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CITY TRIBUNE

Freemasons’ TLC project brings comfort to kids in hospital

Stephen Corrigan

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There didn’t seem to be much mystery shrouding proceedings at the Freemason’s lodge in Ballinfoile, with its door wide open and events playing out for all to see.

Perceived as an exclusive and secretive group, Galway Freemason’s Lodge on Bóthar an Choiste seemed the furthest thing from elitist as the group gathered to celebrate the success of their ‘Teddies for Loving Care’ initiative.

TLC has been running now for a number of years and involves Freemasons providing teddies for paediatric units in hospitals up and down the country.

Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest organisations for men and, having had a presence in Galway since 1722, the group certainly has staying power.

Almoner of Galway City Freemasons (Lodge 14), Basil Fenton, says that perceptions of the organisation are sometimes distorted.

He believes that ultimately, the group aims to have a positive impact on society and to the benefit of more than just their members.

“There are altruistic reasons for wanting to try and do a bit of good and that’s where the main focus is in terms of the charities,” says Basil.

TLC is a national initiative but one that has had a significant local impact – with anything up to 70 teddies being delivered into University Hospital Galway every week.

“This is where 36 hospitals within the country have A&E departments with specific facilities for paediatrics and we supply teddies free of charge to those hospitals.

“We provide the teddies and then it is at the discretion of nurses on duty – if a small child comes in distressed, they get a little teddy,” explains Basil.

“They are bought in from abroad and stored in Dublin – then by some means of distribution, they are brought down to Galway or Limerick or up to Belfast or Ballymena or wherever.

“A local member will keep in touch with nurses in paediatrics and they bring them in as they require them – the teddies are sterile and approved for hospital use,” he continued.

It is believed that the Freemasons emerged in the fifteenth century – as Basil says, “when they were really stonemasons”.

It was from here, according to him, that the symbolism and rituals originated.

“In one sense, it would have originally been almost like a trade union and you hear people talking about the secret signs and symbols – at that time you didn’t have certificates or diplomas to say what level of qualification you were.

“It was using these signs and symbols that you could prove you were really an advanced carpenter or mason and therefore eligible to earn more money,” says Basil.

To maintain tradition, the Freemasons continue to wear regalia that includes sashes and aprons – representative of the apron that stone masons would have worn to protect their trousers.

The rituals as members progress from apprentice to fellowcraft before becoming a Master Mason still continue – something that Basil concedes that his wife refers to as “play-acting”.

He feels that misconceptions of the organisation both attracts and deters – and leads to people seeking to join for differing reasons.

As a result, it is quite a laborious task to join, involving a period of scrutiny to ensure that potential members want to give back rather than just take from the organisation.

“Some people come in with expectations of rituals or sudden introduction into somewhere and that is why there is the scrutiny or screening process – to try and let the person know that your perception of what to expect is not what it really is.

“There are three basic qualifications – first of all, he has to be a man, he has got to believe in some supreme being of some sort and he must live in good repute amongst his friends and neighbours,” explains Basil.

And it isn’t some covert or secretive applications process – it is simply a matter of making an online application to be contacted.

“It isn’t for everybody but a lot of people get great enjoyment out of it – there are about 25,000 members around the country.

“People join a rugby club because they enjoy rugby – people join us because they find it enjoyable and they have similar aims in terms of trying to improve things for charities or whatever along the line,” says Basil.

As for why he joined, it was a combination of curiosity and security – with the Freemasons offering support to any families left behind if a member passes away.

“There are the Masonic charities for people who have fallen on hard times within the order – I saw security in terms of children getting support through education – children of members, if the member dies, will get support.

“The function of the Almoner is to look after the brethren so if somebody is sick, you visit them or you organise for them to be visited and you keep an eye on any widows you may have – if somebody has a problem or anything, you might help them with it,” he says.

As the Freemason’s lodge in Ballinfoile flooded with people and the table was filled with foil platters of party food and teddies, the so-called secret society seemed anything but.

“The fact is that there is a booklet that anyone can go in and collect in the Grand Lodge in Dublin that has all the names and addresses of every lodge in the country and the contact details for them.

“There’s nothing clandestine or hidden – it’s in the public sphere, identifiable and available,” says Basil.

CITY TRIBUNE

Patients moved from Merlin ‘to bolster private numbers’

Enda Cunningham

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Merlin Park: Patients were moved to private hospital.

