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Connacht Tribune

Headford native keeps it country to make her name in Nashville



Mariah Butler may have been voted off in the quarter finals of the penultimate Voice of Ireland contest, but it marked a profound turning point in her life.

Westlifer Kian Egan described Mariah’s performance as absolutely incredible: “You to me are someone who would genuinely make it. You took that song and made it authentic. You could go to Nashville in the morning and get a record deal,” he exclaimed.

UK popster Jamelia labelled her fantastic: “When I’m watching you performing on stage, I’m imagining you next to Carrie Underwood and holding your own.”

A week later the Headford girl had booked a ticket to Nashville, changed her name to the more distinctive Riah – which was how she was known to family and friends, and quickly immersed herself in the absolute epicentre of American country music.

“I came over with nothing, I knew nobody but I was encouraged by what the judges had said and I thought, I’m young, if I don’t do it now I’ll never do it.”

Within two days she had struck gold. She had sent a few sample songs to an agent called American Country Star and was invited to perform at a downtown venue for a singer showcase. It turned out that she was singing in front of the city’s top record producers and country music bosses.

The showcase was a weekly affair and she kept getting through the heats. Eventually after three months, she was crowned the winner and for her prize was to pick songs from some of the best publishers in town to create her first EP.

“It was amazing. I was sitting in the offices of Warner Music and here they were playing songs for me to see if I wanted to record them.”

‘On Sundays’ was an immediate success in Ireland, shooting to the top of the Irish country charts. Riah performed solo gigs at home, mainly in Dublin and Galway where she had a fanbase from the RTE series.

Back in Nashville, it gained a lot of airplay on independent radio stations and opened the door to regular gigs in renowned country venues.

American Country Star sponsored her work visa, allowing her to go back and forth with ease. But she has so far chosen not to sign with anyone, preferring to remain independent until she fully finds her feet.

While immensely proud of her debut, she feels she picked some songs that were not the best reflection of her.

So, for the last year she has put the head down to write her own material, all the while living the dream. A dream, she reveals, that is almost a mirror reflection of what’s depicted on the hit TV show Nashville.

“I was actually an extra on Nashville when I first came over. I got a chance to meet all the cast. And like the actors, I work part-time in a bar, I play gigs, I do what’s called a songwriters’ round, where you get paid to sing new material with other songwriters. I also meet up and co-write with other songwriters, something I never thought possible until I came here.”

A native of Ballycurran outside Headford, her dad Donal is in construction and her mam Marie is a tour guide in Galway City Museum. Their love of American country music such as Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks and Randy Travis inspired her from a young age. They took her to her first concert in 1997 to see Garth Brooks in Croke Park.

She went on to take on starring roles in the Renmore Pantomine where she honed her craft before a live audience.

But it was always country music which was her first love.

“Back home people don’t know who the hell I’m talking about when I mentioned certain country singers. Over here, it’s huge – it’s bigger than pop music. Here country singers are superstars.”

She’ll have the chance to play with some of those superstars when she takes to the stage at Harvest 2017, a two-day country music festival in both Westport and Enniskillen in late August.

She’s particularly excited about singing alongside American country music grammy award winner Miranda Lambert, Texas and Oklahoma duo Maddie and Tae whose debut single ‘Girl In A Country Song’ made them only the third female duo to peak their debut single at number in the history of the Billboard Country singles chart, as well as Nashville singer-songwriter Kip Moore.

“This is the first big American county music festival ever to come to the west. It’s going to be huge. It’s the stuff I adore – the more contemporary, modern country music. To be on a bill with people like that, it’s unbelievable.”

Her ambition is to tour with the likes of Miranda Lambert; another is to someday play the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly country music stage concert in Nashville.

She has fit right into Nashville, which lives and breathes country music.

“It honestly feels like home – it’s one of the friendliest cities I’ve ever been to. I thought with everyone doing the same thing it would be competitive, but it’s not – it’s completely the opposite. Everyone is so supportive, they want to co-write songs every day. They are probably some of the best friends I’ve ever made.”

Riah Butler will perform at Harvest 2017, a two-day country music festival featuring 40 international and Irish acts over four stages, which takes place at Enniskillen Airport and Westport House on August 26 and 27. The main headliners are Nathan Carter, Miranda Lambert and Charley Pride.

The Harvest Café will feature the people behind top hits, such as Earl Bud Lee, who wrote ‘Friends In Low Places’ (Garth Brooks), ‘Who Are You When I’m Not Looking’ (Blake Shelton) and ‘One Night at a Time’ (George Strait); Don Mescall, who wrote ‘Secret Smile’ (Rascal Flatts); Victoria Shaw, author of ‘The River’ (Garth Brooks) and ‘I Love The Way You Love Me’ (John Michael Montgomery).

