Free Rein – Trip of a Lifetime in 1980’s Ireland
Accidental travel writer Hilary Bradt embarked on the adventure of a lifetime in 1984 when she undertook a solo 1,000-mile journey on horseback along Ireland’s west coast. Her four-month odyssey began in North Connemara and ended in Waterford. Along the way she encountered joy, heartbreak and wonderful kindness, as she tells JUDY MURPHY.
My life has been a lot of mistakes that turned out well,” says Hilary Bradt who arrived in Galway in early May 1984, after a stressful journey that had entailed trains, buses and a ferry from England. Along the way, the black plastic bin-liners in which she had stowed her luggage had ripped and her packing was falling to pieces.
“I was exhausted when I got to Galway and thought, ‘this is a stupid idea’,” she recalls, nearly 40 years later.
But there was no time for self-pity. Hilary had a pony to purchase as part of her plan to trek Ireland’s west coast on a solo adventure that would involve exploring bogs and glens, camping far from the beaten track, along the coast from Mayo to Waterford.
The four-month journey which started in Galway brought joy, wonder, loss, sorrow, warmth and peace, although it’s taken her nearly 40 years to document it fully, due to mislaying an early draft about the trip. That’s now been rectified with her book, A Connemara Journey: A thousand miles on horseback through western Ireland.
English-born Hilary was a seasoned traveller in 1984, having previously trekked extensively in South America and in East and North Africa with her ex-husband George.
But well-travelled as she was, Hilary didn’t realise, when setting out by bus from England to Ireland that she and her belongings would have to alight once the bus got on the ferry. She mightn’t have gone with refuse sacks had she known, she laughs ruefully.
She survived and after arriving in Galway, set about buying a Connemara pony. Before leaving England, she’d been given a couple of names to contact, among them renowned Loughrea horseman, Willie Leahy, whose Dartfield Horse Museum is one of the treasures of East Galway.
“I hate telephoning people but I stood in a public phone box with a couple of coins and phoned one after another. Finally, I found Willie who had a selection of proper Connemara ponies.”
This polite Englishwoman began negotiating with Willie, a veteran horse-dealer, who assured her he had the perfect pony. They haggled for three days. When Willie finally told her he’d get more money by selling the animal for meat, Hilary was horrified. She haggled no more, and paid the asking price for Mollie, “a gorgeous, gorgeous pony”.
Willie was a tough negotiator, but he was also a decent man and invited Hilary to accompany a pony-trekking group he was leading in North Connemara.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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Ireland captain doesn’t rule out GAA return
By DAIRE WALSH
It is close to a decade since she first started embracing the life of a professional athlete, but Republic of Ireland international Niamh Fahey hasn’t ruled out the prospect of returning to a Gaelic football pitch at some point in the future.
A TG4 All-Ireland senior football championship winner with her native Galway in 2004 under the tutelage of PJ Fahy, the Killannin woman switched regularly between inter-county ladies football and soccer before sealing a move to Women’s Super League outfit Arsenal in 2008.
She was naturally drawn to Gaelic sports, with her brothers Gary and Richie, as well as her distant cousin Kevin Walsh, having been part of the Galway men’s teams that won All-Ireland senior titles in 1998 and 2001.
Despite eventually drifting away from the Tribeswomen upon joining forces with Arsenal, she kept one foot in the LGFA by lining out for the Parnell’s club in London – with whom she won an All-Ireland intermediate title in 2012.
A transfer to Chelsea in the winter of 2014 saw her taking up soccer on a full-time basis for the first time, however, and she went on to spend a single season with Bordeaux in France before transferring to her current employers Liverpool in 2018. The 35-year-old doesn’t have any grandiose plans for a potential comeback to Ladies Football, with plenty still left in the tank from a soccer perspective, but Killannin is a club that remains close to her heart.
“Obviously if I go back home to Ireland, I’d love to play with my club team again. Beyond that, I don’t have many lofty ambitions past that, really. I would have always said, as the years go on, you’re still in the UK and you’re still playing professionally and at a high level. I try not to think too far down the line,” Fahey acknowledged.
“I’m happy now with where I’m at and if I ever do go back to Ireland of course I’d like to kick around, but it will probably be the over I don’t know what age category at that stage! We’ll see how my body is and all the rest of it.”
Although she has collected an astonishing 16 winners’ medals across three different English clubs, Fahey will — all things going well — realise a long-held ambition later on this summer.
