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Connacht Tribune

Community breathes new life into iconic railway station

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The restoration of Ballyglunin’s railway station has attracted international attention. In this week’s Community Matters, Stephen Corrigan meets the committee behind the project which, they say, is ultimately a community-based project for the improvement of the area.

A former lifeline for the area, a world famous film set and soon to be a hub for the community – Ballyglunin Railway Station has certainly had a significant impact over the years.

And now, thanks to the determination of a group of local volunteers, work is being carried out to ensure this historical station is around for many years to come.

Since 2004, volunteers have been plugging away to ensure that the station doesn’t become just another dilapidated building.

The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, featured Ballyglunin, or Castletown as it was re-named for the 1952 film – something that has brought international attention to the restoration project.

But for locals like Ballyglunin Community Development Charity committee member, Micheál Finn, the station holds many fond memories.

“The station was built in the late 1800s and it was a very busy station because there was no motor transport at that time and you would have an awful lot of people going to Tuam, Galway and Knock; they’d go through for the Ballinasloe Fair and for going up to Dublin for football and hurling matches.

“They used to load cattle and stuff here and deliver them from here to the Blake Estate and the beet was another thing – the beet pulp, beet seed and beet manure.

“There was also the cargo. Each week, a wagon of cement would come up and that would have to be unloaded by hand; they were a hundredweight [112 pounds] so the same as three bags now; and the manure was in two hundredweight bags but we used to handle them no problem,” laughs Micheál.

Treasurer and Director on the charity’s board, Mark Gibson, says they want to keep those stories and connections with the station alive.

“Leo Moran, the man who ran our crowdfunding campaign last year, said it quite elegantly and he was saying that it was the connection with the outside world.

“Not everybody had a phone at the time and a lot of people emigrated from Ireland through Ballyglunin. A lot of people would have mixed emotions with the history of the station.

“What we are really about is creating a focal point for the community,” says Mark.

Passenger trains haven’t passed through Ballyglunin since 1976. Despite this, the committee found it very difficult to get a lease on the station – forcing them to work with a licence until they were granted a ten year lease last September.

It’s 14 years since the committee first got involved and carried out some minor repairs just to keep the station standing but, as Micheál explains, when long-time station house resident, Mrs Niland died in 2006, a decision had to be made about its future.

“When we started this project first, there was a man down from Dublin to assess the place and I asked him what would happen the station if the local community didn’t take over.

“He said to me, ‘what will happen is there will be an eight-by-four sheet of plywood stuck on every window and it will fall in its own good time’ – that’s what spurred us on not to let that happen,” says Micheál.

Work started on the station’s store and signal cabin with the support of the Rural Social Scheme and the Heritage Council.

Work on the station roof commenced last year and is due for completion in the next few weeks – with the committee hopeful that the entire community will soon see the work that has gone into getting this far.

Chairperson of the committee, Kathleen Boyle, says that the station will serve as a community space and a major attraction for those in search of the west’s heritage.

“It will be a renewal for the village. At the moment, we are getting an audit done of all the historic sites because there are plenty of historical buildings around – Galway County Council are funding that.

“It is this side of Galway that has been neglected really – we missed out on the Wild Atlantic Way and there are lots of areas in the middle but people don’t come off that track so you have to make something of it yourself,” says Kathleen.

Committee member, Leonie Finn, believes there is an opportunity to link up with other areas with long established heritage centres to create a trail in Galway and its surrounds.

Mark says that this project is really the community taking responsibility for a state-owned building.

“CIE have been very supportive of the project and naturally, it is something that the local community are doing for CIE. It is a publically owned building so there is a contradiction there that we are fundraising to prevent a state-owned building from dilapidation.

“That said, we are passionate about the building. The volunteers that restored Kilmainham Gaol were celebrated by the 1916 programme and it was gratifying for us to see that – they said themselves that people thought they were a bit mad at the time but had they not done that, that iconic building would not be there now,” he says.

Fundraising for the project hasn’t always been easy but the committee has had huge support from locals – as well as a number of people outside of Ireland.

One American visitor happened to own a timber yard in Tennessee and sent over around €200,000 worth of timber for the project.

