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5 February 2004 Edition

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Local history, broad themes

BY AN DRAOI RUA

Book Review

The District of Loughrea:

Vol I History 1791-1918

The District of Loughrea: Vol II Folklore 1860-1960

Loughrea History Project

€40 for the set

(not including postage and packing)

The District of Loughrea: Vol I History 1791-1918, covers a wide range of subjects and provides a fresh insight into everything from railroads to rebellion. Some 25 contributors, including much local talent, make this publication a very readable, scholarly and skilled investigation. With 32 articles in the one book, it should appeal to republicans interested in local history. Certainly, it succeeds in bringing to life the events and personalities that shaped the history of East Galway covering a wide range of topics during the 1791-1918 era.

There are a number of articles I believe would be of particular interest to a republican readership. David Ryan has two articles covering the period of rebellion in the late 18th Century and the early 19th Century. 'Disaffection and Rebellious Conspiracy in the Loughrea Area 1791-1804' gives a great social and economic insight into the civil disobedience of the era. The author succeeds in putting the events in east Galway in context with what was happening nationally. We learn about activities such as the 'houghing' of cattle, of the secret societies and the activities of the United Irishmen. We also get a clear view of the reaction of the government forces, the clergy, the Yeomanry and the Orange Order.

David Ryan's other article, 'The Trial and Execution of Anthony Daly', is an excellent account of one of Loughrea's most haunting legends. Daly was a captain of the secret society 'The Ribbonmen', was framed, stood trial and was executed on 20 April 1820. The fame of this martyr lives strong in the local history, folklore and poetry of the area and has been retold in dramatic form in a production by the Loughrea History Project in recent years.

Sr Majella O'Keeffe gives an interesting insight into 'The Workhouse System in Loughrea 1846-51'. Although she refers to the "over-reliance on the potato" as being the main cause of the Great Famine, the descriptions of conditions, of diet, number of deaths, etc in the workhouse provide invaluable material to understanding this period of history. It is little surprise that she quotes that many were "choosing death rather than its dreaded doors".

Paul Manzor manages to connect 'Loughrea, the US Civil War and the Fenians 1860-1869'. He succeeds in putting Loughrea into the context of world events. He informs us on why almost 200,000 Irishmen fought on both sides of the US Civil War, of recruitment for the Union Army outside Loughrea and the activities of Capt Thomas J Kelly, a printer in Loughrea, a wounded officer in America and then a leading figure of the IRB.

'The Land War in Loughrea' is also well researched by Paul Manzor and his articles on this era make the events of the land struggle in the locality a very interesting read. Quotes from the gentry clarify the mindset of landlord and agent as being unwilling to accept any responsibility for the poverty suffered by their tenants.

By all accounts, the Marquis of Clanricarde was an absentee landlord of no compromise or understanding of his tenants. While other landlords slowly moved towards settlement, Clanricarde continued to evict. The conflict that inevitably followed is well discussed and stories of destitution, starvation, oppression, condemnation, arrests, a town under siege and evictions are contrasted with the monster meetings of the Land Leaguers, the agrarian violence of intimidation, burning of property, boycotting and even murder. Accounts of digging graves in front of the houses of the landed gentry were of particular interest. It is pointed out that the American flag was carried at monster meetings in the locality, showing that the US was still seen as a strong ally against Britain by the Land Leaguers. Connections are also made to Captain Boycott's herdsmen in the district and to the visits of Michael Davitt to the town.

Noel McDonnell relates the story of 'The Ward Eviction 1906'. Even though this man had his rent paid, he was seen as guilty of involvement in the United Irish League. Sledgehammers, stones, boiling water and 350 extra policemen in town all brought this case to national recognition.

Perhaps Sinn Féin of today could learn a few lessons from Joe Forde, who gives an in-depth study in articles on 'The Irish Party and Sinn Féin in Loughrea' during the period 1914-1918. In over 80 pages, he gives an excellent account of political developments in the town and rural district during the period of WW1.

We learn how the Irish Parliamentary Party had complete control of public representation at the start of the war and pledged their loyalty to the crown in return for Home Rule. Nationally, we understand that only 7% of the Irish Volunteers opposed Redmond on this stance. However, support for the war effort wavered and the author informs us on dismissals from work, of police supervision and of arrests for anti-enlistment activities.

