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.
Emergency accommodation for rough sleepers in Galway during Storm Barra
Arrangements have been made to provide emergency accommodation for rough sleepers ahead of Storm Barra hitting Galway in the morning.
Accommodation will be provided at locations including The Glenoaks in the Westside, the Fairgreen in the city centre and Osterley Lodge in Salthill (Contact 085 8009709 or 085 8009641).
The COPE Galway Day Centre will remain open all day Tuesday from 8.30am to closing.
Meanwhile, Galway City Council has warned that a number of roads may be closed in the morning ahead of high tide, including Salthill Prom.
Following ongoing meetings of the Inter-Agency Co-ordination group today and based on the latest information available, a number of precautionary measures have been put in place.
- Closure of Silverstrand Beach at 6pm Monday
- Closure of Ballyloughane Beach at midnight (Local Traffic only)
- Closure of Rosshill Road at 6am Tuesday
- Closure of Salthill Promenade at midnight:
- Blackrock Tower to Seapoint and onto Grattan Road. (Closure of Grattan Road may be required. Monitoring in place to decide.)
- Potential closure of roads along the Claddagh, Docks and Spanish Arch from 5am Tuesday
A spokesperson said: “There may be further closures throughout the city as required and the situation will be closely monitored and regular updates given. Motorists will experience delays as a result.”
The carparks at Toft Park and on the Promenade have been closed and all vehicle owners have been asked to move their vehicles from car parks and along the Prom.
Sand bags are now available at the following manned locations: the former Tourist Kiosk in Salthill (behind Seapoint); Claddagh Hall; Galway Fire Station; Spanish Arch; the Docks (beside the pedestrian crossing at St Nicholas Street).
“Anyone who avails of sandbags should retain them in their possession for use throughout the upcoming winter season. Please do not take any more sandbags than you need,” the Council spokesperson said.
“The main impacts will include strong winds, falling trees and potential flooding. High tide in Galway Bay will be at 6.45am Tuesday.
“Some trees may be compromised due to saturated soils at the moment, and with more rain forecast with Storm Barra some disruption due to falling trees/branches is likely. Heavy rain, coupled with falling leaves may block drains and gullies, leading to surface flooding. Galway City Council staff have been carrying out drainage maintenance across the city in advance of the storm to minimise potential flooding risks.
“Storm Barra will produce significant swell, high waves and sizeable storm surges. This will lead to wave overtopping, some coastal flooding and damage, especially along western and southern coasts,” the Council said.
Business owners and homeowners are advised to check their own drains and secure any loose objects within their property in advance of the warning taking effect.
“Galway City Council advises remaining indoors during the period of the warning and, as always, to avoid coastal areas. Parks and other wooded areas should also be avoided, due to the danger of falling trees. If absolutely essential to travel, please exercise extreme caution out and about especially on coastal roads and exposed shores.
“City Council staff will be on standby for clean-up following the passing of Storm Barra and the associated warning once it has been deemed safe to do so. Please note the associated clean-up which will commence on Wednesday morning may impact on traffic.”
Galway City Council Customer Services phone lines are available to deal with emergency calls on 091 536400. For the Galway County Council area, the phone number is 091 509069.
School reports better atmosphere and reduced stress due to pilot project
Daily car use at Scoil Iognáid has reduced by 14% in the past year since Galway City Council introduced a School Streets pilot project to the area.
More children are walking (+11%), scooting (+3%) and cycling (+7%) on a daily basis, according to a report published by Galway City Council.
Staff reported that children were arriving to school more ready to learn, with an improved atmosphere and reduced stress at the school gate. Parents and the wider community reported a better walking and cycling environment, improved access and community spirit.
A ‘School Street’ is a road outside a school with a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times – creating a safer, calmer space for children, parents and residents to walk, scoot or cycle. The pilot project in Scoil Iognáid was formally launched in November, 2020, with hundreds of families joining to create the first city-centre School Streets project in Ireland.
As part of the pilot project, Palmyra Row, Palmyra Avenue and Raleigh Row were pedestrianised from November 30 during the school pick-up and drop-off times during the school term. Residents retain access to their homes during these times, as do cyclists or ‘blue badge’ holders, accessing the school.
