The Roman god Janus was a two-headed figure and thus gave its name to the month of January as this is a time of looking back as well as forward. As I reviewed my columns of the past year, in which I seemed to have covered a wide variety of topics as well as some well ridden hobby horses, I thought I would recall some of those pieces which struck a chord with people. Each of my choices selected themselves for a variety of reasons.

Ballygunner Church Debate

This ‘look-back’ is but an excerpt of a much longer article I penned about the plans to enlarge and modernise the Church of St. Mary’s at Ballygunner which is undoubtedly much needed but there were objections as to how this objective should best be achieved. Here is what An Taisce’s submission had to say on the subject, inter alia: I would love to quote the Taisce appeal submission in full as it makes for fascinating reading but given restraints of time and space I will confine myself to their opening background statement as submitted by Ian Lumley, Heritage Officer, An Taisce.

” Ballygunner Church is characteristic of the simple design favoured in rural churches in the early 19th century. The original structure is early 19th century along with the attractive detailed gallery and staircase. In common with many other Irish churches of its kind, it was altered in the course of later periods but in a very attractive way during the mid/late 19th century and less so in the late 20th century. The 19th century alterations are extremely well designed and add to the character and quality of the church, including the stone porch and bell cut and limestone traceried windows, with stained glass.” Reference is then made to two previous landmark cases viz. the de-listing of the Holy Ghost Hospital and later the 17th century house in Lady Lane but subsequently revised schemes were put in place to secure the structures and they still stand and serve worthwhile purposes today. It goes on to say ” It is considered that a similar situation applies here, that this application has been put forward without adequate justification, that the de-scheduling by the City Council has taken place without adequate assessment and that the arguments made for scale of demolition proposed are not tenable and that alternatives should be considered.”

” The proposal would only leave only part of the church walls standing to an extent that would be rendered virtually meaningless by emasculation into what is a much higher new building, the scale of which has not been justified. In the original submission from the Waterford Association, we stated that the ‘proposed new structure has all the glamour and religious appeal of a suburban supermarket, and this where the design influence originates.’ This is a sad contrast to the existing building with its interior which is still redolent with history and a sense of former times’, and which nestles comfortably into its surroundings and gives style and focus to the area.”

So speaks An Taisce which goes on to state, in summary, the grounds of appeal. Others will argue to the contrary and insist we must move on with a plan and design to cater for the actuality of age in which we live. I know there is a great level of interest locally in this issue -By the way, it was back to the drawing board as An Bord Pleanala accepted the core arguments of An Taisce and some others. So I assume we will see another plan soon which will strike an acceptable compromise design.

The Great Wheel of Life

Well folks the Rotha Mor an tSaoil/the Great Wheel of Life keeps turning and already there’s a cock step and a bit in the evening sky that hints at brighter things to come. But as we are beckoned by the promise of Spring and renewal we are aware too of the familial and communal loss to the fishing and sea-faring communities along the coast here of those men who have lost their lives at sea and we extend our heart felt sympathy. You and yours are in our thoughts.

They say we have become a more selfish, less caring people in these prosperous times; however, when tragedy strikes a whole community of people respond selflessly and wholeheartedly and rally round to give support, comfort and any assistance they can. Any considerations of time, money or self is seen as petty and scornfully cast aside to help family, friend or neighbour in any way we can. And this sense of communal support and spirit is probably at its strongest among fishing and sea-faring folk. For generations they have lived with all that the sea brings- good and bad. They know from experience that the sea will takes its share – last week it seemed to have taken more than its share. The readily offered and shared goodness of family, friends and neighbours, indeed that of the wider community too, is all the more treasured and appreciated at such a time. I am thinking too of all those engaged in the searching for missing men, the crews of other fishing vessels, coast guards, the life boats crews of the RNLI, the Air-Sea Rescue, the Navy and its divers who do such heroic difficult work. I hope the combined work of all of them will bring some consolation and closure to the families soon.

That was in the third week of January last, a tragedy that went to the hearts of the not just its own community but that of the nation. Finally and sadly when the Pere Charles was raised last month no trace of the men was found – we can only wish for a safe heaven for all concerned – Ar Dheis De Go Raibh Siad Anois.

A Memorable Match

This third selection reported on a very special occasion during the past year.

Last Saturday (end of April) at the grounds of Waterpark Rugby club at Ballinakill in glorious sunshine a very special rugby match was played by the teams of Waterpark and Newtown School in memorial tribute to their friend George Fitzgerald. George, a fine young man who loved sport but most of all he loved rugby, was a student preparing for his Junior Cert at Newtown when he all too tragically collapsed and died, indeed, he was preparing for the school’s sports day. The untimely death of one so young and so full of a zest for life and his beloved rugby shocked all who knew George – first and foremost his parents, Geraldine and Maurice and brothers Stuart and Ronan, but also and deeply his many friends at school and the wider community of friends, neighbours and colleagues.

Two groups of people had a special bond with George, those who had played on the school rugby teams in Newtown and the lads he played with at underage level teams at Waterpark Club. He was joined on that team by fellow Newtonian and best friend Murray Kinsella. George, no doubt, would have been proud of his pal Murray’s achievements in recent weeks in playing with the Irish team in Belfast in the Under-19 World Rugby Cup. Who knows, George, given his dedication to the game, could well have made it there himself!

So as the third anniversary of George’s death approaches a Memorial Match was organised by the Waterpark Club between the twin loyalties of his rugby life, Club and School. George would have been well pleased with the spirit with which the game was played – a keen edge to a friendly rivalry – both sides striving to give of their best. Waterpark have just completed a great season becoming Under 18 Munster Champions only a few short weeks ago. Newtown’s team too having enjoyed many sweet victories over the past few campaigns – the reached the Final of the Mungret Cup where they gave a great account of themselves, but in the end beaten by old rivals, Midleton College.

Of course, all good competitive teams want to win but equally all there last Saturday knew that the day was all about honouring and remembering George Fitzgerald, son, brother, friend, fellow sportsman. There was an added poignancy or special sense of occasion for the Newtown team as this was the last time that they would play rugby together as a team. The occasion was very well attended by club mates and school mates, parents, teachers and indeed Waterpark club members and officials. The speeches at the presentation ceremony were brief but thoughtful. Coach Mike Ashmore Spoke on behalf of Newtown summing up the feeling of many in speaking of what the match had meant to the players and the beneficial interaction between club and their school. Maurice Fitzgerald on behalf of his family presented the Memorial George Fitzgerald.

Rotha mora an tSaoil, indeed, slan.