Loughrea became deeply divided between those who supported and those who opposed the war. The differences between town and country are highlighted and interesting accounts of riotous scenes are also related. We read of the failure of the Irish Party to deliver on education, housing and sewerage issues in the locality, their corruption and weak opposition to the threat of conscription. Their manifesto depended strongly on the achievements of past decades during the Land Struggle.

Comparisons are made throughout to the marginalisation of Sinn Féin by neutralising the organisation locally and by arresting and deporting members. Although a young political party with vague policies, Sinn Féin showed unyielding opposition to the threat of conscription but also had great popular support, in the rural districts in particular. There was a Sinn Féin club in every parish and their candidate, a veteran of 1916, succeeded in achieving 86% of the vote in 1918.

On a scholarly note, Christina Cassidy gives an interesting account into the workings of the 'Loughrea Social and Literary Club, 1892-95'. This society was very much involved in the Celtic revival of literature of the time.

There are a few articles of interest to the Gaelic scholar, as Máire Uí Bharcair gives a valuable insight into the local placenames in the district in 'Logainmneacha' and Pádraig Ó Baoill discusses the influence of the great Gaelic Poet Raifteirí, who dwelled in the area in the early 19th Century . All in all, there is something of interest for every budding local historian and other enthusiasts in this book of 658 pages.

The District of Loughrea: Vol II Folklore 1860-1960 is the product of over four years research in which more than 1,500 pages of transcribed material and 120 hours of recorded interviews are condensed into a tidy readable volume of 326 pages. It incorporates folklore collected during the late 1930s, almost 150 photographs, newspaper clippings and over 50 contemporary voices from all walks of life. This book gives us the opportunity to understand a variety of people who tell their own stories, in their own words and it is edited into eleven chapters, dealing with the culture from birth to death. Although this book is of the Loughrea district, it will be of interest to anyone who appreciates folklore as it gives an insight to the character of our people and to the fabric of Irish society up until the 1960s.

I believe a republican readership would be particularly attracted to the chapters dealing with 'Troubled Times'. There are interesting accounts of the impact of WW1 and the threat of conscription in the locality. The exploits of the Black and Tans and the local RIC are also related. This is contrasted with the rise of Sinn Féin, the visit of de Valera in 1917, republican law courts, the activities of the IRA and Cumann na mBan and the burning of gentry houses. The impact of the death of Michael Collins leads to an understanding of the splits within families during the Civil War and then later divisions between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Blueshirts in the district. In fact, it seems the last remnants of the Civil War were fought in the town of Loughrea, locally referred to as 'The Doctor Trouble' of the 1930s. These chapters come to a close with accounts of the hardships suffered during WW2.

There are three chapters that give a particularly good insight into the living conditions of the people before the arrival of electricity: 'Everyday Life', 'Business Life' and 'Living on the land'. We learn about the daily routine of hard work, farming of crops and livestock, the people's crafts and shopping. We also get an insight into the type of housing and diet people had and we gain an understanding as to why so many emigrated, with accounts of the boat to America.

There are some humorous and serious stories told in 'School Years'. Many of these are contrasting accounts as to the discipline, cruelty and kindness of teachers and clerical staff.

Recollections of people's social life are to be found in 'Entertainment' and 'The Fair'. We learn about the games children played, the storytelling, the music, songs, dancing, ceilídhe, sport (hurling in particular) and of course all the craic to be had on a fair day.

No folklore book would be complete without stories of 'The Supernatural'. Here we have a number of accounts about ghosts, the banshee, the devil and conflicts with the fairies. Customs about the land, time and place are also related in this chapter. This chapter should be contrasted to 'Religion and the Church' which gives interesting accounts of clerical characters, the missions, cures, holy wells and the conflict between Catholic and Protestant.

The final chapter of the book deals with the traditions surrounding 'Birth, Marriage and Death' in which there are many accounts of match making, dowries and wakes.

BY AN DRAOI RUA

• Further Information: Loughrea History Project

091 847155, www.loughreahistory.com

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