Sex trafficking, gangland shootings and murder – deep South America is a far cry from South Galway.
RTÉ’s Charlie Bird found that being a small fish in a big pond in the media world of the US was tough going but Gort reporter James Mahon has found it a thrill a minute since joining a local television news network in the deep south of America in January.
The 22-year-old former Gort Community School pupil and NUI Galway graduate has been reporting on all sorts of debauchery since arriving with WDEF News 12, a CBS News affiliate channel based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
He says he’s covered all sorts of events, from tornados, black gangland crime, sex trafficking and murder, or homicide as they say in the States, in his short time working as a reporter in the ‘Bible-belt’.
“The first few weeks, there was a lot of gangland crime, which I wasn’t used to,” he laughs.
“It was black on black gangland . . . in a strange way they opened up to an outsider. They (black gangland criminals) see themselves as outsiders and were more willing to speak to an outsider. I look white and middle class but because I was Irish I was an outsider and they opened up . . . I’m trying to ask them about a shooting and they were asking about leprechauns, and lucky charms and Harry Potter,” he recalls.
Producers at WDEF News 12 decided that James had a quirky approach to reports, and that it would be novel and interesting for him to shoot a series about everyday events and activities in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. The result is Through Irish Eyes, three episodes of which are available on WDEF News 12’S YouTube channel, and a fourth episode is airing next week.
The idea is that viewers email in and suggest things James should do – already he has taken part in line-dancing, was MC at the National Corn Bread Championships, a traditional Creole cooking competition he describes as “ICA on speed”, and a strange take on how St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in the not-so-Irish Southern states, where the emphasis is “on drinking and not really on Irish culture or heritage”.
He will be skeet shooting next week, which is similar to clay pigeon shooting and he’s looking forward to suggestions from viewers over the Summer, including playing college American Football and baseball; another possible topic includes the ‘drive-through culture in the US.
James, whose parents Oliver and Peggy and sister Mary still leave near Kilbeacanty after graduating from NUIG, studied journalism in Sheffield and then took the advice of Emmy award winning news anchor CNN’s Jim Clancy, and applied to hundreds of stations in the US.
Passers-by save church from burning down
The quick reaction of passers-by saved a Connemara church from being razed to the ground by fire.
Hill walkers who stopped off at St Joseph’s Church in Letterfrack on their way to climb Diamond Hill noticed a fire and smoke billowing from inside the building.
They immediately raised the alarm and alerted workers from Connemara National Park. They in turn rang Clifden Fire Brigade, who attended the scene and quenched the blaze.
Parish priest, Fr Anthaiah Pudota told the Connacht Tribune that the fire was started accidentally, possibly by a fallen candle in the church which was built in 1922.
He praised the people who raised the alarm quickly and thanked the workers for their bravery during efforts to bring the fire under control.
“My information was people who visited Connemara National Park raised the alarm. They were on the way to climb Diamond Hill and parked their cars to visit the church.
“I think it was a family who were visiting the area. It was an accidental fire. There is definitely significant damage. Wood was burned, and there was significant smoke damage, but it could have been worse.
“According to the CCTV footage, it happened around 1pm. Clifden Fire Brigade and workers from the National Park were very brave. The smoke inside was like a huge thick fog.
“It took them a while before they could enter. They had to break one of the doors, because the main door was closed. It was definitely very brave of them,” Fr Anathaiah said.
The fire was discovered quite quickly, he said, and so while the church was significantly damaged most of it centred on the candelabra area.
Ballinakill Parish Secretary in Letterfrack, Ann Cooke, thanked the local community and neighbouring parishes for good wishes and support.
“A very special note of thanks to the kind passer-by who raised the alarm, the National Park workers, and the emergency services, for their fast action and bravery, without all of whom the unfortunate event could have been much worse,” she said.
“Thank you all again for your support. Please God we will be able to come together in Letterfrack Church before long,” Ms Cooke added.
Fr Anathaiah, from India, will be two years in the rural Connemara parish of Ballinakill next month. He said that his parishioners have strong faith and are looking forward to the church reopening, but he could not confirm a date as yet.
