Programme of Lectures 2019-2020

    Our lecture programme for Autumn, Winter, and Spring 2019–20 is listed below. We hope that you will find something in the programme  to interest, inform and amuse you during the long dark months that are not so far ahead now.

    The lectures will take place on Tuesdays at 8pm (with the exception of the lecture on Thursday, the 17th of October, at 8pm) in meeting rooms in the Westport Hotel Group, as listed below. 

    Admission is free for members of the Civic Trust and €5.00 for non-members. That means that paid-up members are making a profit after 2½ lectures . . . .

    Tuesday, the 17th of September, in the Westport Coast Hotel

    Dr Elvira de Eyto (Marine Institute) ‘Tracking environmental change in the lakes and rivers of the Burrishoole catchment’
    How is our environment changing? What are the impacts of humans on our freshwater habitats? Are our attempts at managing our impact on the environment working? These are some of the questions that can best be answered using data collected over very long time-scales: decades, centuries and millennia. From the salmon returning each year to spawn, to the tiny plants and animals living in the streams draining the Nephins, continuous observation and recording allow us to measure how the environment is changing and what we can do to manage these habitats better. In this talk, Elvira will describe the work carried out at the Marine Institute’s research station in the Burrishoole catchment, resulting in many long-term datasets describing the environmental quality of Lough Feeagh and its rivers. She will talk about what the data tells us about our surrounding environment and how these data, collected on the west coast of Ireland, are being used across the world to answer questions of  global importance.

    Thursday, the 17th of October, in the Ashleigh Suite at the Castlecourt Hotel

    Prof John Bradley (Murrisk, ex-ESRI), ‘To Hell or to Connaught: The origins of Ireland's east-west economic divide’

    Economic weaknesses of a region tend to be exposed in bad times, not good. As Tolstoy wrote in the opening lines of Anna Karenina: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” While carrying out a research project recently on the so called Atlantic Economic Corridor, and using Mayo as a case study, I was forced to reflect on how some key social, economic and business characteristics of the Irish western seaboard had their origins deep in our troubled history and how, even after independence in 1922, successive governments have either been unable, or perhaps were unwilling, to address them through effective regional development strategies.

    In Irish popular memory of the Cromwellian Plantation of the 1650s, the Commonwealth is said to have declared that the Irish must go "to Hell or to Connacht", west of the River Shannon. In part, this was a recognition that the value of that land was low. In part, it attempted to confine trouble makers as far west from the sources of power as possible. But having started as being peripheral within what became the United Kingdom after the 1801 Act of Union, it became embedded as being peripheral within the island of Ireland itself.

    With the exceptions of the city of Galway, its population was dispersed and provided little sustained stimulus to the manufacturing and services that were at the centre of growth and development during the UK-wide industrial revolutions of the late 18th and during the 19th centuries. Any efforts made to link Connaught to the more prosperous East and South were modest and blown away by the Great Famine. Experimentation with integrated rural development strategies such as that carried out by the Congested Districts Board in the late 19th century was discontinued after independence. Development of the island became increasingly lopsided, and the infrastructure priorities of the poorer, mainly western regions were dominated by the needs of the nations' five main cities: Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford.

    In the main part of the talk we take up the story of Connaught in the context of the recently published Project Ireland 2040 national development plan and its regional implementation through the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy drawn up by the Northern and Western Regional Assembly based in Ballaghaderreen. We consider the question: "Will current regional development strategies reverse centuries of decline and polarisation, or is the North-West region doomed to remain relatively remote and underdeveloped?" Our conclusions are not encouraging.

    Tuesday, the 19th of November, in the Walnut Suite at the Plaza Hotel

    Dr Conor Murphy (Maynooth University) ‘The wet and windy west? Climate Change: past, present, and future’
    Climate change, through the emissions of greenhouse gases, presents new challenges for communities across Ireland. Understanding how our climate has changed and the risks that lie ahead are central to building resilience in a changed world. In this presentation, I will outline our understanding of how rainfall, temperature and storms have changed over the past 100 years, pointing to extreme events that have impacted communities in the wet and windy west. I will also outline our understanding as to how future climate change is expected to unfold over the coming decades and discuss the transformations needed to both reduce (mitigate) the impacts and adjust (adapt) to a changed climate. Both approaches are needed, as even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases globally tomorrow, we are still committed to climate change impacts.

    Tuesday, the 10th of December, in the Walnut Suite at the Plaza Hotel

    Tony and Ger Reidy, Pre-Christmas music and poetry session

    Tuesday, the 21st of January, at the Westport Coast Hotel

    Seamus Gavin (GPrint Westport) ‘Zooming in on Old Westport: exploring some photograph archives during the last century and more’

    Seamus Gavin will speak to the Westport Civic Trust in the Westport Coast Hotel on 21 January at 8pm. Seamus has an extensive collection of old photographs of the town and surrounding areas ranging from the famous Lawrence collection through collections from early photographic businesses in the town. Westport must have one of the most extensive archives of photographs of any town in Ireland: as an early tourist destination and a planned landlord town with an important resident landowner in the person of the Marquis of Sligo, Westport attracted many early camera-toting visitors. Many of these photographs are of a high quality and provide an insight into life and living conditions more than a century ago. 

