A man who kept the story of Galway alive

The late Peadar O'Dowd

The late Peadar O'Dowd

The great stories have always found their way down to those who appreciate them the most. The cave writings, the hewed and smoothened tablets, the leathery books that fill the most treasured libraries; the tiny lead-made print of the 18th and 19th century newspapers.

For anyone who has used the media of history to research a project or just to inform themselves, you can see the richness of the word and the image that enables the stories of the past to live on through the present and into the future.

For those people who have stored those stories in their heads, I often wish that there was an outlet for them to preserve their knowledge to that it can he maintained through the ages. And I admire those who have made the effort to do that. Through books, video, radio, online, the modern methods have helped preserve the story of our own place.

I thought of all this when I first heard of the passing of Peadar O’Dowd. A jaunty Bohermore man, who lived for and wrote about the city that reared him. Peadar was an academic and a historian, but he was much more. He was a valuable asset in the bank of knowledge that this changing city possessed about itself.

Galway is blessed to have had a generation of people who gloried in recalling the characters of the past, the stories of the society that changed us.

In this regard, I have to acknowledge the long legacy that all of Galway’s local newspapers have played in ensuring that the stories were heard. Peadar O’Dowd in the Connacht Tribune and Connacht Sentinel; Willie Henry in the Galway Independent; Jarlath Burke and David Burke in the Tuam Herald; and Ronnie O’Gorman and Tom Kenny among our own pages here in the Advertiser.

History never looks like history when you are living through it. But it is the documentation of the present that is eventually presented as the history of the post, and one hopes, will also become a learned blueprint for the future. Peadar’s many works too ensured the preservation of the built environment and in particular his work on the network of the city’s canals have helped create a great appreciation of an asset that will one day become the city’s gem; in a time when we will eventually learn the true value of our proximity to the water.

Peadar is a massive loss to the city of Galway, but if there is to be found any shining light in grief, it is the knowledge that he has bequeathed a legacy of knowledge to the city that will be read in this century and the next. And in this society of fleeting attention and poor concentration, that is some achievement. The body of work he has amassed is manna for everyone with an interest in how this city came about; the people who shaped it; the reason it succeeded in some areas; the reasons why it did not in others.

To his wife Mary, and his extended family and friends, I pass on my deepest sympathies but also my gratitude for the years of time he gave to the city to undertake the valuable work he has done. May he rest in peace and in the knowledge that on his journey through life, he made a mark on us all.


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