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Galway siblings help Cambodian village to build new school



“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela.

Last year, my brother Christopher and I traveled to Cambodia for the first time, where we volunteered with Children with Hope for Development (CHD), a grassroots NGO that is bringing a high standard of education to over 200 children living in one of the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged regions, Takeo Province.


Despite their lack of funding, CHD was running three English classes a day as well as a French class and a Maths class for students aged between four and 12. In addition, the school, consisting of four Cambodian teachers and on average between two to four volunteers at a time, was attempting to aid the region’s bright and enthusiastic children in breaking out of the continuous cycle of poverty that they have been born into.

On arrival in Po Village, Christopher and I assisted in launching their first IT class which also attracted older students, giving them a first opportunity to become familiar with a computer, a vital skill in progressing to university or in securing a job in more developed areas of Cambodia.

The IT class was taught on second hand computers in a dark shed with no lights or even a fan, amplifying the average temperature of 30 degrees in Takeo. The conditions were overwhelmingly basic, with lizards and other creatures constantly disrupting teachings.

In 2014, our fundraising efforts in our local community of Craughwell were extremely successful thanks to generous friends and family. matched our original total of $3,000 in order to bring our final donation to $6,000, the sum needed to completely finance the school’s first concrete building.

A fortnight ago, I had the chance to travel back to Takeo for the opening ceremony of the two new classrooms, an incredible event in which the students, parents, teachers, volunteers, village leaders and local monks attended.

Ashley McDonnell (right) pictured outside the new school she fundraised for in Cambodia.

Ashley McDonnell (right) pictured outside the new school she fundraised for in Cambodia.

Everyone celebrated together, eating, drinking and dancing for hours. I don’t think I have ever experienced such happiness amongst a group of people in one day, with every child smiling and dancing until it was time to go home.

The new building was blessed and everyone said thank you for their great fortune, as the new classrooms are something that most could never have possibly imagined being built in their local community, where the majority of houses are yet to have running water or electricity.

The future is bright for CHD and their growing number of students, as the children’s level of English is improving dramatically and their eyes are being opened to a life outside of the rice fields where people have enough money to eat three meals a day, to have more than one set of clothing and to have showers with hot water.

Furthermore, the organisation now has a big plan in order to become sustainable, so that they no longer need to rely on donations from around the world.

They are going to build accommodation for the volunteers to stay in, which not only means there will no longer be a need for volunteers to cycle 20km a day in the blistering heat, but also that the income generated from food and board will go towards covering all of the NGO’s costs.

CHD also plans to start a small farm, selling eggs and other products in the local village. The transition from an organisation that relies on others for support to a social enterprise will give CHD the freedom to grow and expand at a much faster rate, with the hope that they will someday have the standard of education that we are fortunate to benefit from in Ireland.

If you’d like to make a donation to CHD to help them reach sustainability, you can do so online: or at and see blog/category/cambodia-school-building-appeal.

For anyone interested in volunteering with CHD in the future, send an email to and I’d be more than happy to answer any questions.

Connacht Tribune

One half of Hollywood’s golden couple sings Galway’s praises after trip



Magic Mike star Joe Manganiello and his chihuahua Bubbles, with Fergus Lally of Galway’s Celtic Chauffeurs at the Cliffs of Moher.

He may be married to the highest paid actress in the world, but that did not stop Magic Mike star Joe Manganiello savouring the best that Galway had to offer – hailing the people, the cheese, chocolate and salmon during his trip west.

The American actor, who played stripper Big Dick Richie in Steven Soderbergh’s box office hit Magic Mike, was not joined by Modern Family’s Sofía Vergara until a week later on his trip around Cork.

But he did ring his wife of six years in the US while exploring the countryside of south Galway and Clare with guide, Fergus Lally, who had picked him and his chihuahua Bubbles up from the Glenlo Abbey Hotel in Bushypark on the city’s edge.

“I had a great time with him. I brought him to the Cliffs of Moher and along the way we stopped off at the Hazel Mountain Chocolate factory, the cheese shop at the Aillwee Caves and he had a tasting at the Burren Smoke House in Lisdoonvarna,” reveals Fergus.

“He had an amazing time tasting all the foods. The back of the car was full – everybody did well out of him. He was blown away with the places I brought him. He loved the history of the Corcomroe Abbey and Dunguaire Castle in Kinvara. He was a great guy. I was delighted to drive him. The two of us just clicked.”

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or you can download the digital edition from  

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Connacht Tribune

Covid-19 outbreak compounds UHG crisis



UHG's Emergency Department.

As Government applied the brakes on the planned full reopening of society this Friday, the West’s largest public hospital remained in a state of crisis – dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks, large numbers of patients and lengthy wait times in its Emergency Department and postponed elective procedures.

An outbreak of Covid-19 at University Hospital Galway (UHG) was having a significant impact on critical care services, Saolta University Healthcare Group has warned.

UHG confirmed it was dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks on two wards of the city hospital. A further two wards were being used exclusively to treat Covid positive cases.

This was impacting other patients – elective procedures were postponed at UHG this week due a lack of beds.

On Monday, 41 patients with Covid-19 were being treated in UHG compared with 19 the same day last week.

Portiuncula was treating eight Covid positive patients on Monday, twice as many as last week.

There were two Covid patients in ICU in Ballinasloe and six in ICU in UHG; there were four in ICU in total at both hospitals last week.

Saolta said that people presenting at the Emergency Department in UHG were experiencing long waiting times.

“The hospital has seen a significant increase in patients presenting to the hospital and many of these patients are very sick and need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment.

“As a result of the ongoing pressures and lack of bed capacity a number of elective procedures are being postponed. Patients are being contacted directly if their procedure is being postponed,” Saolta said.

Read the full story – and our latest on Covid-19 – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download the digital edition from  

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Connacht Tribune

Galway lecturer’s transatlantic story of Boston dynasty and Irish roots



Larry Donnelly, with the Bostonian, on the grounds of NUI Galway.

Of all the transatlantic cultural differences that greeted Bostonian Larry Donnelly on arrival in Galway, the search for a clean towel in something called a hot press left him puzzled and perplexed most of all. He also came to quickly realise that Hoover had so conquered the vacuum cleaner market that the brand name had become a verb.

But the Boston-born son of an Irish father and Scottish mother – from a famed American political dynasty with roots firmly embedded in Galway and the west – found infinitely more that united his old and new home than divided them.

His voice is familiar to radio listeners from his frequent analysis of American politics; his thoughts are already well-known to readers of his weekly column in – and law students at NUIG have benefited from his expertise in that field on both sides of the Atlantic.

He spent a fair portion of lockdown writing the Bostonian, a biography in part – not just his own, but of his family and his uncle, US Congressman Brian Donnelly (the man forever synonymous with the Donnelly Visas) in particular.

Typical of him, he rarely puts himself centre-stage but what he succeeds in doing is putting his life, his work and his journey into context. He was a man with roots on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean long before he ever made the journey to live here.

The photo on the cover of the Bostonian sets out the stall for the book, uniting uncle and nephew in an iconic pic; US Congressman Brian Donnelly marching in the 1983 Dorchester Day Parade in Boston – and an eight-year-old Larry Donnelly in the baseball cap looking up in wonderment.

“I’d always intended it to be a book about more than me. I particularly wanted it to be the story of Brian’s political career because that deserves to be told – but I didn’t think he would allow that to happen, because he has always loathed the limelight,” he says.

Read the full story – and an exclusive excerpt from the Bostonian – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download the digital edition from  

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