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.
Work set to start next year on €60m student accommodation scheme
More than 600 new student bed spaces will come on stream at NUIG in time for the start of the semester in September 2022 – bringing welcome relief to the high demand in the student housing market.
The university this week invited tenders for the design and construction contract to develop a new apartment complex at Corrib Village, the existing student accommodation village.
The estimated value of the contract is €60 million, excluding VAT, and its duration is for 38 months.
The plan is to develop a “commercially viable, modern, appealing and environmentally friendly student accommodation on campus”.
According to the tenders, it will be delivered on a phased basis.
The first phase requires immediate fit-out on July 1, 2021 for the start of the term that September. The second phase will be required for immediate fit-out on the June 1, 2022 to allow for adequate setup in advance of the new semester in September 2022.
The greenfield site for the development is north of the existing Corrib Village, between the Bioscience Research Building and the Park and Ride facility.
It will have 674 bed spaces in 125 apartments, in clusters of four to six en suite bedrooms with a communal living area in each apartment.
There will also be more communal areas, and facilities, service rooms, refuse storage and covered cycling storage facilities. It will be built in four blocks, with one block ranging from four to eight storeys tall, two blocks six storeys tall, and the remaining block four storeys.
The plan is for the development of courtyards, pedestrian access, vehicular access and drop-off and parking facilities for the less mobile. Vehicular access is through the existing Corrib Village access road.
The deadline for submission of interest in the tender is November 1, with a contractor to be appointed in the new year.
Galway City Council records high rate of planning appeals
Galway City Council had one of the highest rates of appealed planning decisions in the country last year, according to a new report from An Bord Pleanála.
According to the Board’s Annual Report for 2018, there were 378 planning decisions made last year by the City Council.
Of these, 42 were appealed (11.1%), which was the fourth-highest rate of challenged decisions in the country.
The highest rate was in the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council area with 15.9% of decisions appealed; Dublin City Council at 15.4% and Cork City Council at 12.6%.
The report also shows that in Galway City, there were 37 decisions made by the Board last year – 12 Council decisions were upheld, 16 had planning conditions varied and nine were overturned.
The 42 appeals lodged represented 2.7% of all appeals nationally.
Meanwhile, more than one third of rulings by An Bord Pleanala last year on appeals in County Galway resulted in the Council’s decision being overturned.
The Board’s report shows that 21 decisions from the County Council were overturned.
In 2018, the County Council made 1,626 planning decisions – 81 of these were appealed (5%), which equated to 4% of all local authority planning decisions nationally which were appealed.
Decisions were reached on 60 cases (there may have been a carry-over of decisions pending from 2017, and some from 2018 may not have been made until this year).
A breakdown of the decided cases shows that 14 had the local authority decisions upheld; 25 had decisions varied and 21 had decisions overturned.
According to the Board, appeals were dealt with in an average of 19.5 weeks last year, down from 23.3 weeks recorded in 2017. The Board has an objective of deciding appeals within 18 weeks.
Nationally, there were 28,785 planning decisions, of which 2,028 were appealed (a rate of 7%). A total of 1,806 decisions were reached, of which 434 were upheld, 957 had conditions varied and 415 overturned.
Bus pervert facing jail term
A 52-year-old man who asked a female passenger on a bus to perform a sex act on him, and then proceeded to masturbate during the journey, has been told he may face a prison sentence.
Eamon McCoy of 20 Beachmount Road, Highfield Park, appeared before Athlone District Court.
BY ADRIAN CUSACK
He entered a guilty plea to a charge of intentionally engaging in offensive conduct of a sexual nature during a bus journey on the M6 at Ardagowna, Athlone, on February 15 last.
Outlining the details of the incident, Sergeant Paul McNally said Gardai received a complaint from a woman at 2.15pm on that date. She told them that she was on a bus heading towards Galway when a male passenger asked her to perform oral sex. He then proceeded to masturbate under his clothing.
The woman took a photo of the man, McCoy, on her phone and contacted the Gardai.
Solicitor Dara Hayden, representing McCoy, said his client was “reluctantly” entering a guilty plea to the charge, as “he tells me that he doesn’t recall the incident” and was “appalled” by the details that were outlined. He said the defendant had bipolar disorder and was on a lot of medication at the time of the offence.
McCoy, who wore a sports headband and dark glasses during the hearing, had worked as a nurse’s aide in an old folks’ home up until 15 or 20 years ago, but he had not worked since then and was on disability benefit, his solicitor said.
Judge Seamus Hughes asked McCoy why he had been travelling on the bus on the date of the incident, and he replied that he was heading back to Galway from Dublin airport.
The judge asked him why he had been in the airport, and whether he had been returning from a trip overseas, but McCoy said he hadn’t.
“I go up [to the airport] from time to time . . . I just went up there for the day,” he said.
Judge Hughes said that, as a first step, he wanted to see McCoy come up with “€2,000, payable in cash, for the girl.”
Mr Hayden replied that his client would find it very difficult to come up with that sum of money, and he was willing to engage in preventative measures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“Don’t tempt me to say it,” replied the judge. “I know in some countries what the preventative measure would be.”
The judge said he regarded McCoy as “a very creepy type of character” who had said something “extremely vulgar” to the female passenger.
“All of the signs point to this having been caused by a mental health issue,” replied Mr Hayden, but the judge said this was pure speculation on the solicitor’s part.
Mr Hayden asked for some time to come up with a medical report on his client, and Judge Hughes agreed to adjourn the case for two months.
The judge said he wanted to see a medical explanation for how any mental illness McCoy might have would have caused him to behave the way he did on the bus.
He also said he wanted assurances that the defendant wouldn’t do this “creepy, filthy, dirty, rotten thing again.”
Adjourning the case to December 11 next, Judge Hughes said he would deal with the issues of compensation and custodial sentence length on that date.