Moher resident and retired Vocational School Teacher Gabriel Rohan has some decades to reflect upon since his arrival to a family of 11 ( 7 boys and 4 girls ) in Tiaquin near Athenry during the Emergency.
The 7th eldest boy on a modest family farm - did chores in the morning and indeed well after his national schooling days and in common with all other youngsters walked the roads to his education. A long monastic and austere regime of five years as a boarder in St. Mary’s Galway, where ration books, porridge and bread measured by the half slice were common place!
While he dabbled in hurling – in common with most of the pupils, he found some merriment in the Stage – school plays, the annual Gilbert and Sullivan production at Christmas time before sitting the leaving cert in 1959.
Of the 40 or so lads who completed their studies – a third went back to family farms, businesses, about a third went on to the Priesthood and he was in the lucky third of those who signed on for third level education after Matriculation.
He chose Agricultural Science as he enjoyed Biology, being an early third level commuter – he took the early train from Athenry, staying in digs for a few weeks before the ritual exam times.
“We had a very tight, small circle of friends which anchored around the Lydon’s Coffee House, the Tennis Club , Sea Point and The Hanger where regular evening haunts and you have to remember the only Quad facilities were a small coffee dock back then“ he recounts.
He recalls his first real summer job working for the Board of Works before heading to the big smoke as the final years being completed in UCD. He remembers the freedom of that time and city – “you could walk from the DCU campus now (‘twas the Ag College Farm back then) in Ballymun all the way into O'Connell St and we often got a lift home after a hop with a milkman – it was such a calmer place back then “ he states.
The late 50s in Dublin the start of the Showband era – young students were often refused access to dances due to the width of their ties! “The dances started at 7.30 pm and finished around 11p.m in the city so the Nurses could be home to their residences in time for curfew “, he laughs.
The Ag Society ran hops to fund their outreach activities and he recounts the wonderment of all the class being on study trip to Denmark and discovering silage being made for the first time. “The modern management and efficient methods the Danes was using at the time, surpassed anything we were doing in Ireland – all the livestock were being raised 8 months of the year indoor and this was nearly a decade before we joined the E.E.C.”.
There were 3 vacancies for Rural Science Instructor at the Galway Vocational Educational Committee, he applied and got the nod!
In Sept 1960 he found himself in Ma Kellers- Curramore Guest House and sharing the Tech Staff room with Stephen Folen, Principal, Nicholas Hartnett the woodwork teacher, Peter Weafer, Art, Pauline Mc Namara, Home Economics and Joe Brennan Irish. Once pupils received their Group Cert after three years of schooling the could finish formal education. It was not until the Free Secondary Schooling Act of Donagh O Malley that pupils stayed on and undertook Inter Cert and Leaving Cert.
Gabriel’s love of Biology saw him move to teaching science and preparing students for Leaving Cert Biology. “ back the for the Group Cert there was a lot of Oral Examination and different teachers would be allocated to different schools around the country to examine the students ,by the time of the leaving cert there was a lot of project work as well so the rote learing was well out of the system by the time I left “ he notes.
In the 60s Teaching staff were expected to live locally and he thrived in the pastimes of tennis, golf, swimming but the lure of the stage, song and drama from his St. Mary’s Days – allied to most of the Tech Staff – building sets, painting scenery was strong. A meeting of the Musical Society in the Wigan Hall chaired by Monsignor Gordon saw a new Guinness PA recently moved to town from Ballina in attendance and as the Hammerstein lyric goes – “. the enchanted evening saw the stranger across the crowded room."
Noelle and Gabriel were married in St. Muredach’s Cathedral in 1965 and the moved into their new Moher Home in 1970 – along with family Brian , Aileen and Carmel . Brian works in Switzerland while the two ladies are teaching locally.
Family life was busy in the 70s and 80s but he managed to act as Treasurer for the VEC County teams and when the kids got involved in swimming he went and undertook all the courses to become a qualified swim instructor. He also was persuaded by stage manager Larry Duffy to participate in a few Relays productions in front of the curtain.
He recalls the Swimming Club of the 80s with some affection – “Popsee Fenton , along with Mick Walsh Chief Coach – the Walshe’s, the Mc Keowans, Ganlys, McCullaghs, we were one the few Clubs in Connacht to have a professional coach back then."
He also in the late 80s got involved in the Tidy Towns as a member and eventually held a number of Officer Positions.
In 1998 Galway County Council had a problem – it could not manage Carrowbrowne Dump and a plan was hatched to utilise the UDC’s own dump to temporarily facilitate the refuse of City and County about a kilometre from his back garden and some 2.6 Kms from St. Michaels Church.
He found himself asked to chair a public meeting , then was asked to Chair the Action Group to contest the issue on behalf of the community when it became obvious that the political class locally were not seeing the wider picture.
Even though it's twenty years ago the legacy is still very raw today where 30 citizens were injuncted by High Court order (14 of that list have passed) and eventually the Community got an Agreed High Court order which the Council truculently had to eventually abide by.
Many of the committee were challenged as to who they were mandated to represent and subsequently several of their number contested the local Urban Council elections in 1999 – resulting in a huge turnout in numbers and some four of the nine councillors being non-party.
“They were difficult testing times , as a community activist, and as an elected Councillor – I am very glad we never took the officials advice on anything – had we - we would not have got the dump closed in 2005 and the town’s balance sheet before transfer to Galway County Council would not have been as large , which allowed for a great deal of public realm investment “ he opined.
Looking back he believes that Urban or Town Council abolition was very wrong. “the centralising of all decision making back to the County or in reality back to Dublin by faceless bureaucrats where local representatives -can offer no real engagement or analysis into policy or decision making is just plain wrong, not the magic bullet promised – true the system needed reform and executive functions needed revisiting but we have remote’. Municipal Chambers now , sadly” , states Gabriel.
The town centre today he feels needs a major review of what property owners wish to do with their real estate – “ we have to find a different way of utilising precious space , would they lease on a sliding scale , take equity in the business concern – look at all the families and people you could house over the first floors of all these shops not being used and the housing crisis?"
The future is bright he is assured – “the assets have never been fully exploited, - Garbally, the Marina, Bridgids, the Greenway, Good housing stock, public transport access, educational, sports and health facilities” , he notes.
He is currently enjoying retirement with wife Noelle and their 8 Grand kids between 8 and 21 , they love their train trips and picnic lunches, they enjoy a lot of the Ballinasloe Active Retirement Assoc. activity programme as active members and he knows “ this is a marvellous community to be retired in."
With his Agricultural prowess he feels there is a major land reusage transformation about to happen “ there is not an acre of tillage, crop or arable sown land between Galway and Limerick – all livestock and a shortage of vegetables, pulses, and grains – not in my lifetime but with Climate Change and people eating less meat – we will see people out working the fields like I did as a child in Tiaquinn” he concludes.
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