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Connacht Tribune

Headford native keeps it country to make her name in Nashville

Denise McNamara



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

Compliant Galwegians are keeping their distance

Francis Farragher



Checkpoint...Garda warning for those who stray too far from home.

BOY racers, cyclists, gym users and young people attending house parties are among those in Galway who have been issued with Fixed Payment Notices (FPNs) for breaching the Covid-19 travel regulations over the past week.

However, Gardaí in Galway have reported ‘a very high-level of compliance’ from the general public as regards the travel restrictions that are a central part of the Level-5 ‘Stay Home – Stay Safe’ Covid campaign.

Over the weekend, Gardaí issued FPNs to so-called ‘boy racers’ in two separate cases on the Tuam Road outside Galway city and in the Craughwell area.

FPNs – involving a €100 on-the-spot fine – were also issued last week to a number of young people attending house parties in the Galway city area, after Gardaí had been called to the scene.

Two cyclists stopped in the Cornamona area of North Connemara last week, who were 19 kilometres from their homes – and outside their own county boundary – also faced Garda censure.

The cyclists weren’t from the same household; they weren’t wearing masks; and also, were in breach of social distancing regulations.

Gardaí also came across a case of a gym in South Galway being used by a number of people last week – also a breach of the Covid-19, Level-5 restrictions.

While Gardaí also received a number of calls about possible ‘pub-opening’ violations, on investigation, they found no sign of activity on the premises they checked out.

Galway Chief Garda Superintendent, Tom Curley, told the Connacht Tribune that overall, there was ‘a very high level of compliance’ as regards the travel restrictions which was ‘very encouraging’.

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

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Connacht Tribune

Lessons learned on home-schooling

Denise McNamara



Cathal Moore, principal of the Presentation Athenry.

Home-schooling is working better this time round with many teachers conducting live classes and more students actively engaging than when schools closed suddenly last March.

But virtual education is a poor substitute for the experience of the classroom with students sorely missing social interaction, according to teachers, while parents are still struggling to balance working from home with ensuring their children keep up with the school work.

The sooner that schools can reopen safely the better for everyone – although most agree that it’s looking more likely to be after mid-term than at the beginning of February.

“Everybody is in a better place this time round – schools, teachers, parents and students. Everybody expected to be back at school. It’s no secret last time we got two hours’ notice but this time round we’re better prepared,” remarks the principal of the Presentation Athenry, Cathal Moore.

The mixed secondary school is doing a mix of live and recorded classes as not every student has good broadband.

After the first week, there was feedback from students that they felt there was too much homework in addition to the virtual classes while teachers reported that they would prefer more live communication from their charges.

“It is more tiring – fatigue is definitely a factor when on a screen all day and if this goes on for a prolonged amount of time it will creep in for a growing number of students.”

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

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Connacht Tribune

Hard-pressed hospitals down 450 staff over Covid

Dara Bradley



More than 450 staff – including nurses at UHG and Portiuncula – are now out of work due to Covid, as staff shortages threaten the public hospitals’ ability to cope with the crisis.

The upsurge has seen UHG deal with a record number of Covid-19 patients, and the hospital had to escalate its surge capacity plan and add extra beds in ICU.

The latest CSO figures reveal that the first week of the New Year was Galway’s deadliest yet on the pandemic front, with five lives lost over those opening seven days of 2021.

That brought the total number of virus fatalities in Galway to 25, and it’s understood there have been further deaths locally since then, which will be confirmed later.

From March to the end of November there were 20 deaths notified in Galway, and no further deaths were recorded in all of December.

News of Galway’s deadliest week comes as local leaders in the HSE, Garda, and local government joined forces to warn that Covid-19 was still spreading rapidly in the community.

Nationally, between January 5 and 18, there were 263 Covid-19 deaths recorded, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC), which does not give a geographical breakdown. Of these deaths, 119 were hospitalised and 14 had been admitted to ICU.

The median age of all of Galway’s Covid fatalities is 83; the median age of the confirmed cases in Galway is 31 – the lowest of 26 counties.

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

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