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Connacht Tribune

Barna duo put their faith in craft beers and burger business

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It was 6pm on the first Friday of July this summer when Barna men David Fitzpatrick and Frank Greaney officially opened the doors to the public of their joint new business venture: BóTOWN, a craft burgers and beer restaurant, in Galway city’s Westend.

Frank, a senior courts’ reporter with Newstalk and formerly of Galway Bay fm, and David, a medical rep with a strong business background, had spent the guts of the previous three years toiling to realise their long-held desire of owning a restaurant.

“We were ready to roll. Our dream had finally become a reality and we opened and there was tumbleweed,” recalled Frank.

“In our minds, we were thinking there’d be queues of people down the street, people battering each other to try and get in the door to taste our burgers! The one piece of the puzzle that you couldn’t anticipate or plan for was no customers. For the first 45 minutes, until somebody walked in that door, that was the scariest part of this whole journey, and you’re thinking ‘My God, is it too late to turn back now?’,” he said.

It was too late to turn back. And nor did they want to. The duo, who grew up together and knew each other since their days in Scoil Shéamais Naofa in Barna, had invested too much money and, in particular, time and energy into the project for that.

St Patrick’s Day, 2017 was their original opening date but the restoration of the building on Lower Dominick Street – which was formerly Galway Taxi’s office and Dympna Burke’s Drapery before that – took longer than expected, due to it being a protected structure.

“The building was just calling out to be revived,” recalled David, who sourced the premises. “It was 5am starts for 18 months. It really was a labour of love, but it went on and on,” he said.

It was worth the wait, however, and the restoration work on the three-storey building, with two of those storeys now open for diners, is spectacular. They used salvaged materials throughout, including natural stone and reclaimed natural wood – old floorboards from a house in Newcastle. They stripped back the plastered walls to reveal old brick fireplaces, a feature of the two dining spaces; while upstairs, the original Victorian sash windows have been restored, and offer great people-watching opportunities. The light fixtures are made from old Gunbarrel piping and stopcock and the filament is visible in the large traditional bulbs. “We wanted to create an industrial rustic theme,” said David.

The budget was tight, and the pair did much of the clear-out themselves with some help from family and friends, many of who initially tried to talk them out of taking on such a huge project.

“People thought we were mad,” said Frank. “But we always had each other’s backs, no matter what. We had a vision and we were always going to execute it.”

They faced personal adversity during the rebuild, too. Frank’s father – John Greaney Senior – passed away in January of this year and not long after that Frank was sent to Belfast to cover the high-profile rape trial of two Ireland rugby internationals, for which he won a prestigious award.

John Greaney had been a well-known tradesman, and one of his friends, Mike Walsh, who helped with BóTOWN, used some of John’s plastering tools to finish the walls of the building. A classy touch.

No wonder then the lads celebrated their first customer. David admits he “wanted to hug” the first person who came through the doors while Frank remembers they were “high-fiving” after that diner left happy.

The pair’s first business venture together came during their fourth year of Secondary School in St Enda’s College, Salthill, when they organised a school social in Portumna. David remembers the “wodges of cash” they made from the event, which Frank describes as a “rip-roaring success”, until they were hauled before principal, Vincent Kilbane, the following Monday and suspended because it was an unofficial social organised in the school’s name without prior authorisation.

Frank has extensive catering industry experience, having worked in well-known pubs in Galway city including Living Room (now Seven), Cuba (now McGettigan’s) King’s Head, Dew Drop Inn and Front Door; and the two of them worked together in Donnelly’s of Barna seafood bar and restaurant, behind the bar and waiting tables, during college.

“I worked; Frank showed up,” joked David. “When we weren’t stealing profiteroles from the cold room we used to have competitions about who could carry the most plates – there were a few casualties as a result!”

On a serious note, David said it was in Donnelly’s they learned “how unsociable the hours are” but also the “buzz you get out of it”.

Now that they’re back in the industry, hands-on serving in the restaurant, while also holding down full-time ‘day jobs’, they’re experiencing that buzz again. “You make time for the stuff you love and we love it,” said Frank.

The idea for BóTOWN was simple. “We love barbecues. Sitting down every summer among friends with a few beers and burgers,” he said.

The pair could talk for hours about what distinguishes BóTOWN’s burger from its competitors – beef-to-bun ratios, seasoning, cuts of beef and so on – but the fundamental is the quality of ingredients. Their tomatoes, for example, are beef tomatoes and smoked in-house using hickory wood chips. They tried about 12 different types of potatoes before choosing Maris Pipers for their chips, which are washed and chopped on-site – as opposed to bought-in – and cooked twice in beef dripping.

