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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

Spanish Arch project to highlight dangers of rising sea levels and flooding

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From the Galway City Tribune – The city will now receive twice-daily illuminated reminders of the potential dangers of sea surges in a joint science and art project which had its first showing this week at the Spanish Arch.

Each day, at the times of high tides in Galway Bay – morning and evening – the Spanish Arch will be it up by the Línnte na Farraige environmental group.

The Spanish Arch has been chosen as the city location for the ‘high tide illuminations’ – the Galway site is the first of a number of coastal locations selected for the light shows.

Two Finnish artists – Timo Aho and Pekka Nittyvirta – are responsible for the bars of light that will appear on the Spanish Arch, indicating the projected rise in sea levels from future storm surges.

According to the artists, the striking visual light installations are designed to ‘open eyes and minds to potential future storm surge levels around Ireland’s coastlines’.

One of the scientists involved in the project, Dr Zoe Roseby, of Trinity College, Dublin, said that the goal of the project was to ‘provoke a dialogue around rising sea levels to demonstrate that the future is still in our own hands’.

Dr Roseby said that the Spanish Arch had been picked because it was a location of local significance to highlight the link between greenhouse gas emissions and rising sea levels.

“Línnte na Farraige aims to encourage individuals to consider how collective societal action can mitigate climate change and sea level rise, to ultimately inspire a more sustainable and resilient future,” she said.

According to Línnte na Farraige – funded by the Dept of Environment’s Creative Climate Action initiative – since sea levels were first measured in Galway in 1842, they have risen by 25 to 30 centimetres.

“In recent years, Galway has become the go-to for reporting on coastal flooding associated with storms. Storm surges occur when strong winds drive water in the direction of the coast. The impacts of these events are then exacerbated by high Spring Tides,” Línnte na Farraige stated.

Galway’s most dramatic relatively recent sea surge event occurred on January 2, 2018, when Storm Eleanor caused sea waters to rise above the dock walls leading to severe flooding along Dock Road, Merchants Road, Flood Street, Quay Street, Spanish Parade and Claddagh areas.

According to Línnte na Farraige, on that occasion, the water levels had risen by 90cms above the base of the Spanish Arch, Now their line of light – first shown last Thursday – will appear 1.9 metres above that base line.

“This indicates the predicted rise in sea levels of a similar storm surge in 2150 when sea levels have risen by one metre — a moderate climate change scenario,” Línnte na Farraige point out.

The group also state that ‘solar panels and renewably powered batteries will be used as part of the installation to power the lights, which only turn on twice a day during rising tides.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Fears that interim Emergency Department at UHG will become long term

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From the Galway City Tribune – The new ‘temporary’ Emergency Department (ED) at University Hospital Galway  is due to open over the coming weeks, the HSE has confirmed.

The HSE – in a reply to a question from Cllr John Connolly (FF) – said that the ‘interim ED’, would have a capacity of 43 patient bays, as compared to 34 in the pre-Covid ED.

However, Cllr Connolly told the Galway City Tribune that while he welcomed the news on the interim ED, he feared ‘this new temporary facility could test the meaning of the word temporary’.

“I want to see a real commitment and urgency about the provision of the new permanent ED at the hospital which is to be done in tandem with the proposed maternity and paediatric units.

“As things stand, the whole process hasn’t even come near the planning stage and is currently being looked at under a public spending evaluation process. This needs to get moved on,”” said Cllr Connolly.

At this week’s Regional Health Forum, the HSE in a written reply, told Cllr Connolly that the new ‘interim, temporary ED’ – a project started in June, 2021 – would offer an improved service as compared to the previous facility.

The temporary ED will provide 43 single closed cubicles and extra resuscitation bays providing greater dignity and privacy for patients,” the HSE stated. The organisation also confirmed that the opening date for the new ED unit was the end of September or early October [2022].