Micheál says local people really kept them going in the beginning and that there has been huge goodwill for the project.

“In the beginning, it was all local people that supported us with race nights and stuff like that.

“Abbey Acts, a local drama group, came on board with us and we had the Quiet Man play, adapted by Frank Mahon. He’s dead now but he came here when we were staging it and he gave us permission to use it for free – I think 510 people saw that in three nights,” he says.

Frank Mahon’s association with Ballyglunin was strong and when he died, his ashes were buried in Kilmoylan.

His family have donated his entire library to the Ballyglunin project and according to Kathleen, this will be a real feather in their cap when they do get up and running.

“Notre Dame University would have gladly taken the books and they actually wanted them but the family chose to give them to us – they will be housed here and we will protect them.

“We really want to keep the building alive and it is fine to do something like this but it has to be used. We had Hugh Maguire down from the Hunt Museum and he’s now a consultant – he offered us great advice and he could see the potential here,” says Kathleen.

Last year, the project received huge support in an online crowd funding campaign – raising €30,000 in just 30 days.

This money, together with €10,000 form the National Heritage Council, has enabled them to get the roof done and further funding has been made available through the Town and Village Renewal Scheme.

Volunteer conservationist, Joe Boyle, says that irrespective of future uses for the railway lines, the work they are doing will serve it well.

“It is either a train or a greenway that is going to go up along here and this will be the stop off – there is nothing else between Tuam and Athenry,” he says.

It took a while to get everybody on board and they hope that support will grow as people see the possibilities once work is completed, as Kathleen explains.

“I don’t know if it is a source of pride yet because I don’t know if everyone sees our vision but when the roof is done and the windows are repaired and you have that structure on the outside – it is hard to envisage now because the scaffold is outside but it will be a lovely looking building.”

Kathleen says they hope attract school tours, older visitors looking to reminisce about times past and tourists looking for attractions in Galway – ensuring that the station used as much as possible. Eventually, they want to be in a position to employ people to maintain the site and give tours.

Having already installed a ‘bug hotel’ and with plans in place for the planting of native fruit trees, they also want to create a safe place to bring young children.

Ultimately, according to Mark, they just want to create something the community can be proud of.

“It is a great example of bottom-up and what can be done by the community,” he adds.

To make a donation towards the restoration project, visit Ballyglunin.com; and to keep up with developments, follow Ballyglunin Restoration Project on Facebook.

Connacht Tribune

Galway’s Golden Girls mark big birthdays!

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Two of Galway’s Golden Girls celebrates milestone birthdays on either side of the county this week – racking up a magnificent 210 years between them.

Oughterard’s Phyl Furness celebrated her 107th birthday this week – and Mary O’Leary marked her mere 103rd birthday in Ardrahan!

Phyl, who is originally from Nottinghamshire in England, moved to Ireland in the 1980s – and has been a wonderful part of her Oughterard community ever since.

Mary was born Mary Quinn on May 23 1919 in Ballinlisheen, Tubber, Co. Clare, to John Quinn and Mary Kate McKague. She never saw her father as he passed away before she was born, leaving her an only child.

She attended Boston National School and Gort Secondary School, and from a young age worked on the family farm.

Mary married her husband Joe O’ Leary in Tubber church in 1948.  They lived in Ballinlisheen until Joe passed away in July 1997 – and Mary then moved to Gort town.

She moved to the Little Flower Nursing Home, Labane, Ardrahan, on October 14 2011 where she has enjoyed a very fulfilled few years since.

Mary is an avid reader; she loves thrillers and romance, according to Joan Gardiner Surman, Proprietor of the Little Flower Nursing Home.

“She keeps herself informed by reading the daily paper and loves Hello magazine, she has a huge interest in the Royal family,” she said.

She celebrated her birthday in the Little Flower Nursing Home a day early on Sunday – surrounded by her family, the staff who take such great care of her and all the residents of the Little Flower.

“She received a lovely letter of congratulations from President Michael D. Higgins along with a beautiful commemorative medal,” added Joan.

