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Connemara – in North Carolina

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Those who argue that there’s no place quite like Connemara may have to revise their position – because the west of the county is not the only area on the planet to lay claim to the name.

Travel ten miles out from the city of Atlanta in Georgia and there it is on a street sign – “Connemara Road”.  Then close to Indianapolis in Indiana there are two areas known as Roundstone and Clifden.

Nobody knows the origins of the former – the name of a mansion and massive ranch – but the explanation for those Connemara place names in middle of America is straightforward.

The developer visited Connemara and brought back very happy memories with him – happy enough to baptize the location of his expenditure and his houses in honour of Clifden and Roundstone.  Prices for the houses range up to €1m.

However, an old mansion and ranch in North Carolina, which bears the name “Connemara” is steeped deeply in the social history of the United States in the 20th Century.

“Connemara” is located in Flat Rock, close to the Blue Ridge Mountains as you move into the American South.  It is a National Historic Site which is administered by the National Parks Agency of the United States Government.

The reason for this status accorded to “Connemara” is that it was the home of poet and writer, Carl Sandberg, for 22 years up until the time of his death in 1967.

Sandberg was an iconic figure in American literature; he was known as the people’s poet because of the strength and simplicity of his writing and his biography of Abraham Lincoln remains the seminal account of the life of the legendary United States President.

The 250 acre ranch and house in Flat Rock was known as “Connemara” long before Sandberg set up home there for himself and his family in 1945.

Miriam Farris, at “Connemara”, explains that the estate was so named by Ellison Smyth, a wealthy businessman who owned the place from about 1900 to 1945.

Miriam says that Smyth named it “Connemara” in honour of his Irish ancestry and “the beauty of the land of his forbears”.

Interestingly, Smyth’s lineage goes back to the Belfast region to about 1800 and his involvement in textile factories in in Carolina appears to mirror the linen industry in Northern Ireland.

It seems the place name “Connemara” was mentioned when Carl Sandberg decided to buy the house and ranch but he was very happy with the name and with the story behind it.

Do some of the 80,000 visitors who come to “Connemara” every year ask about the background to the place name?

“Yes, they do, and we give them the basic story about how it came about,” says Miriam.

However, neither she, nor any of the nine staff in “Connemara”, has ever been to the real Connemara but she plans on coming sometime.

She cannot say if Ellison Smyth who named the property “Connemara” over 100 years ago was ever in the real Connemara either.

When Carl Sandberg died in 1967 the then President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson spoke of him in remarkable terms:  “Not alone was Carl Sandberg the voice of America; Carl Sandberg was America”.

Maybe it’s time the real Connemara established links with the “Connemara” which houses a deep semblance of the cultural and social heritage of America.

CITY TRIBUNE

Housing charity evicts family after ‘number of incidents’

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A family was evicted from the Westside Family Hub in Galway due to a number of incidents in recent weeks.

Peter McVerry Trust, which runs the temporary social housing facility on behalf of Galway City Council, confirmed it found alternative accommodation for the parent and children.

In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, a spokesperson for the housing charity said: “Peter McVerry Trust can confirm that despite intensive and extensive engagement it was reluctantly forced to end the placement of a household at Westside Family Hub recently due to health, safety and child safeguarding risks. We did provide alternative accommodation and continue to offer alternative temporary accommodation to the family that was removed.”

The hub has supported dozens of families since it opened in May 2020. It was due to be a temporary accommodation for families before they move-on to more permanent homes but residents have ended up staying far longer due to the housing shortage.

A spokesperson added: “Our focus at Westside Family Hub is on providing a safe, supportive environment for the families on site who need of emergency homeless accommodation. While the aim is to progress families into long term housing as quickly as possible, the current housing crisis and the limited availability of suitable and affordable housing has made progressions extremely challenging.

“To this end we have established an internal working group of senior staff to look at ways in which to significantly increase housing delivery in Galway City so as to accelerate move-ons for families from the service in partnership with Galway City Council.”

File photo: the Westside hub

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CITY TRIBUNE

Concern over urban sprawl as ‘new town’ in Galway turned down

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From the Galway City Tribune – Plans to develop a ‘new town’ at a 19-acre site off the Tuam Road have been torpedoed by An Bord Pleanála.

The planning authority has overturned a previous grant of permission by Galway City Council for the proposal which included 248 apartments, office blocks, a supermarket and a 222-bed hotel.

In its refusal, the Board stated that the development, which was to be located at the City North Business Park, would materially contravene the Council’s own zoning in the City Development Plan – representing ‘urban sprawl’ instead of compact growth in the city centre and established suburbs.

An Bord Pleanála said the location of the development outside the city centre, as well as both the established and outer suburbs, would result in “dependency on unsustainable commuter-driven trip generation by private car” and therefore was “contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.

Strategic Land Investments Ltd was granted planning permission for the mixed-use development on lands adjacent to the An Post Distribution Centre in August 2021.