As well as the music, there will be dedicated dancing sessions over the weekend. It features a food village, market stalls, funfair, full bar facilities, camping options including glamping, campervan facilities and family camping area.

Weekend camping and day tickets are available from Ticketmaster.

Connacht Tribune

Thousands on waiting list for student accommodation in Galway



The student housing crisis is ‘the worst it’s ever been’ – with thousands on waiting lists for rooms; hundreds relying on hostels and friends’ sofas; and countless more facing deferral or dropping out altogether.

The President of NUI Galway’s Students’ Union, Róisín Nic Lochlainn, told the Connacht Tribune that students had been left in a desperate situation, as she called for mass protests to have the issue addressed.

According to Ms Nic Lochlainn, 3,000 students were currently on the waiting lists for NUIG’s on-campus accommodation – Corrib Village and Goldcrest Village – with around 500 in line for any bed that might come up in the Westwood.

“Gort na Coiribe and Dunaras have told us their waiting lists are well into the hundreds too. I’ve only got to contact two of the hostels around town, but Kinlay and Snoozles have almost 200 students between them already – and they’re expecting more.

“The first years haven’t even arrived yet, and on top of all that, you have people in B&Bs and staying on their friends’ sofas,” said Ms Nic Lochlainn.

Pressure on the student rental market had been building for years, she said, but it had gone off the cliff edge this year as a perfect storm was created by increased student numbers and reduced bed availability.

“[Minister for Further and Higher Education] Simon Harris created new places on courses this year and talked about maximum access to education . . . I’m not sure how that works for students who are homeless.

“Because there weren’t many students around last year, some private landlords might have moved on. There was no new purpose-built accommodation delivered, and then Simon Harris creates new places with no new beds,” said Ms Nic Lochlainn of the causes of this year’s problems.”

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Government asked to “do everything” to ensure Intel chooses Oranmore as base



The Taoiseach and Tánaiste will be asked to do “everything in their power” to ensure technology giant Intel selects Oranmore as the location for its new microchip manufacturing plant – which could create 10,000 jobs and transform the West of Ireland economy.

The 540-acre site is owned by the Defence Forces and was selected by IDA Ireland as the preferred site for the company’s new EU ‘chip’ base.


Oranmore is up against sites in Poland, France and Germany and Intel confirmed to Taoiseach Micheál Martin that the site is under consideration.

Galway East TD Ciarán Cannon said the development would be “transformative” and would be Intel’s largest microchip manufacturing plant in the world.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Athenry Oranmore Municipal District this week, councillors backed a proposal from Cllr Liam Carroll to write to Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar to urge them to push forward the plan.

“This would be a game-changer, not just for Oranmore but for the whole of Connacht. Imagine 10,000 directly employed at some stage in the future, and the spinoff from that,” he said.

The Oranmore site is reported to have been selected ahead of three other locations in Ireland.

It is on Intel’s short-list for the proposed project, which would involve building eight factory modules on a single campus at the site off the M6 motorway, northeast of Oranmore, the newspaper reported.

The American multinational tech company has whittled down its short-list to 10 finalists; Oranmore is up against sites in Poland, France and Germany.

The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that if it proceeds, the new Oranmore ‘mega-fab’ would dwarf Intel’s existing site in Leixlip, which employs almost 5,000.

Galway East TD, Ciaran Cannon (FG) said: “It would put Galway on the map internationally as a place for high-tech investment and it would serve to rebalance the economic imbalance that exists in our country where all of the weight is on the east coast.

“The IDA has a formula where every one new job created in that industry creates about eight or nine more jobs downstream in terms of the supply chain and services. They’re saying 10,000 jobs on site – twice the population of Athenry – on one campus and then another 80-90,000 jobs off site. The figures are phenomenal, mind boggling,” said Deputy Cannon.

The demand for the facility arose during Covid-19 when the supply chain between Asia and Europe broke down.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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Connacht Tribune

Fraudsters ‘spoof’ Galway Garda Station’s phone number



Fraudsters replicated the phone number of Galway Garda Station and used it to call a local woman to demand money.

Crime Prevention Officer, Sergeant Michael Walsh, said that the number ‘091 538000’ was somehow used by criminals who attempted to extract money – in the form of the online currency Bitcoin – from the victim.   Despite the phone call appearing to come from the Garda station at Mill Street, the woman became suspicious and reported it to Gardaí.

Sgt Walsh said it was the latest in a series of ‘spoofing’ phone calls to have occurred this year.

Spoofing is where fraudsters change the caller ID to ring unsuspecting members of the public to try to extract money or personal information off them.

He said that the number of spoofing incidents reported to Galway Gardaí has more than doubled in the past year.

“It is top of my agenda,” he said.

He pointed out that criminals can obtain a ‘ready to go’ phone and SIM card, relatively cheaply, and it was “very difficult” for Gardaí to trace the caller.

This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story and more details on fraud figures in Galway, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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