A senior debutant for the Republic of Ireland as far back as March 2007, she picked up her 105th cap last October when the women’s national team defeated Scotland in a crunch play-off encounter at Hampden Park in Glasgow to qualify for their first ever major tournament — the FIFA Women’s World Cup that is set to get underway in Australia and New Zealand in a matter of weeks.
A persistent injury saw her missing out on the three friendlies that Vera Pauw’s charges have played thus far in 2023, but Fahey returned to captain Liverpool in their final two games of the Women’s Super League season. With Ireland set to face co-hosts Australia in front of 80,000 plus spectators on July 20 in Sydney, she will be doing everything within her power to ensure she makes Pauw’s final selection for the tournament later this month.
“The whole reason I started playing in the first place was to be able to represent my country. It’s the main reason as well that the desire to continue my career has been there. To always try and play for Ireland, and hopefully qualify for a major tournament. We’ve done that as well, so it’s a dream come through really. To be able to go down there and play in a World Cup for Ireland.
“They’ve had to move the fixture (against Australia) to a bigger capacity stadium because of the interest and the quick sell out. That’s really cool and obviously a massive occasion to be involved in the opening game against the hosts and everything else that comes with that.
“I don’t think anyone was unhappy when Australia was drawn out for the first game and for us to be versus Australia. I think everyone was definitely excited about that one.”
Having captained a Galway team that included future Ireland women’s rugby international Claire Molloy to an All-Ireland minor football title in 2005, Fahey’s leadership skills were evident from a young age.
Her experience with Ireland made her an ideal candidate to take over as skipper of Liverpool FC Women in August 2020 and when the Reds claimed the English Championship at the end of the 2021/22 season, it was an added bonus on top of what was already a big honour for Fahey.
“I was very proud to be made captain. It’s a big responsibility, but there’s a great dressing room of girls there as well. There was plenty of experience along the way and it’s definitely a collective effort. It’s something I’m very proud of, being a childhood Liverpool fan. To be able to captain the team is something really special.”
Between Laura Harvey, Shelly Kerr (both Arsenal), Vicky Jepson (Liverpool) and Emma Hayes (Chelsea) at club level, and Sue Ronan and Pauw on the international stage, Fahey has become accustomed to playing under female managers in women’s soccer.
Her former team-mate Fiona Wynne has taken a similar step in ladies football with the Annaghdown stalwart currently serving as joint-manager alongside Mághnus Breathnach of the Galway seniors. Following defeats to Kerry and Mayo in the Lidl National Football League Division One and TG4 Connacht Senior Football Championship finals respectively, they will be hoping to make a big impact in the Brendan Martin Cup with the westerners set to face Cork and Tipperary in Group Four of the All-Ireland series over the next fortnight.
As someone who still keeps a close eye on their progress, Fahey remains hopeful the current crop can match the heroics of her 2004 side.
“I’ve always kept an eye on the Galway ladies team. I’m a big supporter of them as well. We’ve been close in recent years. Contested All-Irelands and league finals. It would be great to see Galway win another All-Ireland. There’s a lot of talent in the county as well. You never know,” Fahey said.
“The league final result wasn’t great, it didn’t go our way and a bit of a rocky start to the championship, but it’s a young team as well. Hopefully they can turn it around and you never know. It’s a funny game at times. You hit form and anything can happen.”
Dozens left without water at height of searing heat
Dozens of homes and farmers outside between Athenry and Turloughmore were left without running water in the searing heat this week as Irish Water was accused of “ignoring the problem” for the past six months.
And with temperatures in the mid-twenties for the past week, farmers were struggling to feed livestock while families were scrambling to deal with the taps running dry.
Local councillor, David Collins, said this was an “emergency situation” and he had been repeatedly raising issues about water supply in the Carnaun area since last November, to no avail.
He had been bringing water pressure issues on the public water supply to Uisce Éireann (formerly Irish Water) and had been given several different reasons for the problem, but no solution.
“It’s about 20 houses and a number of farms. I started contacting Irish Water about this in November, informing them the water supply was very low. Initially they said it was because of problems with the Carnmore Reservoir but every couple of weeks, I’ve been contacting them and they have been giving different reasons why the pressure is low,” said Cllr Collins.
“It’s a rural area with a lot of farms. I spoke to one farmer this week who said even before the water cut, it was taking him up to three minutes to fill a bucket of water.”
