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Family fun as Macnas marks 30 years of making magic



Macnas Artistic Director Noeline Kavanagh and friend prepare for this year's parade. PHOTO: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

Lifestyle –  Judy Murphy meets the Artistic Director of Macnas Noeline Kavanagh who is helping the next generation to shine

For the past 30 years, Macnas Community Theatre Group has brought its colourful spectacles to the streets of Galway and to cities all over Europe, the Americas and as far away as Australia.

The magic is set to continue on Sunday week, October 30, when Macnas will stage its latest show, Savage Grace, in Galway City.

A celebration of love in all its manifestations, Savage Grace also marks the Celtic festival of Halloween and pays homage to the spirit world, in particular to a creature known in Irish as An Cailleach, or in Slavic myths as the Baba Yaga – a supernatural, fearsome hag.

Savage Grace, which will have some 300 performers weaving through Galway’s medieval streets, has been designed by Orla Clogher; there’s new music specially composed by Orlagh de Bhaldraithe, and costume design is by Cherie White.

One of Galway’s finest young bands, the city-based My Fellow Sponges, are taking part and there will be a new Macnas Percussive Ensemble, directed by former Saw Doctor Éimhín Craddock with a group of drummers from Cloughanover, who will join the existing Brass Ensemble to bring additional noise, fire and colour to Macnas’ performance.

With rehearsals entering their final week, 300 people are coming through the door of Macnas’ HQ in the Fisheries Field, beside NUIG, nightly from Monday through to Sunday, says the group’s Artistic Director Noeline Kavanagh.

And the fact that the main creative team of Savage Grace is made up of women makes her happy.

Noeline, who has designed and directed most of the company’s recent parades, has taken a back seat this year as the younger generation develops its creative vision.  She’s glad to advise and help with direction, but credits Orla Clogher with devising the concept and the creatures for Savage Grace and says Orla’s vision “is like Tim Burton meets the west of Ireland”.

Like Cherie White who has designed the costumes, Orla came through the Macnas Ensemble training facility which was established in 2010.

Macnas has had a tradition of training people since the community group was established in 1986 by Páraic Breathnach, Ollie Jennings, Pete Sammon and Tom Conroy, all of whom were involved with Galway Arts Festival at the time.  It’s no exaggeration to say the raggle-taggle group of employees, FÁS workers and volunteers based in the Fisheries Field, where they designed and created mythical stories and fantastical creatures, helped change Galway’s landscape.

Despite having almost no money, Macnas staged memorable parades – among them Gulliver and Tír Faoi Thoinn – during the annual Arts Festival, helping to lift the city from the economic gloom of the 1980s and enhancing Galway’s reputation as a hub for creative people.

Through the decades, Macnas has enjoyed good times – which include supporting U2’s Zooropa tour, and performing at festivals worldwide. There were tougher periods too – internal conflict and Arts Council grant cuts among then. And, back in the day, it had a more macho culture than in recent times.

Galway City woman Noeline Kavanagh, who cut her teeth as a volunteer with Macnas during its early years, before going on to study drama at Trinity College, has been Artistic Director since 2008 after periods spent working with theatre companies in Ireland and Europe, including the UK’s Welfare State and French company Theatre du Soleil.

Since returning, she has steered Macnas into new and exciting territory, travelling with shows to places as diverse as Russia and Texas.

It hasn’t always been easy, but this smart, warm woman who talks a mile a minute, has an ability to focus on the positive, believes totally in teamwork and is passionate about Macnas’ role in training the next generation of artists.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.


Housing charity evicts family after ‘number of incidents’



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



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



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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