Descendants of Patrick Whelan, Galway’s only 1916 Rising fatality, are disappointed they weren’t told of a ‘U-turn’ not to include his name in a commemorative plaque unveiled on Tuesday.
Constable Whelan, a policeman, was shot and killed during an exchange of fire between Castlegar and Claregalway Irish Volunteers and the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) at Carnmore Cross on the morning of April 26, 1916.
Constable Whelan was the first fatality of the Rising outside of Dublin, and was the only one in the West of Ireland during Easter Week. The 34-years-old was, according to accounts, shot in the face, during an exchange of fire as part of the West’s uprising.
Descendants of the Kilkenny native were invited to Galway for the unveiling of a plaque supposedly in his honour at Carnmore Cross on Tuesday.
Eleven relatives (seven grandnieces and nephews, four great grandnieces and nephews and a great, great grandniece) travelled for the memorial, including two from abroad. But they were stunned to discover on the day that there was no mention of Constable Whelan on the plaque. Worse still, during an official speech at the unveiling, no mention was made of Constable Whelan.
“We were expecting to see his name on it. When it wasn’t there, we were just shocked – we couldn’t believe it. It was quite embarrassing,” said grandniece Eileen Morrissey, from her Whiteswall home in Kilkenny.
It has led to accusations that Galway’s local authorities are trying to “airbrush” Constable Whelan out of history, and to “pander to Republicans and Sinn Féin”.
Fine Gael City Councillor, Pádraig Conneely, also described the decision to unveil the stone without reference to him as a “cop-out”.
But his party colleague, Cathaoirleach of Galway County Council, Pete Roche, denied this claim and said Galway respectfully honour his memory.
“We had to be sensitive to the volunteers’ families and to the Constable’s. This was never a stone to commemorate Constable Whelan, it was a stone to commemorate the engagement at Carnmore Cross betwen volunteers and RIC, in which one policeman died. To name him would mean it was a commemoration to him but that was never the case.”
Councillor Roche said he usually speaks ‘off the cuff’ at occasions such at this but he was asked to ‘stick to a prepared script’, which did not mention Constable Whelan. “It was safer because it was, let’s say, contentious,” he said.
He said there were threats and suggestions from locals and political sources that the plaque could be damaged if it was seen to honour a man who died for the British.
Councillor Roche added: “It was a difficult situation; a balancing act. The Council took all views on board, and for safety it was decided that it was better to mark the place where this engagement happened, at Carnmore Cross, and then to honour the Constable at Bohermore.
“We couldn’t take the risk that the plaque would be damaged (if it had Constable Whelan’s name on it) because that would have caused great hurt and pain to the family. We respectfully decided to respect the wishes of locals and didn’t include his name but we invited his family to the unveiling of the plaque, and they were treated like royalty.
“I would hate to think that the family would feel that we were disrespectful to this man, who died tragically. Galway County Council never gave the impression to the family that Constable Whelan’s name would be on this plaque. It was a plaque to commemorate the place where this engagement happened, and yes, this man died. But his memory was honoured at a ceremony in Bohermore Cemetery, where the City Council invested considerably in restoring his gravestone. The wreath-laying ceremony at Bohermore was humble, and dignified and a fitting tribute to this man. It was very respectful.”
Councillor Conneely disagreed. “The Councils buckled under pressure from Sinn Féin and others,” he said.
“It is regrettable that politics has got in the way of history. This happened 100 years ago but people today are using it for petty political reasons. Constable Whelan was an Irish man, from Kilkenny, a Catholic. He joined the RIC, like many other Irish people, for a job.
“He was stationed in Galway. He was a nice man, very well-liked by all accounts. He was engaged to be married to a local Bohermore woman. He was killed doing his job, carrying out his duty.
“He was the only fatality of the Rising in Galway and it is an absolute and complete cop-out from the Councils that they unveiled a stone, a commemorative stone, that makes no reference to him, despite it being flagged in our 1916 commemorative programme and despite the family being told that the plaque would be unveiled to commemorate his death,” said Cllr Conneely.
Ms Morrissey said the family was written to earlier this year and invited to an event to commemorate Constable Whelan. She said the clear impression given was that the plaque would honour her relation.
“We agreed but on the basis that it would be apolitical. We just wanted to remember our tall, handsome granduncle,” she said.
Sinn Féin senator, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, on behalf of himself and the party’s five Galway Councillors, wrote to co-ordinator of the Galway City Centenary Committee in January objecting to Constable Whelan’s inclusion in the Rising celebrations.
He acknowledged that the only fatality in Galway should be recognised. “However, as an RIC officer he was part of the crown Forces violently opposed to the volunteers, and we find it inappropriate to hold such a commemoration as part of the city and county’s centenary celebration of 1916,” wrote Senator Ó Clochartaigh. Celebrating Constable Whelan as part of 1916 commemorations was a “contradiction”.
Ms Morrissey added: “The most important thing for us in all of this is that Patrick Whelan was a decent man, he was well liked by locals and thousands of people from both sides attended his funeral. He was very highly spoken of and we have the letters to back that up.”
Survey to look at parking and transport in Salthill
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.
Telecoms company seeks permission to continue work halted by Council
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.
‘Excessive’ Galway Docks hotel rejected by planners
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