Photos: Mary O’Leary celebrating her 103rd birthday and (right) Oughterard’s Phyl Furness, who celebrated a magnificent 107th birthday this week.

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Connacht Tribune

Ombudsman hears of 125 allegations against Galway Gardaí

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A total of 125 allegations were made against Gardaí in Galway last year, according to a report by Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC).

There were 105 allegations made against Galway Gardaí in 2020, and so the figure of 125 last year represents a yearly increase of 19%.

It is also higher than the figure of 103 allegations in GSOC’s 2019 report.

The increase in complaints made to GSOC about Gardaí in Galway mirrors a national trend. In 2021, according to GSOC, 12% more complaints and allegations were lodged against Gardaí.

Among the most common complaints were neglect of duty, which ranges in seriousness from not returning a phone call or not properly investigating a crime; abuse of authority, which could include excessive force; non-fatal offences, which could include assault; and discourtesy, which relates to the manner in which a Garda spoke or behaved towards a person.

Meanwhile, complaints to the recently appointed Public Service Ombudsman Ger Deering reached a new high of 4,004 last year – a 17% increase on 2020, and the highest ever in the 38-year history of the Ombudsman.

And 208 of these complaints came from people in Galway; 53 were made about Galway County Council and the Ombudsman received 42 about Galway City Council. NUIG was the subject of six complaints.

Two complaints were received about Galway Mayo Institute of Technology while the Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board was the subject of one complaint.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see the May 27 edition of the Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Flexibility needed on designation of Connemara bogs

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A Galway senator has called for flexibility to make ‘small local changes’ over the coming years in relation to the SAC designation of the massive Connemara Bog complex.

Senator Seán Kyne told the Connacht Tribune that such flexibility could make a big difference to local families and communities within this SAC (Special Area of Conservation).

“There are a lot of local issues that arise. For example, people from the area can find it difficult to get planning on their own land and allowance could be made for small community projects that mightn’t necessarily tie in with the SAC requirements,” said Seán Kyne.

He said that in cases like those, where a small area could be taken out of the SAC, it should be possible to compensate with the inclusion of another similar sized portion of land on the fringes of the designation.

Senator Kyne – who raised the matter with Minister of State (Local Government) Peter Burke in a recent Seanad debate – said that the size of the Connemara Bog complex site was very large, approximately 50,000 hectares (c. 125,000 acres).

He added that there was a long-running history to the SAC application dating back to 1997 with a lot of appeals to parts of the designation for an area bounded to the north by Galway-Clifden Road (N59) and to the south by the Moycullen-Spiddal road (L1320).

“The Department is engaging in the final signing off of the SAC. I am inquiring in regard to clarification on the appeals. Will there be any future opportunities in regard to appeals?

“I am not talking about large-scale changes. In some cases, there may be a request for some minor changes to the boundaries of the SAC in the future.

“It could be to rectify some issues where there may be mistakes on the mapping, for example, or there could be areas which are commercially sensitive to somebody, and it may make sense to make a slight change in the boundary and that could be compensated elsewhere with the inclusion of another area . . .

“Can there be minor, but perhaps important, changes in the future which would benefit society, the economy and local communities, whether it is a requirement to remove a small piece to allow for a piece of amenity or commercial infrastructure? Clarification on the processes into the future is important,” said Senator Kyne in the Seanad debate.

Minister of State, Peter Burke, said in reply that the criteria used to set the boundaries of the SAC sites were purely scientific as was required in the nature directives.

He said that since the first public notification of the designation back in 1997, there were 60 appeals or objections received – nine of those were successful; 12 were partially successful; 21 were unsuccessful; and 18 were deemed invalid.

“The appeals process for this site has now concluded and the site has moved onto the final stage of the process which requires the publication of a statutory instrument, formally designating the site.

“The statutory instrument includes a description of the site, a detailed map showing the area, a complete list of habitats and species for which the area was selected and a list of activities which require the consent of the Minister before they can be undertaken in a way that affects the site.

“It is important to note that all relevant protections under Irish law apply to the site from the time [1997] it was publicly notified as proposed for designation,” said Minister of State, Peter Burke.

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