    The shape and structure of most towns and villages in Ireland today are obscured by traffic and parked cars.  Early photographs show towns as they were meant to be seen. Seamus is a Westport man with a professional interest in early photographs and photo restoration as well as fine-art reproduction and archival quality printing. His talk will be a flexible free-ranging focus on a range of images, inviting audience participation in an exploration of these images – zooming in on the fascinating detail in many of the photographs. These will show buildings familiar and unfamiliar, views of local landscapes and vistas, even portraits of people long dead and nameless from the late nineteenth century – women in the latest fashion with  beautiful dresses: maybe someone will recognise a long-forgotten great-great-grandmother! The talk will be accompanied by something like an old lantern slide-show, except that now we can zoom in on the fine detail in the photographs.

    Tuesday, the 18th of February, at the Westport Coast Hotel

    Dr Benjamin Thébaudeau (Geologist at the JCWL Geopark Project) ‘Geological heritage in West Connaught: The Joyce Country and Western Lakes Geopark Project’

    This talk will delve into the long-term geological history of the region and put the Joyce Country and Western Lakes Geopark project in development in context. Aimed at the general public with some introduction to the geological principles and processes, the presentation will go through the various steps in the build-up of the island of Ireland and our region of Iar-Connacht in particular; with episodes of massive tectonic clashes, underwater volcanoes, biodiversity collapse and rebirth and the overwhelming influence of the ice age on our current landscape. Important sites to understand this history will be described both in the Joyce Country and around Clew Bay. The idea behind the development of the geopark project will also be discussed.

    Benjamin Thébaudeau has qualified as a geophysicist in France and has then completed a PhD in Geology at Trinity College Dublin in 2013. He has experience in the archaeological sector as well as teaching geology and GIS (mapping software) in various Irish universities. He is the current secretary of the Irish Quaternary Association ( and has been working as the geologist for the JCWL geopark project for 18 months.

    Cancelled: Tuesday, the 24th of March, at the Westport Coast Hotel

    Unfortunately, because of the restrictions on public gatherings necessitated by the Corona Virus, this lecture has been cancelled.

    Kevin & Susan Denny (The Field, Leenane) ‘The Malawi Children's Village project’

    As the world teeters on the edge of another frightening virus epidemic, Dr Kevin Denny and his wife Susan Denny talk about the onset and impacts of an epidemic that hit Africa and Malawi in the 1980s.

    In 1985 hospitals in Africa began to see a new and unprecedented disease. Patients arrived at their doors with illness never seen before, with no known treatments and little reason for hope. They called it the “wasting” disease, and several years were needed to understand the cause and devastation of the epidemic that was killing those in the prime of their lives. In the villages grandmothers were caring for the children of their own children who had succumbed to the disease that now had a name: AIDS.

    Those paying the highest price were the children born of mothers with AIDS, fifty percent of whom would die, as there were no treatments available. Villages in Malawi, a country with one of the highest prevalence of AIDS in Africa, were overwhelmed. In 1991 Kevin and Susan met an extraordinary Malawian medical officer, Chakunja Sibale, who said, “We must do something.” From this was born the Malawi Children’s Village (MCV), a community-based orphan-care program serving 37 villages with a population of over 25,000, in which over 2,200 orphans were identified.

    Kevin and Susan will discuss the cultural and medical factors leading to the success or failure of community efforts to improve the health, mind and spirit of children in the greatest need. Unfortunately, while education, medications and prevention have made giant strides in Africa, in Malawi AIDS continues to be a major threat, especially to the very young. MCV, now in its twenty-ninth year, is presented as an effective and enduring approach to helping orphans not only to survive, but also to reach their full potential.

    Kevin Denny first encountered Malawi in 1964 as one of the first U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers providing health education in rural villages.

    Susan Denny is a social worker who has served on the board of the Malawi Children’s Village and has made numerous visits to Malawi to train volunteers who number in excess of 1,200 at this stage.

    Kevin and Susan live near Westport.

    Cancelled: Tuesday, the 21st of April, at the Westport Coast Hotel

    Unfortunately, because of the restrictions on public gatherings necessitated by the Corona Virus, this lecture has been cancelled.

    Prof P J Duffy (Civic Trust and Maynooth University) ‘The land beyond the lights – rural electrification in Mayo and the rest of Ireland in the 1950s’

    Westport Civic Trust Aims

    Promote and initiate the preservation and protection, renewal and improvement of the buildings and other features of the natural, historical, cultural, scientific and architectural interest of the area, for the benefit of the community.

    Westport Civic Trust


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