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CITY TRIBUNE

Claddagh Hooker dream becoming a reality as fleet gets ready for 2020

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The red sails and black hulls of the iconic Galway Hooker have seen a resurgence in recent years – with a group of local volunteers working tirelessly to ensure that the long tradition of making and sailing the vessels is not lost.

Back in 2010, Báidoirí an Cladaig – the Claddagh Boatmen – commissioned local artist, Mike Devlin, to produce an image that reflected their dream – to once again have the renowned Claddagh Boats lining the wall of the Spanish Arch.

That dream became a reality on Culture Night last September when six of the vessels made their long awaited return to the Claddagh.

Reflecting the dream: the sketch by local artist Colm Devlin.

Reflecting the dream: the sketch by local artist Colm Devlin.

While the sight was spectacular and representative of centuries of tradition, Secretary of the Claddagh Boatmen, Peter Connolly, explains that it wasn’t all plain sailing.

It started back in 2008 when the group was revived and a collective of dedicated locals, with sailing in their blood, took on the restoration of their first hooker – Croí an Cladaig.

Fast forward just nine years and the group will this year have 14 of the famous boats displayed in the Claddagh Basin for their annual regatta in May – all as part of their aim to bring the boats front and centre for Galway’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2020.

Peter says that the need for the group came about when the tradition was threatened by an ever decreasing stock of the boats – mainly due to the costs involved in maintaining them.

“It was always a struggle – the boats are expensive and the average cost to do basic maintenance is probably €1,500 to €2,000 a year.

“That becomes prohibitive when you are doing it year after year,” says Peter.

The group specialises in acquiring the boats for restoration and rebuilding – this is something he says can be quite a contentious issue when it comes to securing the Boatmen’s position as a “bona fide heritage group”.

“The struggle is if a new boat is authentic or not – if it’s a piece of heritage and we believe it is.

“James Harrold [City Arts Officer] likened them to moving sculptures and living pieces of heritage and that’s what they are.

“We are dealing with a tradition – the boat builder in our case is an artist, it’s his pair of eyes and all we can do is aid and abet what he is doing, his shape and his design – he is the creator,” says Peter.

For Peter, the project is all about keeping tradition alive – something he sees as more than just creating museum pieces.

The important thing for the group is that these boats are in working condition and available for the people of Galway, and further afield, to sail on.

“If such a symbol of Galway can be rebuilt and showcased and we can get our young people to sail it, it’s either that or go look at a boat hanging from the ceiling in a museum.

“We don’t want that – it’s in our blood. We need to sail the boats, we need to get people sailing them and we need to get visitors sailing the boats,” exclaims Peter.

Peter believes that their structure as a group puts them in a better position to provide this exposure to sailing.

“It’s different when an individual owns a boat because you are always aware that insurance and pubic liability is a factor and taking people out can be problematic.

“With a community group and having bloc insurance and obviously being extremely careful, it is much easier to take out a visitor and expose people.

“What we have done for the last three years, we have targeted community groups and individuals and get as many people out in the bay as possible,” Peter says.

One of the key factors in this project has been the hard work and dedication of people on Community Employment schemes getting involved.

According to Peter, the Department of Social Protection can see the value in working alongside skilled trades people – especially when it comes to seeking long-term employment.

“The Department of Social Protection have to be applauded because they have constantly said that the access to solid work experience has been terrific.

“The Civic Trust Community Employment Scheme has, I think, over 80 per cent of people returning to work from people who go on work experience – that’s unbelievable and that’s the highest figure in the country at the moment,” says Peter.

As Peter outlines, the group hope that Community Employment Schemes will continue to supply workers for maintenance programmes for many years to come – with a stern commitment from the group that they will ensure those involved will leave with a range of new skills.

“The up-skilling alone on that is invaluable in terms of being employed in the future with any company.

“If you have someone that’s cross-trained – they can handle a boat, they can maintain an engine, they know the tides, that’s the versatility you need,” he says.

Plans for the Baídoirí and Cladaig’s fourth annual regatta are in full swing with a festival atmosphere set to envelop the Claddagh on May 27 and 28 – and the group has joined forces with boat owners across the county to bring their total tally up to 14.

“We are going to have 14 Claddagh boats displayed in the Claddagh Basin and each one will represent the 14 tribes.

“We have also just got word that the Viking Project in Northern Ireland, a community group that started building the Viking Boats, are going to bring down two boats for the event and display them in the Claddagh Basin as well,” says Peter.

Works on the Claddagh Basin that started in recent weeks will include an upgrade lock-gates – something Peter believes this creates a new opportunity for the berthing of the boats at the centre of the Claddagh – on full display for residents.