Householders in the area have been left unable to take a shower, wash clothes or turn on dishwashers, he said, and some had even had their appliances destroyed because the water cut while they were on.
“I’ve never got any response from them. The Director of Services [for Infrastructure and Operations] in the Council, Derek Pender, set up a meeting two weeks ago with Irish Water and I joined to raise it. They said they’d go away and come back to me and I haven’t heard anything.
“I got a call from the people living up there last Thursday to say the water was down to a trickle and on Tuesday, it was gone,” said Cllr Collins.
The Fine Gael councillor said it was hugely frustrating as a local representative to be unable to get a straight answer from Uisce Éireann, or any indication of what they planned to do to address the problem.
“It’s frustrating for us, but not half as frustrating for the people out there who have no water. Nobody is taking responsibility,” he said.
Cllr Collins raised the matter at a meeting of the Athenry Oranmore Municipal District on Tuesday where he called on the County Council to apply pressure on Uisce Éireann.
“It’s like being on a merry-go-round,” he said, adding that efforts to get a reply from Uisce Éireann were eliciting the same “generic responses”.
“Everything seems to be going into the abyss. This is a First-World country and we have people with no water,” he said.
Director of Services Alan Farrell said he would raise the matter with the relevant department in County Hall.
In response to a query from the Connacht Tribune, Uisce Éireann put the issues down to the recent warm weather and said they had deployed a crew to the Carnaun area.
“Uisce Éireann understands the inconvenience such outages can cause and apologise for any inconvenience caused,” said a spokesperson, adding that it could take hours for supply to return to “customers on higher ground or at the end of the network”.
A review of service interruptions in the Carnaun area was being undertook, they said, and Uisce Éireann would continue to work with Galway County Council to ensure supply.
“Once this review is complete, an assessment will be completed to determine next steps.”
Ironically this comes as Uisce Éireann and Galway County Council announced what they called ‘essential overnight water restrictions’ across a large swathe of the county from last night to help manage supply.
The restrictions from 11pm to 7am will affect Tully, Letterfrack, Carna Cill Chiaráin, Carraroe, Inis Oirr and Ros Muc in Connamara, as well as Ballinasloe and parts of what it defined as Mid-Galway.
Rising costs push nursing homes closer to the brink
Higher operating costs, staffing shortages, and increasingly more complex care needs of residents was among the threats facing Galway’s nursing homes, a new report has found.
Analysis of the sector by consultancy PwC, on behalf of Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI), highlighted 31 nursing homes across Ireland and 915 beds have closed in the last three years.
According to NHI, included in that figure are four nursing homes in County Galway that have closed since January 2021.
A spokesperson said they include Corrandulla Nursing Home, Castleturvin Nursing Home in Athenry, Oughterard Manor and Kiltormer Nursing Home (pictured). They closed between 2021 and 2023.
The independent report for NHI, ‘Challenges for Nursing Homes in the Provision of Older Persons Care’, demonstrated how providers are under pressure as they deal with increasingly complex resident profiles and incur rapidly rising operational costs driven by the impact of infection prevention control requirements, inflation, and staffing shortages.
The report found there has been a 36% increase in the operational cost of care per resident since 2017. But the sector claimed there have been only ‘marginal’ increases to revenue streams through the Weekly Fair Deal Rates for residents.
The result was 33% of nursing homes surveyed by PwC reported an operating loss in 2022, up from 19% in 2021.
NHI said it was “unsustainable” and it predicted more nursing home closures were inevitable without reforms to the pricing model and an increased Fair Deal budget.
Tadhg Daly, Chief Executive of Nursing Homes Ireland, said the findings of the report must serve as a wake-up call to Government. “It is becoming increasingly unfeasible to operate a nursing home in Ireland, due to rapidly rising costs and only very marginal increases in income stream – which is the result of a Fair Deal Rate pricing mechanism no longer suitable for the current operating environment,” Mr Daly said.
He said over 20 nursing homes have closed their doors since the beginning of last year.
“The sector is in a state of crisis and contraction, with more and more homes and beds closing and not being replaced. This has been particularly prevalent among smaller operators in rural areas to date, but will encapsulate medium-sized and larger operators if the status quo prevails. Urgent intervention is required,” Mr Daly added.
The sector needs ‘immediate action’ on Fair Deal rates, he said, to prevent more nursing homes from closing down.