejoicing on being alive, keeping healthy, feeling young, slim, trim with a touch of vim

Life was good, I dressed, shivering, turned on the car radio, and then heard about Niall.
A young man in his prime, so much talent, so much to live for, what caused his travail?
How dark were his demons, how deep was his ocean, what made his world spoil?

He is not coming back. His hurl and white helmet are stored. His deeds on the field,
will oft be re-told, but his phone was no use, his calls went unheard, his shield,
proved no match for the vengeful sea dragon. Drowned in an ocean, his fate was sealed.

Suicide’s not the answer to that demon called depression. That monstrous scourge,
stalks the land, randomly preying on the young and the vulnerable. Lets stop this surge!
Help is at hand. Pieta, Samaritans, St. Jude and you. Let Niall’s be the last funeral dirge.

I drove on away home, tears in my eyes. I promised I’d do what not enough of us choose,
to open my door, to reach out my hand, to reassure the lost, and not fear to lose,
to try to help others, from drowning at sea, no matter the cost, I’m spreading the news.

Drowning At Sea - I Have A Dream
This was my poem that I entered and read in the Baffle Poetry Festival that is held in Loughrea each Halloween weekend. This year's theme was 'Spreading the news'. 
Mine was not a winner, but I felt I had to write it because so many people, young men especially are committing suicide in Ireland every week. It is truly the saddest news that is spreading. We can all try to help those with suicidal thoughts or who are suffering from depression. Simply reaching out to them and speaking with them is a start. Being open to approach and being non-judgemental is also great. Lets do all we can to prevent more young people from ending their lives this way.
I would like to dedicate this poem to Niall Donohue, who was yet another victim to the monster we call depression. He died this week, a terrible shock to his family, friends and community. They are reeling from his loss. He was only, a lovely lad, a talented hurler and has left behind a saddened and stunned family and community. Air dheis De go raibh a h-anam.
Samaritans Phone 1850609090
Pieta House‎ or
For more on Niall's short life and his tragic death...see
St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes, hopeless cases and depression. His saints day is October 28, co-incidentally, tomorrow. Brian Nolan

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Our Achill's heel

Driving around Achill in the soft rain, her delight at seeing the old country was obvious. Every turn in the road we swapped stories of parallel lives in two different countries in the sixties, her in Cleveland, Ohio, me in Galway, Ireland. We had a lot in common. She had been a kindergarten teacher all her life in a leafy Cleveland suburb, my father had taught in a primary school in Duniry near the Slieve Aughty mountains, for 42 years. She said, 'My father was a fire-chief in Cleveland and he worked every hour he could to provide for his family, though money was never flush. A proud man,he instilled in us the motto, 'If you can't make it, you can't have it'. He built them two boats for sailing on Lake Erie and a cottage on the shore there for summer vacations. He could fix and make most anything. We never owned a new car, nor even a new sofa. Everything was pre-owned. He would come home from work of an evening, dressed in his captains uniform, wool suit, cap, gold braid. He'd boom, 'Anyone need a new bike? I passed a broken bicycle at 23rd and Dean, you want it, go down and get it, I will fix it up for you like new'. We always had great bikes and skateboards and ice-skates and never wanted for anything. He'd often say, 'If you know how to fix a broken shingle, you will never need to call a roofing contractor'. 'I adored the ground my father walked on', she finished, tearing at the memories. 
A mile later, on the coast road at Dooega, we passed this deserted farmhouse and I thought of her father back in Cleveland, and how he could fix a shingle and save a rooof, and I was ashamed at the dependent, throwaway society we have become, unable to keep our own house in order, fix our own roof, plant our own garden. 

 — in Dooega, Mayo.