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Cheerleading set to become Galway’s latest craze



Date Published: 12-Nov-2009

A RECOGNISED and major sport in the United States, with an estimated 1.5 million participants in its all-star discipline, cheerleading is now beginning to capture the imagination of young people in growing numbers this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

While the sport is not officially recognised in Ireland, it has been brought under the umbrella of British Gymnastics in England. Tuam woman Fiona Collumb, who is affiliated to United Kingdom Cheerleading Association and who runs Ace High Cheerleading in the city and county, believes it may not be long before Ireland follows suit.

“They (Irish Gymnastics) are talking about it, but it will take time for it to be recognised,” says Collumb. “It will also take coaches time to come through; coaches who can teach it properly. You will always get coaches who will teach it, but if they are not qualified, there is a huge amount of stuff they will miss.”

Indeed, from logistics to health and safety, there is a huge volume of procedures for a coach to consider, but Collumb says once good practices are put in place, the art of cheerleading can be one of the most enjoyable disciplines any young person will experience.

This was brought home to Collumb and her students when they attended the inaugural All-Ireland & International Cheerleading Championships in Dublin last month. “We brought the squad up to see it. Now, we didn’t compete because we are just newly formed, but the energy was absolutely astounding.

“I think what struck me the most was that every club cheers for the other club. There was such a comradeship, even among rival clubs. It was absolutely fabulous. There is a real spirit about it. It was fantastic.”

For most Irish people, their cursory knowledge of cheerleading comes from what they have seen from American TV programmes and movies, which have, for the most part, created two stereotypical characters. One, the pretty, size-zero blonde with an annoyingly bubbly, in-your-face persona or, two, the stunningly beautiful blonde with a downright nasty, spiteful streak in her. However, Collumb says the reality of cheerleading is far different.

“There are quite a portion of kids involved who are very heavy. They are overweight. Even when our kids went to Dublin to the competition, they were expecting to see the stereotypical cheerleader. They had that person in mind.

“Oh my God, though, it couldn’t have been further from the truth. There were kids in all shapes, all sizes, all colours there and they were part of a team, part of a troupe. And they weren’t shoved down the back either, as you would normally see (with some productions).”

As for Collumb, herself, she first became interested when her two children – Conor (14) and Aoife (12) – got involved in a local gymnastics club in Tuam two years ago. They were quite successful, taking home medals from competitions as far flung as Switzerland, and just like any excited parent, Collumb wished to learn more about the sport.“I wanted to become a qualified coach. I wanted to do my Level One,” continues the instructor, who, as a result, began to make the five and a half hour trip to Coleraine in Derry to attend her training course. “There is quite a strict regime to become a coach and you do a lot of assessments.

“So, I did that, my Level One, and I am qualified now. When I completed the course, I then looked around and I said I want to bring something different to gymnastics. Tuam already had a gymnastics club without me setting up, but I still went ahead anyway. I now have 50 registered members in my club, so I must be doing something right, considering I am only open since mid September. I am delighted with that, but I have to give a mention to all the parents. They have been great.”

Initially running classes out of Tuam Scout Hall and Body and Soap Clinic on the N17, Collumb subsequently set up classes in a number of venues throughout the county, including Claregalway Community Hall and the Raheen Woods Hotel, Athenry. She is also about to commence classes in Galway City at two locations, Mervue Community Centre on Wednesdays (afternoons and evenings) and in Shantalla Community Centre every Saturday afternoon. In addition, Collumb is teaching cheerleading in various national schools around the city and county – taking in schools in Tuam, Headford, Gort and Merlin Park – and she hopes at some stage to expand her operation into secondary schools.

All in all, though, she insists the main objective of promoting cheerleading is to keep girls involved in a sporting activity for as long a period as possible.

“Out of all the studies about young people getting involved in sports, they all show that a lot of girls, even as early as fifth and sixth classes, are dropping out of sport, unless they are heavily involved in camogie, Gaelic, basketball, badminton or whatever. In time, though, that interest also fades, particularly in outdoor sports.

“They just get into their make-up, they get into their hair, and they don’t want to get into outdoor sports because it just doesn’t suit their image as they get older,” says Collumb, who highlights that cheerleading offers a very viable and energetic alternative.

