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Making a difference in war on want

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Date Published: {J}

With the country wallowing in a depressive succession of job losses and wage cuts while half the county is submerged under a deluge of smelly water, it seems there was never a better time to leave.

And if by leaving it means you are enriching the lives of others as well as your own, then volunteering abroad might just be an option to inject a whole lot of enthusiasm into your world.

This is exactly what husband and wife team Larry Joyce and Jo Price did when they spent a year as volunteers in Uganda with the UK charity Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO). Larry, an accountant, and Jo, a nurse with the Bon Secours Hospital, have just returned to their home in Galway after working in what the UN have listed as one of the world’s 25 poorest countries.

Larry worked with a local charity serving the HIV and AIDS community called Health Rights Action Group, where he taught management and organisational skills and was involved in fundraising.

Jo worked in the Kibuli Muslim Hospital in the capital Kampala as a nurse tutor and supervisor. Here, she taught student nurses and qualified staff basic hygiene practices, how to care for wounds and the best way to treat burns. She also instructed them in how to react in life or death situations.

“Conditions were very, very poor. There were lots of burns injuries, particularly in children. People here cook on open fires everywhere, only one in ten people in Kampala have electricity so people are burning candles and using kerosene lamps so children often get injured,” the Dublin native explained. VSO organised the work and the accommodation in an apartment, which Jo likens to the old Ballymun flats – except here there was often no electricity or running water. They were also the only whites in the area.

For Larry, working in a third world country was a whole new experience, but with three grown-up daughters he was at a stage in his life that he wanted to do something new and give something back. Jo, on the other hand, was a volunteering veteran, having spent a year in Sudan in 1984 with Concern, and travelled three times with the Galway charity Irish Friends of Albania, which sends surgical teams to mainly treat children with burns.

The couple raised €4,000 for charity before going. Once there, they also became involved with two local orphanages. One was the Nsambya Babies Home in Kampala, which cares for orphaned, abandoned and displaced children from birth to six years old. The second was Action to Support Orphans and Disadvantaged (ASOD), which helps up to 70 orphans, aged 13 to 18, from the slum areas by providing shelter, hygiene and medical assistance, access to education, recreational activity and guidance counselling.

Now they are home, they plan to continue to support these two charities and will be holding various events to raise the much needed funds to keep the orphanages open. The first was a table quiz organised for last night.

The couple found the experience overwhelmingly positive.

“I know there’s a lot of aid going astray, but when you get there the level of poverty is huge. In Uganda I was able to make a real difference, we felt so useful, which we don’t always feel in our normal lives,” Jo reflects.

“Ugandan people are wonderful, they have a real joy for life. It was such a fantastic experience. Also the weather – it was 26 degrees every day and hardly any rain. Larry is actively looking for a job in the development aid sector. He felt to be there hands on, you can actually help to change people’s lives.”

They plan to repeat the experience, this time in a different country where their skills will be no less valuable.They have have nothing but the height of respect for the VSO, which carries out a very thourough vetting procedure. The whole process of getting accepted onto the programme can take a year. Training is provided, where volunteers are presented with scenarios they may encounter to gauge their reaction.

Jo recalls that when she volunteered with Concern there was very little training, but then she was young and more up for the hardships of life.

One of the people working with them was a journalist from Holland, whose main task was to raise awareness of corruption and how to best deal with it.

“You do see some things that are really terrible, particularly in the medical field. Some people couldn’t cope with it. But I think it’s something everybody should do. It’s great for the older person, they have experience of life and probably get better respect out there. I found this experience a lot better now than when I was younger.”

For further information about fundraising and the VSO experience contact Larry on 0872564129 or Jo on 0877716651.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Tatoo artists Stephen and Nancy make their point

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Date Published: 24-Jan-2013

The Galway Bay Tattoo studio is far from the dingy and dirty dens often associated with bikers and heavy metal fans.

Located in Lower Fairhill on a corner, it is in fact, one of the nicest shop fronts in the city and is clean, airy and bright inside.

Opened three years ago, it is also an art gallery which not only displays the artwork of owners, Nancy Klein and Stephen Kennedy but that of their friends, a circle they have come to know since they arrived in Galway.

Nancy and Stephen are a couple who were attracted to Galway because of its creative and artistic reputation. They had both worked as tattoo artists in their respective native countries – Canada for Nancy and Australia for Stephen – and now say they have the “best clients” in Galway.

