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Grace adds another string to her bow with award-winning chocolates



Seventeen-year-old Grace Hannon has already acquired quite the impressive résumé – in sport, in school and in life.

She ran to gold and silver medals representing Connacht at the 2015 Special Olympics; she was recently nominated for Gaisce/The President’s Award – and her home-made chocolates have landed her a Galway Enterprise Award.

Grace’s story helps to challenge old conventions and redefine what it means to be a person with Down Syndrome in modern society.

Grace Hannon presents a cheque to Patricia Griffin, Education Officer with Down Syndrome Ireland, proceeds of her chocolate enterprise.

Grace Hannon presents a cheque to Patricia Griffin, Education Officer with Down Syndrome Ireland, proceeds of her chocolate enterprise.

A genetic condition, Down Syndrome is a chromosomal disorder affecting one in every 546 births in Ireland – or around 7,000 people.

The youngest of four, Grace lives with her parents Pat and Rose, dogs Miley and Max and Dizzy the cat. Her elder siblings – sister Jessica (21) and brothers James (23) and Michael (25) – have since left the nest.

Sociable and outgoing, Grace is a Transition Year student with Coláiste Mhuire, Ballygar where she thoroughly enjoys going to school and availing of the curriculum. Her favourite subjects include Art and Home Economics.

“Grace is the type of person who can put a smile on your face and make you laugh before 9.30am in the morning – and anyone who can do that is worth being around,” says Ita Keane, Special Needs Assistant with Coláiste Mhuire who works closely with Grace on a daily basis.

As part of the schools TY program all students were asked to complete an enterprise project, working in groups, pairs of singularly.

For her part, Grace took undertook an independent project; by creating her own acclaimed chocolaterie – ‘Grace’s Gorgeous Chocolates’.

The irony is that Grace doesn’t even like chocolate! Both Ita and her father Pat admitted that she doesn’t eat chocolate, sweets or biscuits; however they agree she loves cooking and baking, creating things with her hands and making others happy

The ambitious student researched and sourced high quality chocolate beans and moulds for her bespoke chocolates.

She got to grips with the science of chocolate-making ensuring the temperature and consistency was just right.

Grace demonstrated her creative aptitude and dedication by applying herself to every aspect of the project – from idea creation to design and production through to finished product.

Labels and packaging were sponsored by Casey’s Topaz, Roscommon.

The ‘Grace’s Gorgeous Chocolates’ product line; boasted a delightful range of scrumptious creations to suit every taste. Her tailor-made confections were sold as Mother’s Day Gifts – and again as Easter Gifts, to fellow students and teachers.

The kind natured teenager decided – of her own accord – to donate all proceeds to Down Syndrome Ireland.  And for that she was presented with a special award in recognition of her efforts and achievement, at the Galway Enterprise Awards held in the Ardilaun Hotel.

Grace Hannon accepts her Student Enterprise Awards 2016 from the Deputy Mayor of Galway City, Cllr Niall McNeilis.

Grace Hannon accepts her Student Enterprise Awards 2016 from the Deputy Mayor of Galway City, Cllr Niall McNeilis.

Ita, who assisted Grace throughout the project is both delighted and fiercely proud of her student, who she characterizes as “hugely generous and caring” with a “willingness to help”.

Ita reiterates the importance of successful integration and inclusion in mainstream education.

“When Grace first arrived she had no communication skills and no sense of time,” she remembers.

She still has difficulties in communication but Ita insists these skills have ‘vastly improved’.

Getting to this point has been a huge challenge for Grace – but also for all of her family, who have had to fight tooth and nail for essential services like speech and language therapy.

Grace’s communication skills are lacking – with regards her ability to express – but her father Pat says they have ‘barely had any’ speech and language therapy available to them.

“That’s what we’re up against,” he says, echoing the frustrations off all parents of children with disabilities across the country.

The proud father says that his ‘main concern’ is education. At seventeen years old, he’s looking to the future for his daughter – what access is there to further education, what courses are available to her?

He hopes she can complete a FETAC and enjoy some form of independence.

“It wouldn’t be good for her to stay in the house, she needs something to work towards and have a sense of achievement,” he adds.

And despite all of the struggles, her proud father wouldn’t change a thing.

“When parents have a child with Down Syndrome, it appears to be a terrible blow. But it is the best thing that ever happened to us. Grace is an absolute joy to have around. She sees all the good there is in the world – she makes everyone around her happy. We’re blessed to have her.”

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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