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Connacht Tribune

Life experiences led Breda to take up role as Galway Hospice chaplain

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After a decade working as a chaplain in Galway Hospice, Breda Casserly knows more than most about death and the process by which a person comes to terms with the end of their life.

Breda, who retired recently and has written a book on her experience, spent the last decade providing succour to people receiving palliative care, and offering spiritual support to their families.

For Breda, who came to chaplaincy later in life, the wisdom she gained before taking up that role equipped her for the challenges it posed.

“I do believe that lived wisdom and experience I gained throughout my life came to great bearing for my life as a chaplain. You’re dealing with life and death and people at their most vulnerable, so you have to have gained an insight into empathy to do that – you need to have a maturity,” Breda tells the Connacht Tribune.

“I had a business in Galway City – Leonidas Chocolates in Corbett Court – which I sold in 2007. I did have two degrees in theology, a BA and an MA, but I set up the business and I was there for 20 very happy years.”

It was only when a friend of hers, Fr Noel, contacted the Castlegar woman, asking her to visit a young woman dying of cancer that the potential of life as a chaplain came to Breda.

That was in 2007, when she left behind her shop and went to Kerry General Hospital to study Clinical Pastoral Care. In 2010, the job at Galway Hospice came up and she was there until this year, in what she describes as a ‘very privileged position’.

“There’s darkness and light in every life,” says Breda, “and when someone is in their final days and hours, they show all facets of that life.

“As a chaplain, you get the real person. There is no mask. A patient can be very vulnerable and fragile, and when you’re vulnerable, you need to know that your deepest needs are being listened to.

“Really, it’s the job of a chaplain to listen to those deepest needs. Very often, when someone is in the Hospice, or receiving hospice care at home, they’ve gone through a very long illness and treatments. They are coming to us for their final needs, so they’ve gone through all of that. But in many cases, they haven’t shared how that experience was for them.”

As chaplain, listening to those feelings and providing spiritual support is a significant part of the role. So too is trying to help fulfil the final wishes of a patient.

“A person’s last words are often highly valued by family and friends, but so too are their needs at the end of life. Sometimes, that might be to make one last visit to their farm for a few minutes; to see their dog; get their family together in a room; have a family Mass; or have one final look at their home.

“They are often very simple requests, but they are so important. Usually, the patient has come to accept the situation they are in, having gone through fear, doubt and anger, and come out the other side. An inner peace comes from all of that,” explains Breda.

In her book, Lessons from a Bedside, Breda examines her experiences as chaplain. The process of writing was emotional, but she felt compelled to do it – to share those stories and to do justice to the people involved.

The impact of her work has left a lasting legacy with countless families, but it has also given Breda a different perspective on life, prompting her ‘to live life well’.

Having lost two of her own sisters to cancer, long before she came to this work, she knows the pain of bereavement all too well.

“There was no substitute for that lived experience. Really, that’s where I got my ability to empathise with families. I also got the sense of what a cancer diagnosis can impose on a patient and their families,” she says.

And while that required giving a lot of herself to ensure patients and families felt supported, it also required looking after herself.

“Boundaries are very important. In order to be able to give the best care possible to every patient, it is very important to have good, healthy boundaries. At the Hospice, we worked as a team so there was always someone to chat with. We’re all experiencing the same emotions so we were able to share that with respect,” says Breda, who adds that a love of the outdoors and her garden in Oranmore, where she lives, were also a great release.

Covid had arrived in the months before Breda’s retirement. Its impact on the Hospice and the ability of families to be around loved ones in their dying moments has been felt acutely, she says.

“There is limited visiting time with families, so we got to spend a lot more time with patients. That is very significant for the patient because only they can take that journey, but to be accompanied by family and friends eases the journey.

“Covid will have changed that somewhat, but in the Hospice, as a team, we would ensure we were with the patients on that journey too,” says Breda.

Lessons from a Bedside: Wisdom for Living by Breda Casserly, published by Hachette Books Ireland, is available in all good bookstores.

Connacht Tribune

Wave goodbye to City Bypass as long as Greens are in Government

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An artist's impression of proposed Galway Ring Road.