Both had travelled well before they met through mutual friends in Scotland eight years ago and yes, Nancy admits, “it was love at first sight. . . we were a couple by the next day”.

They are both mildly spoken and in their three years here they admit they have become friends with most of their customers!

Nancy says that some days, they just don’t get anything done as people stroll in one after the other for a chat. But you know by the way she says it that she doesn’t mind. They are both dedicated artists who eat, sleep and drink tattoos such is their obsession with their work.

“Yeah, I dreamed last night about a tattoo,” she says quietly to Stephen. Most nights they sit in and talk tattoos though sometimes they might go and see a band in any of the city venues.

They both have workbooks which catalogue their work. Stephen is into portraits of famous people and animals. These tattoos are major works, intricate in detail and can take hours to complete. A large work, like a sleeve, can take hours spread over a number of sessions.

 

Nancy says she gets tired on her feet, in her lower back and her eyes if she works for more than two hours at a time. “I also get hungry and I just cannot continue,” she says. But Stephen can work continuously for five hours without a break – that’s if a client can take it.

They both love what they do – that is obvious – and when not working on a live canvas, they sit in their office in the back drawing, sketching or painting. Some of their work is on permanent display in their gallery.

Stephen’s canvases show Johnny Cash and Elvis in lifelike images while Nancy’s artwork is more architectural, and equally intricate.

And while Stephen prefers big statements in his tattoo works such as portraits, Nancy’s work is more ethereal involving butterflies, flowers and fairies, though she too has big work under her belt and proudly shows her portfolio.

She does a lot of work on women, particularly on those wanting to cover up old tattoos or scars. Requests to cover up Caesarean Section scars are common, although she stresses that a scar has to have healed for at least three or four years before she will go near it.

 

They are both very much into hygiene and regulation though Stephen is amazed at how little their trade is regulated. Nancy hates the idea of cross-contamination and is meticulous when it comes to wearing sterile gloves.

They have a sterile container which is disposed of by bio-hazard specialists. They also have an age policy – strictly over 18 – though they know that not everyone in the industry is as conscientious.

“It is unusual that the tattoo artists in Galway get on so well. When we first came to Galway we worked for a year with a couple in the knowledge that we were always going to set up our own business,” says Stephen.

Apparently, the ink supplier often expresses his amazement at the camaraderie between the local tattoo artists saying it is not the case in Dublin or anywhere else.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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Capacity entry for weekend’s Galway International Rally

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Date Published: 30-Jan-2013

Galway Motor Club this week confirmed that there is a capacity entry of 115 teams for this year’s Safety Direct Galway International Rally, which takes place this weekend.

The event is the first in Galway to support The Gathering 2013 initiative bringing a welcome early season boost to visitor numbers to Galway City and County, with organisers saying the event is expected to generate more than 2,000 bed nights.

“Galway Motor Club is indebted to the staff of Galway County and City Councils, An Garda Siochána, Fáilte Ireland, the Road Safety Authority, the Directors and staff of Safety Direct, the 300 volunteer marshals from all over Ireland, and most of all the residents of the route in the east of the county for their assistance with temporary road closures to ensure the safe running of the event,” said Victor Farrell, Clerk of the Course.

The event will have a Ceremonial Start in Eyre Square on Saturday at 8pm, following afternoon scrutinising of cars at MotorPark, Terryland, from 2pm. These are ideal opportunities to see the rally cars and drivers prior to the start of the competition.

Top seeds are last year’s winners and 2012 Tarmac Rally Champions, Darren Gass from Armagh, and co –driver Enda Sherry. He will be followed off the start ramp by Derek McGarrity from Belfast, triple British Rally Champion Keith Cronin from Cork and Garry Jennings from Enniskillen.

The highest seeded local crews are JJ Fleming from Salthill in his Ford Focus World Rally Car, co-driven by Robbie Ward from Loughrea at number 8; Tom Flaherty from Circular Road at 12 in his Escort Mk2; and Eamon Dervan from Loughrea at 18 also in an Escort; and Neil Pierce from Loughrea in a Honda at number 22.

Galway Entries in the Historic Car section include Ray Cunningham from Carnmore in a Mini Cooper, James Power from Loughrea in an Escort Mk1 and Pat Neville from Taylors Hill in a Volvo 142. The Galway competitors will be competing for the prestigious Brian Thornton Memorial Cup.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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