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Locked up – for the fun of it



Looks can often be deceiving and never has that been truer than when it’s said in relation to The Great Escape Rooms on Upper Abbeygate Street.

From the outside, there’s nothing remarkable about the seemingly small building that houses the rooms. However, inside, a world of excitement and intrigue awaits you.

The adrenaline-fuelled experience requires you, and a group of colleagues or friends, to work together in order to crack codes and solve puzzles to free yourself from the pressure-filled rooms.

If that’s not enough pressure, the 60-minute timer, placed strategically above your head, is ticking down from the moment you enter.

“We have different rooms, we take your group, your gang of friends or colleagues, we lock you in the room, and you have to use what’s in the room in order to work through the game, to break out in under an hour – it gets the adrenaline going.”

That’s according to Steve Bellissimo, who, with his business partner Rory Burke, set up the escape rooms in October last.

Inside, there are three rooms to test the inquisitive minds of amateur code-crackers. The prison break room is a particularly intriguing puzzle where you and your pals could be locked behind bars surrounded by graffiti-laden walls in the cramped surroundings of bunk beds, a toilet bowl and a hand basin. All very innocent, but all holding the clues and means for your escape.

Then there’s the quarantine room, complete with a hospital bed, a one-way mirror and a motionless body to boot.

And if you’re more of a pub person, there’s always the traditional Irish pub setting to satisfy your liking. There’ll be no time to indulge in a drop of the pure, though, if you want to make it out in time and join the exclusive group of only 15 per cent who managed to make their escape within the hour.

The task of creating a realistic experience was a big one for Steve and Rory, who went to great lengths to ensure that everything was perfectly executed, going as far as lugging a bar up two flights of stairs.

“We really travelled the whole country, my partner and I, with a big rental van and we picked up bits and bobs from everywhere, literally, to make it realistic. Like, the bar in our pub room came from Waterford,” said Steve.

The music, the wiring, the electrics and the fingerprint-controlled doors all add to the suspense and ensure that you will feel totally removed from reality.

Steve explained that they appeal to no particular customer base with men and women aged nine to 90 all giving it a shot and enjoying it greatly.

“We’ve had families come and, I’ll never forget, it was the nine-year-old son who figured out the last clue to get out.

“We had a family in with 86-year-old grandparents and the grandparents had a ball; it still shocks me to this day how many different customers we are hitting,” Steve exclaimed.

The couples who take part provide great entertainment for Steve as he watches the tension unfold on CCTV, waiting for a domestic to break out.

The CCTV shows up the psychology of group dynamics, and also allows Steve to see if a group are at a total loss.

However, their willingness to accept help is often greatly reduced when competitiveness kicks in.

Corporate groups are important for Steve and Rory with large numbers of work colleagues coming in to put their teamwork skills to the test.

“Surprisingly, our biggest customer at the moment is more team building and companies. We’re getting great feedback from them,” Steve explained.

Indeed the feedback in general for the business, which only started up in October, has been outstanding. It is currently ranked number one in its category on Trip Advisor and with over 60 reviews on Facebook, it has a five star rating.

“Galway was missing something that didn’t involve going out drinking on a night out and something you could do with a group of friends and just have a laugh,” said Steve, adding “To lose yourself for an hour and be someone else, and forget your everyday worries, it’s great for that.”

Connacht Tribune

Do we need our own school to protect our kids from Covid?



The return to school is less than a month away – but as Galway journalist and mother TESS FINCH-LEES reveals, the rules on minimising the risk of Covid have all but vanished from the agenda. So here she outlines her own radical solution.


“God loves a trier”, as my Dad used to say – and God knows I’ve tried to persuade Norma Foley to make schools Covid safe. They’re not, but I won’t stop trying.

In the meantime, schools re-open in three weeks against a backdrop of a data blackout, a more contagious variant incoming, waning and pummelled immunity from repeated infections, with no protections in place. And monkeypox.

