A Galway-based volunteer service is adding significant numbers to Ireland’s tourism figures – and creating the memories of a lifetime for thousands of the descendants of Irish ex-pats in the process.
Ireland Reaching Out – the programme pioneered in South-East Galway in 2011 before going national – directly hosted a record 277 returning Diaspora groups in 2017, and it is set for an even busier year ahead.
But volunteers at the Loughrea-based service have also helped thousands more to trace their Irish ancestry, to steer them in the direction of their roots.
Over 50,000 people, for example, visit the IrelandXO.com website every month.
And that has contributed in no small way to the growth in visitor figures for the Irish Diaspora returning to Ireland to find their place of origin.
According to Ireland XO founder and chairman Mike Feerick, there has been significant growth in numbers from the US, UK and Australia – all coming here to trace their Irish roots.
“The 277 groups are the groups we have direct contact with, but we know there are many other connections happening as a result of our volunteer efforts across Ireland, north and south,” he said.
“Ireland XO activity is bringing millions of euro into local Irish communities, but there is so much more room for the programme to be expanded,” he added.
The Ireland XO “Meet & Greets” involve local members meeting with visiting Diaspora who have travelled to Ireland to learn more about their ancestral place of origin.
They bring the returning families to the house, farm and townland from where their ancestors departed. The service is entirely voluntary and free.
Leo Finnegan, a member of Ireland Reaching Out from Williamstown, recently welcomed a long-lost family of name-sake Finnegans from California, back to the original family homestead.
“It was a very special day for those returning. Hugely emotional. A day they will remember for the rest of their lives – but also, it was a great pleasure to bring them our townland and parish too,” he said.
See full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Adults and young pupils collaborate on children’s book now in the shops
A new book – a collaborative collection of stories and poems written by the Oughterard Writers Group and the children from the local primary school – was officially launched in style last week.
Tell me a Story was officially launched at Scoil Chuimín agus Caitríona, Oughterard, by the principal, Micheál O’Domhnaill – to the delight of the children, parents, friends and writers in attendance and those watching live on zoom.
by Jess Walsh and Barbara Dunne
Tell Me a Story is a collaboration between the Oughterard Writers Group and the children of last year’s 4th class from Scoil Chuimín agus Catríona. It had its genesis in January when the writers applied to Galway County Council for funding for the story book.
The book is the culmination of several months’ work, where stories and poems written by the writers, were sent to the children.
The group was unable to meet the children in person, due to Covid restrictions, but met them several times on Zoom, facilitated by Pete Mullineaux, and James O’Donnell, their teacher. And after months of hard work by the children, their handwritten work and illustrations were then passed back to the writers for design and completion.
Each story in the book tells a different tale. The children responded to the story they liked best, and the book is interspersed with wonderful drawings from the children, with new story endings and poems, along with some of the children’s own handwriting.
It was a special night for all to finally meet in person at the official launch.
The children were presented with their contributor copy by the writer of the piece they worked on, and guests were treated to some selected readings from the book by the children themselves.
The evening was rounded off by Muinteoir J O Donnell reading his poem, Last Night’s Wind from the book, and it was a very fitting ending to a wonderful evening.
The book costs €10 (with 50% of profits being donated Scoil Chuimín agus Caitríona) and can be bought online from Kenny’s and Charlie Byrne’s bookshops in Galway, and from Moycullen Bookshop and shops in Oughterard.
Landowners see red at poor greenway dialogue
A decision on the route chosen for the greenway between Athlone and Galway City is expected to be announced before Christmas – despite the vehement opposition of a group of landowners.
Opponents staged another protest outside County Hall last Monday to up the pressure on councillors to continue to voice disquiet over the way the project is being pursued by Galway County Council and RPS consultants.
Jean Molloy from Stoney Island outside Portumna, a member of the East Galway Action Group, said there was a complete lack of respect by the project team for the major stakeholders who had the most to lose – those whose land would be taken by the greenway.
Her family, who run a small farm on the land earmarked for the route, had received two letters from the team and not a single phone call over their concerns. She had attended public meetings to outline their preferred route but believes the consultants are not listening.