The local authority gave the go-ahead for the eight residential blocks, ranging in height from two to eight storeys; the nine-storey hotel; and four office blocks with 30 conditions attached.

However, an appeal was lodged by Pat O’Neill on the grounds of issues with the zoning; the location of the site outside the city centre; the site’s absence from the city’s Housing Strategy; a shortage of car parking spaces as only half of the 1,674 required were provided for; and the environmental impact of the development.

In his appeal to the Board, Mr O’Neill stated that Galway was a county with one of the highest vacancy rates in the country for commercial floor space “at 16.6% compared to the national average of 13.6%”.

Those behind the project had made much of the site’s proximity to Boston Scientific and the Ardaun lands for which the Council has prepared a Local Area Plan.

However, the Board’s Senior Planning Inspector, Jane Dennehy, in her assessment of the appeal said this proximity “would not alone justify positive consideration” of the plans.

Ms Dennehy said in her report that the development would increase car trips as public transport options at the site are limited, “and are likely to remain limited”.

“It is questionable as to whether the proposed development is consistent with and would not hinder the implementation of the adopted national, regional and local strategic policy,” states Ms Dennehy’s report.

Recommending that permission be refused, Ms Dennehy stated that the proposed development would contravene these strategies and “would lead to diversion of residential and commercial development from areas within the city and suburbs”.

The Board accepted Ms Dennehy’s recommendation and refused permission for the development.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 23. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Asylum seekers pitch business ideas to Galway’s food and music experts

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From the Galway City Tribune – Two projects from asylum-seekers living in city Direct Provision centres will be pitched to a national competition to fund social enterprises.

Áras na nGael on Dominick Street was a hive of activity on Wednesday as the migrants honed their presentations in front of a panel of local mentors before facing the judges for the ‘Champion Changemakers’ competition.

Michelin-star chef JP McMahon, Galway Arts Festival co-founder and Saw Doctors manager Ollie Jennings and manager of the Town Hall Theatre Fergal McGrath were among the mentors who showed up to share their expertise as part of a Dragons’ Den for community groups.

Up for grabs is €10,000 bursary of supports to set up selected projects, which are deemed to positively impact the lives of people in local communities. The Champion Changemakers is free to enter and run under the auspices of the Community Enterprise Association Ireland, the country’s leading network of enterprise hubs, co-working locations and flexible working spaces that is funded by Enterprise Ireland.

The first project from United Women Galway is for a proposal to set up a culture café offering multi-ethnic food.

Food is a particularly hot topic for people living in Direct Provision, explains Flutura Rrebani.

“We know Irish food is nice. Unfortunately, people in Direct Provision are never offered very good quality food.”

While asylum-seekers have been allowed to cook in the last two years, some children who have spent years in the centres had never tasted food from their homelands.

“We want to offer a bit of their own food. It’s important to keep their culture alive and there is no culture without food,” insists the mother from Albania.

She was one of a number of women in Direct Provision who set up United Women Galway two years ago to alleviate boredom during the pandemic. They are made up of ten nationalities.

“Everyone was affected by Covid but mostly Direct Provision people because we had no jobs, no cars, the shops were closed and our children were small. What can we do as a group – we discovered we can cook.”

The group began to cook together for different events, such as Africa Day, Melting Pot Club and the Westside Festival. But now they hope to get funding for a city café where they can sell their wares and create a space for people to meet over food.

“We want a place to cook traditional food from our homes and give an opportunity for migrants to cook their food for their own community. The emphasis would be on integration, eating and preserving our culture.”

For the mentor session, the women cooked a variety of food from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and the Lebanon such as spicy fried chicken and beef with peanut butter.

The second project is from a group of African musicians who set up the Galway African Diaspora. They want funding to set up a company with access to a venue and equipment that can be used to stage ethnic concerts and community events. The company will mentor African artists and produce musical projects.

Wally Nkikita is a member of the band Elikiya that played at the Galway Arts Festival in 2019 as support for Grammy-award winning Tinariwen, a blues band founded in refugee camps in Libya. They’ve also been on the bill of the Electric Picnic Festival.

“We’ve found it difficult to get community spaces to play our gigs and hold our events. We want spaces to be involved in the arts. We’ve been organising Afro music nights once a month and have been organising Africa Day here. We’d like to use music as a tool for social integration.”

After finalising presentations with the help of their mentors, they will present their projects at the West of Ireland finals, when ideas will be selected under three different headings –  Environment and Climate Action, Economic Inequality, Human Wellbeing.

Ideas will be shortlisted to participate in a national PitchFest in October at Innovate Communities Social Innovation Hub in Dublin

(Photo: At the music mentoring session were, from left; Arts Festival co-founder, Ollie Jennings, Mairead Duffy, Lorg Media; Jonathan Healy, Wally Nkikita; Brandon Duke and Stevo Lende).

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 23. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

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