As well as beef, they have fish, chicken and vegetable burgers, a variety of side dishes such as chicken wings, charred corn on the cob and mac n cheese; an extensive selection of craft beers – in ‘small-boy cans’, which are all the rage these days – and wines and hot drinks.

It’s a family-friendly restaurant that can hold 60 people, and caters for large bookings including Christmas parties, where the emphasis is on casual dining and pleasing the customer.

“Every job that we’ve been involved in has been about people. It’s always about the customers and the people you meet and the journey along the way. They come in because they become your buddies – they’re not just customers. They keep coming back,” said David.

Frank agreed: “This was a taxi office in a previous life, and it was a place where you’d go to get home. When we open our doors, this feels like our home and we’re inviting you and yours into ours.”

Connacht Tribune

Unauthorised developments in County Galway go unchecked for months

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The Planning Enforcement Section of Galway County Council is so understaffed that complaints of unauthorised developments are not being investigated for months, the Connacht Tribune has learned.

In one case, a complaint alleging a house was under construction in a picturesque and environmentally sensitive part of Conamara without planning permission was not investigated by the Council for at least six months.

And it can be revealed that there is a ‘large’ backlog of complaints of unauthorised developments in the county, which the Planning Enforcement Section at County Hall has blamed on staff shortages, according to correspondence obtained by the Connacht Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

In response to repeated requests by a concerned member of the public to intervene and investigate an allegation of unauthorised development in an environmentally protected area of Conamara, the Council’s Planning Department indicated it was too stretched.

“Unfortunately, the planning enforcement section is experiencing a period of prolonged staff shortages and consequently there are a large number of files awaiting investigation/review,” it said.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Access Centre provides pathways to University of Galway for the disadvantaged

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Photo of Imelda Byrne

Great leaps have been made in recent years to make access to tertiary level education a realistic prospect for once marginalised groups in society.

With the deadline for CAO applications approaching next week, the Access Centre at the University of Galway is aiming to reach as many underrepresented groups as possible ahead of next academic term.

Head of the Access Centre, Imelda Byrne (pictured), said research has shown that those who once felt third level ‘wasn’t for them’ are increasing their presence at UG, and bringing a richness to the sector that had for a long time been missing.

In the five years up to 2021, there was a 100% increase in the number of students registering for the Disability Support Service at the university, while those coming from Further Education and Training courses in institutes like GTI had surged by 211% over four years.

“The message that we really need to get out there is that the CAO is not the only route into third level. There are a number of pathways,” says Imelda.

“There are loads of places set aside for students coming from a place of disadvantage,” she continues, whether it’s national schemes such as the Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) for socio-economic disadvantage; or the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE); or the university’s own programme for mature students.

Those places are there to ensure those from all backgrounds get an opportunity to reach their education potential, tapping into hugely talented groups that once may have missed that opportunity.

“What we have seen is that when they get that opportunity, they do just as well if not better than other students,” continues Imelda.

For HEAR and DARE scheme applicants, and for those hoping to begin higher education as a mature student, next Wednesday’s CAO deadline is critically important.

But beyond the CAO applications, the Access Programme will open up in March to guide prospective students, whatever challenges they are facing, into third level.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway County Council ‘missing out on millions’ in derelict sites levies

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Photo of Cloonabinnia House

Galway County Council is missing out on millions of euro in untapped revenue due to a failure to compile a complete Derelict Sites Register.

That’s according to Galway East Sinn Féin representative, Louis O’Hara, who this week blasted the news that just three properties across the whole county are currently listed on the register.

As a result, Mr O’Hara said the Derelict Sites Levy was not being utilised effectively as countless crumbling properties remained unregistered – the levy amounts to 7% of the market value of the derelict property annually.

The former general election candidate said Galway County Council was ill-equipped to compile a proper list of derelict sites and called on Government to provide the necessary resources to tackle the scourge of dereliction across.

“There are still only three properties listed on Galway County Council’s Derelict Sites Register . . . anyone in Galway knows that this does not reflect the reality on the ground and more must be done to identify properties, and penalise owners who fail to maintain them,” said Mr O’Hara.

The situation was compounded by the fact that the Council failed to collect any of the levies due to them in 2021.

“This is deeply concerning when we know that dereliction is a blight on our communities. Derelict sites attract rats, anti-social behaviour and dumping, and are an eyesore in many of our local towns and villages.”

“The Derelict Sites Levy should be used as a tool by local authorities to raise revenue that can then be utilised to tackle dereliction, but they are not adequately resourced to identify and pursue these property owners,” said Mr O’Hara.

(Photo: The former Cloonabinnia House Hotel is on the Derelict Sites Register).
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can support our journalism by buying a digital edition HERE.

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