“We’re expected to give up everything but yet we don’t see a real benefit in the way the route is going as it doesn’t connect villages or neighbours, our kids can’t use it to cycle to school,” she insisted.
“The preferred route is in remote areas off-road, which may suit tourists a few times a year but won’t be safe for us. Why can’t they go along the road, as long as it’s segregated? Yet, we’re expected to give up our livelihoods, our privacy, our security.”
The campaigners allege the process has been flawed from the start.
They accuse those driving the project of “underhanded” tactics and adopting a “divide and conquer approach” and say consultants have failed to engage with every landowner and resident affected in the route corridor. They allege the team is refusing to meeting landowners in groups.
“They have told landowners that a final route is to be released before Christmas, but this is just not feasible. It’s important that the general public is made aware of how the individuals at the centre of the proposed cycleway are being treated.”
Director of service in the infrastructure and operations unit of Galway County Council, Derek Pender, has refuted claims of intimidation and a lack of engagement.
Last September he insisted they had undertaken well over 1,500 face-to-face or phone call consultations with 350 potentially impacted private landowners over 15 months.
The preferred route starts near Ballyloughane Beach, east of Galway City, passing through Oranmore, Rinville, Clarinbridge, Kilcolgan, Kinvara, Gort, Woodford, Portumna, Meelick, Clonfert, Ballinasloe, Shannonbridge, and finishing at Athlone Castle before linking with the cycleway to Dublin.
He claimed there was support for approximately 90% of the route and that the so-called hybrid model – where the cycleway would go along a national or regional road – would only be used in discreet isolated areas that were specific pinch points.
Cycleways beside long stretches of road were not safe, he has previously contended.
Clifden roster dispute escalates despite HSE recruitment
Staff at both a hospital and nursing home in Clifden are balloting for industrial action over changes to the rosters – despite a targeted recruitment campaign for nurses that has resulted in over 20 applications.
Last week Clifden District Hospital – beset by critical staff shortages – closed for four days with the HSE claiming that no patients were booked into the facility with respite and step-down beds for recuperating patients who can be medically discharged from an acute hospital but deemed not well enough to go home.
This was the same week when the HSE admitted that 4,662 bed days were lost at University Hospital Galway (UHG) and Merlin Park and 1,295 at Portiuncula Hospital in the first nine months of this year due to delayed discharges.
The HSE said the four days could be used by staff at Clifden District Hospital and St Anne’s Community Nursing Unit to take leave accrued due to overtime they had built up over filling in shifts due to a lack of workers.
Anne Burke, Galway industrial relations officer for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), said the union did not accept there was no demand for beds in a facility such as the Clifden District Hospital.
“They have orchestrated this downgrading of the hospital because we believe they want it for another purpose which they have not yet revealed. If you don’t advertise you’re open for business you won’t get the business. We think they don’t want it to be a viable option,” she exclaimed.
“They have always told us that staff weren’t interested in coming to Clifden. But there was no meaningful recruitment. Now, finally, they advertised specifically for jobs in Clifden, and we have been told that 29 applications were submitted and 21 are deemed eligible for interview, which we understand will take place next week.”
The INMO and SIPTU [Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union] are to ballot members from the two facilities for industrial action next week over changes to the rosters.
They claim the HSE is breaching the Building Momentum public service agreement which requires changes to rosters to be done by agreement between management and staff. A previous memo withdrawing the staff right to seven uncertified sick leave days was rescinded following lengthy talks at the Workplace Relations Commission.
Over 700 people attending a public meeting last September over fears Clifden District Hospital was being closed by the HSE. The hospital has had 12 beds for patients since the Covid pandemic, down from 30 some years ago.
After meeting with local politicians, the organisation issued a press release stating the facility would not close but said the respite and step-down services “remain on a day-to-day footing” due to staff shortages.
“The HSE has agreed to meet with GPs in the Clifden area to discuss the needs in the community for respite and step-down beds.”
They also announced they would run a ‘bespoke’ recruitment campaign for nurses.
The INMO estimates that seven additional nurses are needed for the hospital and a further six are required for the nursing unit to maintain rosters.