In a letter last March to the Minister for Public Expenditure, Michael McGrath, Cllr Connolly recalled that in December, 2015, the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny had highlighted the problems in ED at UHG.

“On December 1, 2015, the Taoiseach told Dáil Éireann that the Emergency Department at UHG was one of the most inadequate facilities in the country and needed to be replaced and that the staff there worked under extraordinary conditions,” Cllr Connolly outlined in the letter.

He also said that while he acknowledged the need to ensure value for money in public expenditure, this shouldn’t be done at the expense of providing adequate and appropriate levels of emergency health care for people.

“Can I specifically and purposely ask, that as Minister for Public Expenditure, you would agree to tempering the demands of the Public Spending Code in a bid to hasten the progression of the project.

“I would also ask that in conjunction with the Minister for Health you would endorse this project [the permanent ED/Maternity units] progressing to planning, procurement and construction forthwith,” Cllr Connolly stated in his letter of March 29 last.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Stars for businesses who offer proper services to disabled people

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Maggie Woods is always ready for a challenge. The latest is serving as project director of the Galway Gold Star initiative, which is designed to improve accessibility and services for disabled people at businesses in Galway City.

It will be launched this Tuesday, October 4, in the Connacht Hotel from 11am-2pm and all are invited to attend

Based on the Gold Star Disability Project developed by the HSE, this scheme will allow restaurants, shops and other businesses to be rewarded with Bronze, Silver or Gold Star awards for the services they provide for people with disabilities.

Minister of State for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte and Mayor Clodagh Higgins will lead the launch, which is being run through the Galway City Partnership (GCP), and will be headed up by Maggie, a long-time disability advocate.

She started in the new position this year.

“I am delighted to be part of the Galway City Partnership (GCP) team and get the opportunity to work on a project so close to my heart,” she said.

“Like a lot of people, I love Galway but know from first-hand experience that it’s difficult to navigate the city when you have a disability, whether you use a wheelchair or have a less-visible condition like chronic fatigue or an intellectual disability. This is a way to address the lack of services and accessibility – as well as educating people about disability issues.”

She said the goal of the Gold Star initiative was to make Galway a city that was accessible to everyone, doing that through positive reinforcement rather than focusing on the negatives.

Maggie will be working with Galway restaurants, shops and other businesses along with GCP and the Access for All Galway network, finding common ground on ways to improve access and services for disabled people.

Removing barriers for disabled people is a cause she is passionate about and has been advocating for all her life. As one of the youngest survivors in Ireland of the Thalidomide drug disaster, she has faced a lifetime of adversity and succeeded through hard work and a positive outlook. She worked most of her working life for The Irish Wheelchair Association in several capacities, in Tuam Resource Centre. She was also chairperson of the Irish Thalidomide Association and negotiated with government for people born with disabilities caused by the biggest drug catastrophe in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In addition, when she was in her 30s, she organised a fundraiser for the Galway Hospice Foundation, flying a small Cessna plane from Galway to Shannon and back, and raised €8,000.

The mother of two sons and two grandsons, she celebrated a big birthday this year with family and friends, but her fight for disabled services is not slowing down.

“I came to Galway about 38 years ago with a weekend bag and never left. I know the people of Galway will work with me in making the project a success,” she says.

The Galway Gold Star initiative, which is officially titled Access Together Galway, will be administered by GCP, using money provided by the Disability Participation and Awareness Fund approved in December 2021 by Minister Anne Rabbitte.

This initiative will follow the design of similar successful Gold Star programmes in Cashel and Tipperary towns. These support the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which was ratified by Ireland in 2018.

The guest speaker at Tuesday’s launch will be Anne Bradshaw of HSE Tipperary, where the original Gold Star initiative was rolled out. Declan Brassil, CEO of GCP, will speak on how the Gold Star will benefit the entire Galway community, not just people with disabilities. Access for All chairperson Marian Maloney will give the closing address. Members of the Chamber of Commerce will also attend. Entertainment will be provided, along with light refreshments.

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