He feels this will be a great opportunity for locals to take ownership of the boats and see them at the heart of the community.

Peter said that the entire city has thrown its support behind the Boatmen with the business community providing backing for their festivals each year.

“The Latin Quarter has been very supportive for the last five years to bring the regatta to life in Galway City.

“The Salthill business group have come behind it totally this year as has the West End group of businesses and with that type of input and that kind of support – it keeps you going,” says Peter.

He credited City Council with praise for funding the project to the tune of about €10,000 per year for the past five years – a figure that the group matches through fundraising.

The Boatmen hope to be able to become self-sufficient and while it’s something Peter concedes won’t happen overnight – they do hope that their reliance on Council funding will reduce with a second licensed boat on the horizon and a licence just granted to hold a regular club lotto.

“We are hoping that we become self-financing with the licence and the lotto where we won’t constantly need the reliance on City Council.

“We want to break the reliance on going back to the Council for aid when other groups are starved for funds,” explains Peter.

Be sure to mark your diaries for the week of May 21 as the russet sails, instantly recognisable as quintessentially Galway, will once more fill the Claddagh Basin with colour.

CITY TRIBUNE

Survey to look at parking and transport in Salthill

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Residents, businesses and visitors to Salthill have been encouraged to take part in a survey being carried out by the City Council as part of a parking management study.

The study – funded by the National Transport Authority – will explore active travel (walking, cycling) measures along the Prom and will make recommendations on the regulation of parking in the Salthill area.

The Village Salthill group – which represents businesses in that area – have asked everyone to participate in the survey to ensure that the interests of all sectors are considered.

Pete Kelly, spokesperson for Village Salthill, told the Galway City Tribune that they wanted to approach the issue in a reasoned way – starting with participation in the survey.

“We will be engaging with the City Council, and the councillors, in a constructive manner on the whole parking issue but the vital thing for people to do now is to take part in the survey.

“Last year’s summer tourist season was largely rescued by the numbers of family groups who visited the resort and they are people who in the main use their cars to get here.

“We are also looking a population base of around 20,000 people in the Knocknacarra area who would be interested in looking at a better way of life in terms of movement and greater use of public transport,” said Mr Kelly.

Local councillor, Donal Lyons, told the Galway City Tribune that there were many different views to be taken into account as regards parking and traffic management in the Salthill area.

“I am appealing to residents of the Salthill and overall area to respond to this survey and to make their views known. Sometimes, surveys like this, can be dominated by lobby groups. Make sure as locals to have your say,” said Cllr Lyons.

Jimmy Callan, Acting Senior Engineer with the Council said that while the character of Salthill had changed over time, the area still retained its distinctive character and amenity value.

“The purpose of this parking study is to establish a relationship between how people are using Salthill, and where they choose to park.

“Previous public consultation in relation to Covid measures in summer 2020 showed that there is a strong demand to look at how travel and parking is managed in Salthill in the longer term,” said Mr Callan.

Submissions can be made at activetravelgalway.ie and the deadline is Saturday, July 10.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Telecoms company seeks permission to continue work halted by Council

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Eir has sought permission to retain a concrete foundation it constructed for a mast at Drom Oir in Knocknacarra – a site where the communications company was forced to abandon works in April after the Council deemed it an unauthorised development.

The telecoms company is also seeking permission for the installation of a mast 12 metres in height, carrying an antenna, as well as ‘ground-based equipment cabinets and all associated site development works for wireless data and broadband services’.

Residents opposed to the structure have citied serious concerns over the potential visual impact of the mast, as well as the impact it may have on the values of their properties.

In the application, it is stated that the structure will be coloured in a galvanised finish, assimilating with ‘the typical sky colour in Ireland and surrounding built form’, but says it will be possible to use a green paint finish which could be requested by way of a conditional grant of planning permission.

“The proposed height, colour and design represent the best compromise between the visual impact of the proposal on the surrounding area and meeting the technical requirements of the site.

“Taking all matters into account, it is considered that this proposal which is to provide new 3G (data) and 4G (high speed data) broadband services, for Eir Mobile and a second operator on a single structure as opposed to having eventually two separate structures in this area, would not be discordant within the local environment.”

The application argues that the proposed development benefits from an existing wall (which partially screens it from the housing estate), a line of vegetation, semi-mature and mature trees along both sides of the Western Distributor Road, which will help to screen the site from this direction.

The structure is described as ‘an attractive pole’ that will blend with the area and give significant benefits by providing the ‘most up-to-date wireless broadband and data services.

Eir notes that it is aware of its requirements in relation to management of electromagnetic field radiation and states it is ‘committed to management of risk to our employees, members of the public and any other groups who may be affected by our networks’.

It states that all their radio base stations are ‘safe by design’ to meet international health and safety standards and best practice.

