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Freemasons’ TLC project brings comfort to kids in hospital



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.


Homes threatened by 12-hour gorse fire in Galway



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – An extensive gorse fire in the Tonabrocky area this week – which raged for over 12 hours – at one stage threatened a number of houses in the area.

Fire Brigade resources were stretched as they battled on Wednesday evening to contain the fire which burned across several acres before being brought under control in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Fire brigade units from the city, Athenry and Carraroe fought the blaze, which at one point led to fears that residents in nearby houses would have to be evacuated.

Up to six fire tenders were involved in fighting the blaze which is thought to have started around 4 or 5pm on Wednesday – it was one of a series of gorse fires which occurred around the county over the course of the past week.

Fire Brigade personnel fought the blaze through the evening and into the early hours of the morning before eventually having it fully contained by 6am on Thursday morning.

The fire – which sent plumes of smoke several feet into the air and also across local roads – occurred at an area of commonage between Boleybeg and Tonabrocky.

Local councillor, John Connolly, has urged Galway City and County Councils to come together and launch an awareness’ campaign about the dangers of fires during extended periods of dry weather.

This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the June 9 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism and buy a digital edition HERE.

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HSE paid €1.35m over market value for Knocknacarra building



From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The HSE has paid €11.85 million for the building to house its new ‘Integrated Care Hub’ in Knockncacarra – which is €1.35m over the open market value of the office block.

Confidential HSE documentation seen by the Galway City Tribune shows that Block A in Galway West Business Park – the former Aviva Insurance building – was independently valued at €10.5m.

The HSE subsequently paid €11.85m for the property.

According to the documentation, the building will cost €14.85m to fit out – however, that figure was based on construction costs in February 2022 and is expected to rise again due to inflation. Just seven months prior to that estimate, the fit-out works were costed at €10.8m.

A planning application is currently being put together for a new ‘Enhanced Primary Care Centre’ in the building, which will house Primary Care Teams as well as a unit for chronic disease management. A total of 105 staff will be based there.

When the matter was brought to the Board of the HSE nationally, they were told the purchase price was €1.3m above market value.

The other option shortlisted by the HSE was a ‘new build’ on lands at Merlin Park – this was costed at €33.1m because it would involve “considerable site upgrade works” and would much longer to deliver.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the June 9 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism and buy a digital edition HERE.

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Flasher and ‘lewd act’ on beach investigated by Gardaí



From this week’s Galway City Tribune –  Gardaí in the city are investigating two reported incidents over the weekend of indecent exposure and offensive sexual conduct – one of them at a beach in Salthill and the other in the Eyre Square area.

In the first of the incidents in Eyre Square on Friday last, a man approached a woman at around 5.30pm and exposed himself.

The woman reported the incident to the Gardaí who are carrying out an investigation into what happened.

The second incident – which is understood to be unrelated to the first one – occurred at a busy beach in Salthill on Bank Holiday Monday.

One mother who contacted the Galway City Tribune said that she saw a man ‘writhing up and down in the sand’ before putting his hand down in the front of his Bermuda shorts.

She said that about 10-minutes later, the man moved along to the next beach – which was also crowded with people – while another woman nearby, who saw the same actions, contacted the Gardai.
This is a shortened preview version of this story. To read the rest of the article, see the June 9 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism and buy a digital edition HERE.

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