Health Minister Simon Harris has said he will ask the HSE why patients requiring rehab services were moved from Merlin Park to a private hospital, leaving the state-of-the-art facility idle.

He was asked in the Dáil last week why waiting lists were not being tackled, when capacity at the Galway Clinic and Bon Secours private hospitals is at 15-20%.

Last month, the State entered a deal to ‘take over’ the country’s private hospitals – which has come under criticism in the Dáil with claims of under-utilisation of facilities.

Galway West Deputy Catherine Connolly asked for full details of the agreement with the private hospitals – worth €115m per month nationally – and said nothing about it made sense to her.

“We have major waiting lists and our two private hospitals in Galway City are at 15% to 20% capacity. The hospital itself [UHG] – I must be wrong about this figure but it is what I have been told – was at 30% to 40% capacity as of May 15,” she said.

Department of Health figures for last week show a 39% ‘utilisation’ rate for the Bon Secours and 16% for Galway Clinic.

“The Minister has stood in the Chamber and told us he had to make such arrangements, and certainly I welcomed the narrative at the time that we were taking over the private hospitals to deal with a pandemic. However, we are not utilising them.

“Merlin Park has a state-of-the-art rehab service. It has a gym and all types of therapists but it is now lying idle because, under this deal, the Government transferred the patients from that wonderful facility to a private hospital.

“It took the therapists and patients into the private hospital to allow them to get up to 15% or 20% capacity. It sent the nurses into the public system and left the system empty at Merlin Park, and that is to mention only one service.

“None of the way this has been done makes sense to me. Surely anybody with a bit of sense would know that when the terms and the heads of agreement were signed, it should have allowed for change.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Barriers set to halt groups drinking at quayside

Francis Farragher

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Access to the green quayside areas off Wolfe Tone Bridge will be blocked from today to prevent large groups of people drinking over the Bank Holiday weekend.

And the message from Garda Chief Superintendent Tom Curley is – enjoy the glorious weekend of weather that’s in store, but diligently maintain the two-metre social distancing rule and don’t consume booze in public areas.

“We are not killjoys and the lovely weather is a boost to everyone’s spirits. People will enjoy the outdoors this weekend but it’s illegal to consume alcohol in public areas and we will be enforcing that bylaw.

“In this kind of weather, there will inevitably be groups of people congregating in outdoor areas – but the message is simple and crystal clear: at all times maintain the two-metre social distancing guideline,” Chief Supt Curley told the Galway City Tribune.

On Tuesday evening last, Gardaí did enforce a dispersal procedure in the Spanish Arch/Claddagh Quay area of the city, after about 200 young people had gathered there, many of them consuming alcohol. They continued to patrol the area yesterday.

A spokesperson for Galway City Council confirmed yesterday that a green area on the Claddagh Quay side of the river – where large groups of young people had gathered this week – would be closed off to the public, probably from today (Friday).
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CITY TRIBUNE

Westwood owners plan tourist accommodation usage

Enda Cunningham

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The Westwood student accommodation complex site this week.

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The owners of the new Westwood student accommodation in Newcastle are planning to use part of the complex for tourist and business traveller accommodation “in light of the current health pandemic”.

NTM ROI Seed Capital is currently building the five apartment blocks off the N59 and has sought a determination from An Bord Pleanála on whether it would need to apply for planning permission to allow “partial occupation for tourist and visitor use in the academic year from September 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021”.

Under the existing planning permission, the development “shall only be occupied as student accommodation . . . and shall not be used for any other purpose without a prior grant of planning permission for a change of use”.

However, the company has drawn up a contingency plan in the event that construction may not be completed for the coming academic year.

The plan involves allowing tourists and other ‘non-student’ users to be accommodated in the complex – An Bord Pleanála has been asked to determine whether the change would be a ‘material alteration’ of the planning approval or not.

If it is ruled a material alteration, the Board can then invite submissions from members of the public before it decides on whether to approve or reject it.

Already, local residents – who strongly objected to the entire development during the planning process – have expressed concerns about parking issues which they believe would arise if the Westwood is used for tourist use.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. Please remember that without advertising revenue and people buying and subscribing to our newspapers, this website would not exist. You can read the full article by buying a digital edition of this week’s Galway City Tribune HERE.

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