Mass was said twice weekly, Sunday and Wednesday, at St Joseph’s up until the fire caused the damage at around 1pm on Friday July 22.
Fr Anathaiah said that services would now be said at Tullycross Church, about five kilometres away, for the foreseeable future.
“We are not quite sure at the moment (when it will reopen); we are waiting to see the extent of the damage. I can’t give an exact date, but we will definitely come back in the coming months,” Fr Anthaiah Pudota said.
GSPCA closes city centre charity shop permanently
From the Galway City Tribune – It’s the end of an era for a popular animal charity shop that has shut up shop for good at its city centre base.
The Galway SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has confirmed that it has not renewed its lease on its premises at St Augustine Street, where its charity shop has been based for a number of years.
The popular shop that sold books, clothes and bric-a-brac closed in June due to a leak in the building. It was due to reopen within days, but it has not and will not be, according to the charity.
The GSPCA said they are looking for a new premises in the city.
A spokesperson confirmed that the lease on the building was due to finish soon anyway, but after a major leak, the GSPCA and the landlord mutually agreed to bring forward the lease termination by a number of months.
“We hope to be up and running at another location in due course,” a spokesperson said.
A register charity and not-for-profit organisation, GSPCA still has a retail presence in Athenry and Ballinasloe, which generate money to run the organisation.
Its fundamental aim for over 20 years has been to care for animals in need through neglect, abandonment, abuse or those at risk due to a change in circumstances.
Its main sanctuary is based in the county, between Killimor and Portumna; and its cattery is in Athenry.
The charity assisted over 700 cats, dogs and smaller animals during 2020. According to accounts filed with the Charity Regulator, the vast majority of its income comes from donations, but its shops are important income sources and the charity made over €86,000 income from “trading and commercial activities” in 2020.
Workers in Galway still waiting for ‘frontline’ payments
From the Galway City Tribune – A number of workers in healthcare settings in Galway have yet to receive promised pandemic bonus payments for toiling on the frontline during the Covid-19 crisis.
The Government had pledged each front-line worker would get a €1,000 payment as a thank you for contributing to the national effort during the pandemic.
But nine months on from when the Cabinet signed off on the payment, many local workers, including nurses and carers, particularly in private nursing homes, have received nothing.
Louis O’Hara, a general election candidate for Sinn Féin in Galway, labelled it as another broken promise by this Government.
“Workers here in Galway such as caterers, cleaners, security staff, agency staff and many more on the frontline in our local hospitals and healthcare settings have been contacting me to express their concern that they are still waiting for this payment,” he said.
“They are entitled to receive this payment, however the Government has failed to follow through on their promises and workers have been left in the lurch with no answers and no sense of urgency from the Government,” he said.
Mr O’Hara told the Galway City Tribune that the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, needed to clarify that the funding was still there to pay the staff.
He said a breakdown of figures for the number of staff in Galway that were not yet been paid was not available, but Sinn Féin has been inundated with complaints from workers – particularly agency staff and those in private nursing homes.
“Frontline workers in Galway have been let down badly by this Government’s failure to follow through on their promises. This is absolutely unacceptable,” Mr O’Hara said.
The party’s Health spokesperson has written to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, urging him to intervene directly to ensure this payment is paid promptly.
Minister Donnelly, in a recent reply to a Parliamentary Question in the Dáil, said priority was given to payment of eligible staff in hospital groups, such as Saolta, and community services within the HSE.
He said that the Department of Health was “examining progressing the rollout” to six groups of non-HSE and Non-Section 38 Agencies, who were included in the scheme.
These include eligible workers in private nursing homes and hospices; staff on-site in long-term residential care facilities for people with disabilities; agency staff working for the HSE; healthcare assistants such as home help, home care and home support staff contracted by the HSE; Defence Forces members redeployed to work “in front-line Covid-19 exposed environments in the HSE”; and paramedics employed by Dublin Fire Brigade.
This was a “complex task”, he said, because “these employees are not normally paid by the public health service, duplicate payments need to be avoided, and there are many organisations to be covered”.
This work was being given “priority attention” he said.
“Payment to eligible workers will be made as soon as possible,” Minister Donnelly added.