PEOPLE in the West of Ireland should not be ‘fooled’ into thinking that vital infrastructure projects like the Galway City Bypass will get the go-ahead while Eamon Ryan remains in charge of Environment, a former Fianna Fail Minister and West Galway TD has warned this week.

That’s despite Tánaiste Leo Varadkar re-iterating on Galway Bay FM this week that the funding for the project has already been allocated – although he admitted that planning was the final hurdle.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív told the Connacht Tribune that the proposed bypass of Galway city, which has a Bord Pleanála decision due by November 19 next, would end up being choked under the headings of ‘carbon proofing and carbon rating’.

“Make no mistake about it but the word on the ground that’s filtering through to local Green Party representatives is that this project will not go ahead, and will be stopped because of carbon-proofing regulations.

“This is no red herring – over the years, I’ve seen so many road projects in Connemara that were given the go-ahead in principle but have never happened because of so-called processes and procedures,” said Éamon Ó Cuív.

However, he pledged that the six Fianna Fáil representatives across Connacht, would fight ‘tooth and nail’ not to see the West ‘left behind’ with roads projects that were vital for the future of the province.

“We will be meeting directly with Taoiseach, Micheál Martin on Wednesday next [October 20] to stress the importance of a number of roads projects across the West of Ireland, including the Galway City Bypass.

“And I would also stress that we are committed fully to environmental and carbon reduction measures, but the way to do this is not by preventing people in the West of Ireland from using their cars – the cars aren’t the problem – it’s the fuel that’s used to power them,” said Deputy Ó Cuív.

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

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Connacht Tribune

Connemara coffee couple are now well grounded!

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Aoife Geary and James Elcock on their opening day, with their first customers - and landlords - Roundstone natives Michael John and Catherine Ferrons, sitting outside.

Aoife Geary always felt like one of the locals in Carna. Even though her parents were living in Galway City, she was largely raised by her granny and grandad Barbara and Coleman Geary. Her first job as a 13-year-old was in the local shop in the Connemara village.

“I know it sounds a bit romantic, but I felt like I was raised by the community, not just in the community. I knew everybody in the shop and everybody knew me,” she reflects.

So, when London was about to go into the first lockdown in March 2020, she and husband James Elcock made a split decision to hop on a flight to Galway armed with two carry-on suitcases.

“Granny was terminally ill with cancer, and I wanted to help out with her care and I was worried we wouldn’t be able to travel. Little did we think we weren’t going to leave.”

Aoife was the live entertainment manager for billionaire Richard Branson’s private members club called Roof Gardens in Kensington while James, a native of Shropshire, was running a restaurant in the bank area of London. She had lived in London since 2013, her husband four years longer.

When he was made redundant, he bought himself a vintage sewing machine in Castlebar and taught himself to use it in an afternoon, setting up his first Irish business making and selling cotton face masks.

They then realised that a takeaway unit in Roundstone had become free, which was overlooking the picturesque pier and with views of the Twelve Bens. They opened My Coffee Cottage in mid-August and business was brisk from the get-go.

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

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Connacht Tribune

Budget’s grant break for college commuters

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NUI Galway.

Grants for some third level students living in certain parts of County Galway, who attend college in the city, could more than double as a result of changes in Budget 2022.

Undergraduates and students on post leaving cert courses living in areas such as Tuam, Loughrea and An Cheathrú Rua will all benefit from an adjustment to the eligibility to the non-adjacent rate for maintenance grants.  Some could get a grant boost of €1,800 next year due to the changes announced in the Budget.

People eligible for a maintenance grant are paid at either a non-adjacent rate or an adjacent rate – determined by measuring the distance of the shortest direct route from your normal residence to college.

Currently, the adjacent rate – which is lower – is paid when your college is 45km or less from where you live. The higher non-adjacent rate is paid when the college is more than 45km away from an eligible student’s home. The non-adjacent rate has been adjusted in Budget 2022 to include 30km to 45km.

This means that eligibility for the non-adjacent rate has been widened, and many students who were previously on the adjacent rate may now be eligible for a higher non-adjacent rate. It means that third level students living in Tuam, Loughrea and An Cheathrú could be eligible for the higher non-adjacent rate next September.

Get the full details on this and the impact of Budget 2022 in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now – or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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