In a submission to Galway City Council, Leitir Búrca residents Oran Morris and Rebekah D’Arcy have objected to the proposal on grounds including that there are deficiencies in the application; that the mast is in close proximity to residents; and that the development will devalue property.

They contest the assertion that the mast will ‘improve coverage in the surrounding rural area’. “The predicted improvements to coverage do not include a single third class road. This justification is clearly for a rural area and not applicable to Galway City.”

They state that the proposed location of the mast is at the heart of a residential area, within 100 metres of 52 houses, with the closest at 51 Drom Oir which is just 29 metres away.

This, they argue, is in contravention of the City Development Plan, which states “only when a number of other possibilities have been exhausted, masts may be erected within or in the immediate vicinity of residential areas”.

They stress that the structure is unlike any other structure along the Western Distributor Road and will be out of character and visually obtrusive.

“The proposed development would be in direct line of sight from every front-facing window in our property, which is located 52m away . . . this is also true for numerous other properties in Leitir Búrca.

“These factors combined would undoubtedly decrease the value of our property. We retained the services of two separate registered auctioneers to value our property and estimate the devaluation due to the mast. Both reports estimated the devaluation to be between €90,000 and €100,000,” they state.

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CITY TRIBUNE

‘Excessive’ Galway Docks hotel rejected by planners

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Galway City Council has turned down scaled-back plans for a 10-storey hotel at Galway Docks, branding it “excessive”.

Last September, Summix BNM Developments lodged a planning application with the Council for a three-storey to eleven-storey hotel (with a rooftop bar and function area) on site of the former Bord na Mona coal yard at the Docks.

The plans also included a restaurant, coffee bar and terraces.

However, the Council sent the company back to the drawing board and told it to revisit the overall scale, height, massing and intensity of the development, but said that the architectural quality of the proposed building is of a good standard.

Planners said there would be a “resultant overbearing expression” onto the Forthill Cemetery and the Long Walk ACA (Architectural Conservation Area). They sought a detailed assessment of the visual impacts on the graveyard.

The Council said that with a height of 38m and length of  70m-90m facing Bóthar na Long and Forthill Cemetery, the building “is not considered to assimilate well; lacks integration with the existing urban form; fails to achieve the visions and aspirations of the Galway City Development Plan . . . detracting from the character and setting of the area”.

The developers came back with scaled-back plans – they reduced the scheme to a maximum of 10 storeys (a height reduction of three metres) and the number of bedrooms reduced from 186 to 174 on the 0.55-acre site.

In its decision to refuse planning permission, the Council said the excessive density, scale and height on a very constrained site would represent overdevelopment of the site and would have a detrimental impact on the character and setting of Forthill Cemetery.

“The development does not adhere to the principles of good urban design set out in the Galway City Development Plan and in this regard, it is considered to lack the capacity for integration with the existing urban form, contribute positively to street enclosure and fails to sympathetically assimilate with Galway’s townscape,” the decision reads.

A submission from the Harbour Hotel – located opposite the site – welcomed the redevelopment of the vacant site but said the build and massing of the building would create “a visually dominant feature on this prominent corner location which will have an overbearing impact on the street scene and Forthill Cemetery”.

It added that the height would have a detrimental impact on the existing built and natural heritage of the area.

The submission also noted there were no carparking spaces provided in the plans, and there is a shortage of spaces in the city centre.

The Harbour Hotel submission claimed that the additional bedrooms would result in an overconcentration of tourism accommodation and an “excessively transient” population in the vicinity of the site.

City Council Heritage Officer, Dr Jim Higgins, said in his view the site should not be developed as the possibility of fort-related archaeology being present there is high.

He said that in the 1960s, a well was found on the CIE side of the site, close to the boundary wall.

According to the planning application, demand for hotel rooms in Galway will exceed “pre-Covid” levels by 2023.

“Provision of hotel accommodation at this location will enhance overall visitor experience on offer in the city, with convenient access to a broad range of attractions, as well as present a major new opportunity to capture a proportion of the spend generated by visitors to the area in a part of Galway City that has been in decline for many years,” the application reads.

Summix – which is headed by British technology entrepreneurs Shukri Shammas and Tareq Naqib – has already partnered with Galway developer Gerry Barrett on the approved plans for 360 student bed spaces on a site at Queen Street, behind Bonham Quay.

They have also partnered on the recently-approved €320m regeneration proposal at Ceannt Station called ‘Augustine Hill’, which includes homes, a new shopping precinct with four public squares, a multiplex cinema and eleven streets linking the city centre with the Docks and Lough Atalia.

Image: An architect’s impression of the hotel (with red facade) alongside the Bonham Quay development

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