The project is funded by the National Transport Authority and delivered with the support of the Green-Schools Travel programme, An Garda Siochána, and the wider school community.
Galway West TD and Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Hildegarde Naughton TD described the City Council report as “incredibly encouraging”.
She said the findings would provide information on how to boost increased levels of children taking a healthier and greener mode of transport to and from school.
“Crucially, the report and findings published by Galway City Council acts as a step-by-step blueprint for local authorities nationwide to replicate these results in their own counties,” Deputy Naughton stated.
“Earlier this year I launched a new programme, Safe Routes to School, which is investing in safe walking, cycling and scooting infrastructure on the lead-up to and entrances of our schools. The programme aims to deliver and is delivering, results just like those we can see from this School Streets pilot.”
Director of Services at Galway City Council Patrick Greene said there was reason to celebrate as the School Streets pilot turned one.
“The National Transport Authority identifies the front of school as the place where children congregate in the greatest numbers and where they are most vulnerable to indiscriminate parking practices, hazardous crossing conditions and air quality issues from idling cars.
“The School Streets pilot at Scoil Iognáid has created a space where children as young as four and five are scooting and cycling with their older classmates, as they arrive into school. “Galway City Council is now looking to progress ‘Safe Routes to School’ and ‘School Zones’ at more schools in the city – these designs will create a safer front-of-school environment for children and if any opportunities arise to deliver School Streets or ‘traffic-free’ streets. Galway City Council welcomes the opportunity to explore this with the school community,” he added.
The full report from the public consultation on April/ May 2021, and further information on the School Streets project can be found at www.galwaycity.ie/schoolstreets.
Tommy confident that relic from 1914 shipwreck is in sight
BY LORNA SIGGINS firstname.lastname@example.org
When Claddagh native Tommy Holohan was growing up on Galway Bay, he remembered how neighbours used to have contests to swim out to the wreck of a ship off Mutton island.
Now he believes he may have located the anchor of the same ship, named Nordlyset, in the sands off Nimmo’s pier.
“We’re not sure, but the anchor chain is here and close to part of the keel, so there’s every reason to think the actual anchor is a couple of foot below, “Holohan says.
“If it can be located, and then raised, it should be exhibited as a key part of Galway’s maritime history,” he feels.
The Nordlyset, or Northern lights, was a three-masted 1,600-ton steel sailing barque which was built in Greenock, Scotland, in 1891.
It was carrying a cargo of timber deal from Rimouski, Canada, into Galway when it hit rocks off Mutton island in November 1914.
No members of the crew perished, but much of its cargo was either washed ashore or was salvaged, Holohan says.
“They got her off the rocks and towed her in, and the hull was sitting upright and we could see it for several years” he explains.
“The Claddagh men had contests to swim out to her,” he recalls.
“Then Hammond Lane Metal Company was sent to take what was of value from it and stripped it down,” Holohan says.
“It was a beautiful ship, and a ship that sailed the oceans. It was fitted with the most modern technology they had at the time.
“Galway had been setting its sights on becoming a major transatlantic port and, of course it was one of several ships to run aground in the Bay – but perhaps one of the better-remembered by people who are still alive,” Holohan says.
“All that was left after Hammond Lane finished was the keel, and we think the anchor has to be here. “I think if the proper buoys were used, it might help to lift the keel and that would point to the anchor,” he believes.
The wreck was also close to South Park, known as the ‘Swamp;, which was the Galway dump until the late 1950s, he points out.
“When we were growing up on the Claddagh, we had no toys, so we would be back looking for toys in the dump, or food. When my mother was young, she and her sisters were sent down to the dump for cinders for the fire,” he says.
Holohan is a grandson of Nan Toole, who was known for her medicinal cures in the Claddagh. She delivered him as a home birth in 1951 and died a year later in 1952.
A keen athlete, Holohan holds the world record for the number of times an Irish person has run the New York marathon consecutively, and has also run marathons in Dublin, Boston, Edinburgh and the Mojave desert.
He is a founder member of the Anti-Austerity Alliance and stood for the alliance in the local elections in 2014, and in the 2016 general election. Apart from politics and running, he also maintains a keen interest in local history.