Indeed, she reiterates that the movement, chanting, dance moves and music make it an attractive proposition for any young person. She adds: “It is hugely high powered and high spirited. Some routines are up to three minutes long, depending which competition you are in. So, it is a great discipline for girls to get involved in – and it is mostly for girls.”

That said, it is not exclusively a sport for the fairer sex, with boys also needed to execute some of the more daring moves, such as stunting. “You need lads for holding up the girls,” says Collumb. “They may not be doing the pompons – they don’t do pompons – but they will be doing other moves, such as tumbles. There is a lot they can be doing within the troupe, and within the routine.”

No doubt, Collumb – who also hopes to hold cheerleading classes for the more mature ladies, if the demand is there – is excited about her new venture. Having spent most of her adult life in office jobs, it is as if the bird has finally been released from its cage.

“People love the idea of dancing and the music for cheerleading is really good stuff. The special mixes you get are fantastic; you have to have four or five tracks mixed into each other because you have to have different formations and different levels of routine. So, the music, even if you didn’t want to, it just makes you want to get up and do something.”

For further information on Ace High Cheerleading, contact Fiona on 087-9894060. The cost of membership for the year is €20, while the cost of each class is just €5.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Call for poets to enter new competition



Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust is seeking entries for a new poetry competition.

The winner will have her or his poem published and displayed on the Arts Corridor of University Hospital Galway as part of the 2013 Poems for Patience. This is a long-running series which has previously featured work by leading Irish and international poets including Seamus Heaney, Philip Schultz, Michael Longley, Vona Groarke, Jane Hirschfield and Tess Gallagher.

The winner will be invited to read her or his winning poem in April, at the launch of the Poems for Patience during the Cúirt International Festival. Prizes also include accommodation in Galway for one night during Cúirt.

Poems should be less than 30 lines long and must be the entrant’s original work. The entry fee for one poem is €10. For two or more, the entry fee is €7.50 per poem. Payment should be made by cheque or postal order to Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust. The closing date is Friday, March 1.

The judge is Kevin Higgins author of several books of poetry and Writer-in-Residence with Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust.

Entries should be posted to Margaret Flannery, Arts Director, Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust, Galway University Hospitals, University Hospital, Newcastle Road, Galway. Entrants should put their names and contact details on a separate sheet.

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Archive News

The true story of the saint that the church wanted to airbrush



Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

Italian saint, Francis of Assisi will get a new lease of life in Francis, the Holy Jester, a free one-man show being performed at Muscailt Arts Festival on February 5.

The play about the renowned saint, who died in 1226 was written by Italian Nobel prize-winner Dario Fo, and this performance is by Mario Pirovano, a long-time collaborator with Fo, who translated the piece into English.

It embraces papal history, biblical stories, and controversial Italian politics while exploring the life of one of the Catholic Church’s most famous saints. It also shows how the medieval Church was so afraid of Francis and his relationship with ordinary people that it set about sanitising his legacy and elevating him above the reach of his followers.

Mario, who lives near to St Francis’s home of Assisi, speaks eloquently and passionately about the saint and the way that Dario Fo has brought the Francis’s message to modern audiences in a timeless, dramatic way, while casting new light on the famous Italian Franciscan monk.

But first, he explains why this was necessary.

Francis was born at the end of the 12th century and died at the age of 46. By then, he had created great embarrassment for the Church, simply because of the way he lived his life, explains Mario. He treated people in a genuinely Christian way and wanted to tell the Gospels in people’s own language rather than in Latin.

The Church hierarchy – what an awful word, he says – decided to rewrite the story of his life and, 50 years after his death, only one official account of his life was permitted by the authorities. That was written by a fellow Franciscan, St Bonaventure, who had been ordered to destroy many of Francis’s papers and write a sanitised biography. All other books on him were deemed heretical.

The Church was afraid of him, stresses Mario, and so decided to distance him from the ordinary people, by canonising him shortly after he died. Francis was the fastest saint ever produced in the history of the Church, being canonised within three years of passing on, says Mario. That took him away from ordinary people, as they felt they couldn’t aspire to such greatness.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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