School staff have, yet again, been put in an invidious position.

Since Micheál Martin unilaterally downgraded Covid to flu and devolved public health to “personal responsibility”, it’s up to parents to risk-assess now.

But, if we’re not allowed to know if the unmasked kid sitting next to ours who was off sick for a few days has Covid and is potentially still infectious, how can we? Nits we need to be informed of, but a highly infectious neurotropic disease that can cause organ damage, disability and death?

That’s an ecumenical matter.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and WHO measures to prevent the spread of infection in schools include reducing community transmission, vaccination, distancing, masks, improved ventilation, testing, sequencing, contact tracing and isolation. Ireland has either stalled or rolled back on these.

I spoke to one of the country’s leading children’s rights lawyers, Gareth Noble, who said: “I’m concerned we’re creating a culture of conditioning us to think Covid infections and outbreaks in schools are inevitable.

They’re not.

We significantly reduce risk for our children if we follow basic public health advice such as mask-wearing, contact tracing, air filtration and other measures. Any expert advice from the WHO needs to be considered and actioned. Ignoring it would be negligent.”

I’ve worked in child protection where “negligent” is synonymous with child harm. That’s not something I can ignore. Unless parents are prepared to say, “we don’t consent to exposing our children to Covid infection at school”, our consent will be presumed tacit.

I wrote my first article about Covid safe schools two years ago. There have been many more since. Each time, teachers, parents and children contact me sharing their concerns. Many are either clinically vulnerable (CV) or have a family member who is CV. Some – previously healthy children and teachers – have developed Long-Covid and now have “underlying conditions”.

In the absence of any plan forthcoming, concerned parents are agonising about what to do come September.

In order to attend school, immunocompromised Galway mother (Joan) has to send her twelve-year-old (Brian) to live with her sister – a 30-minute drive away. Without mitigations, bringing the virus home from school could kill Joan. Parting with her son was her only choice.

Some choice.

I anticipate the next year being quite perilous. No public health protections, new – more transmissible – vaccine-escaping variants emerging more frequently, so expect serial (re)infections, which the WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan warns, increases the risk of long-Covid, even in “mild” acute cases. The sterilising vaccines that prevent transmission and infections, are unlikely to emerge within the next twelve months. It’s time for plan b.

Home-schooling works for some, but not my son, who’d rather have his eyeballs poked by pigeons than have me as his teacher.

So, I scoured the internet to see if any school anywhere had managed to prevent Covid outbreaks. I found one – Abrome, in Texas. How did it do it? By ignoring politicians and following the science.

Acknowledging Covid is airborne, mitigations included daily testing, mandatory FFP2/3 masks (unless medically exempt) indoors and outdoors in close contact during surges, distancing, remote learning when cases were extremely high, outdoor learning options, and Hepa filtration in every classroom. If CO2 readings exceeded 800, rooms were evacuated and classes continued in sheltered outdoor spaces, also used for eating. Everyone is vaccinated.

Although I don’t intend to set up a school, the Abrome project inspired me to think out of the box. Using their Covid safe template, why not try to re-create something similar, albeit on a much smaller scale (four to six third year students) somewhere close to home – Galway?

I visualise it as a kind of community bubble with children of the same age meeting up to learn, play and breathe clean air in a Covid safe space. As large or small a gathering as demand and logistics permit.

Having read about Abrome in my recent Irish Independent article, a mother in Dublin messaged me to say it prompted a conversation among friends about whether they could do something similar. I like that. Starting a conversation. Putting an idea and a dollop of hope out into the world and see what comes back.

If this column was an advert it would read:

WANTED: 14-year-olds – and a teacher – who don’t want to be (re)infected with a neurotropic, vascular, SARS-CoV-2 virus at school this year. No excuse required.

I don’t know if anything will come of this, but I do know it’s better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.

To start the conversation, email:

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Connacht Tribune

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.

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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.

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