By STEPHEN GLENNON
With indoor pools closed due to the health risks posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, newly elected Swim Ireland President Kevin Dowling of Laser SC says the sport must “pivot” and invest its energies into outdoor activities for the foreseeable future.
Honoured to be appointed to the new position, which lasts a period of one year, the new Swim Ireland President acknowledges that swimming faces many challenges, none least enticing young people back into the indoor pools when it is safe to do so.
As with every other sport, he admits that there is a natural fall-off in athlete participation during the teenage years, but he says Swim Ireland is already looking at different ways to encourage the youth to return.
“There is a concern that 12 months out of activity will have an impact and that we will need to bring them back into the fold,” says Dowling. “The manner in which we aspire to do that would be by working on our competitive programmes, to have our events over shorter distances, and through our reward system.
“We are going to change our reward structure by introducing a very innovative reward band system that would develop swimmers in all of the strokes. We would hope by making changes like those it would act as an enticement (for the youth) to come back into the sport.”
For now, though, Swim Ireland must look to see where it can focus its energies in a meaningful fashion. In this respect, Dowling believes that the growth of open water swimming during the pandemic provides opportunities.
“So, while respecting the fact that there have been challenges associated with clubs continuing, and facilities trying to open in a safe environment, the fact is that we, in Galway, have already so much at our disposal.
“If you look at our shorelines – we have fantastic beaches along with the likes of the lake in Loughrea and so on – there are massive opportunities there to piggy-back on the experiences of last year when we saw people take that first dip into the ocean, and they have continued to do that.”
Dowling, who grew up in Waterford and spent his teenage years in Cork, lives in Oranmore, within five kilometres of Renville Pier. He says that he couldn’t get over how many people consistently swam there over the winter period. “It was just such a joy to see
swimmers out in the calm waters of Renville on a Sunday morning,” he says.
“That is the type of positivity we need to grow and we, as an organisation, must understand whatever happened last year to trigger that interest in outdoor swimming. We in Galway also need to capitalise on that and look towards developing those kind of infrastructures and opportunities for swimmers.”
He says that one would be to make Blackrock diving board a focal point for teenagers while, another, would be the rejuvenation of the old sea baths at Ladies Beach. These tidal pools were in-filled in the 1980s but a campaign to have them reopened has been underway in recent months.
“There are examples in Dublin where they have opened up the Clontarf Baths. So, it is capitalising on the opportunity that arose in 2020 where we saw an increase in open water swimming and that this can be another means of (nurturing a) lifelong commitment to the water.”
Indeed, as with the majority of coaches, Dowling notes that swimming is a life skill – “cradle to grave” – more so than even a sport and the key role of Swim Ireland “is to get the country swimming”.
That is not an easy task in the current climate, especially given not all counties enjoy the natural amenities that Galway have. “So, there certainly are challenges, but, that said, I’m very enthusiastic and optimistic about the future.
“In Galway, at least, we can pivot by having more activity in the open air and, once our facilities are comfortable with reopening, we will get our other swimmers back in the water and develop the conveyor belt of good athletes that we have always had in Galway swimming over many years.”
Dowling, who moved to Galway with the Department of Defence (Aras an tSaile, Renmore) in 1989 and has been living in Oranmore since 1993, never set out to climb to the Swim Ireland summit. If anything, his journey has been more of a wander than a climb.
Having started out as an underage GAA coach, the father-of-three swapped over to swimming when his children developed an aptitude for it. “It was also slightly warmer to be indoor training,” he muses.
A member of Laser for over 15 years, he served as a swim teacher between 2008 and 2014, when flood damage at Leisureland suspended their swim programme. In addition, he played an active role in Laser SC receiving the national quality mark in 2012, when they also won Connacht Club of the Year, and in 2018.
His involvement does not stop there and in his time he has coached club, interprovincial and schools; served as team manager of club and regional squads that have competed at home and abroad; held numerous administration posts (he is the current Chairperson of the Connacht Competitions Committee); and worked with Special Olympics.
He still coaches at Fiona’s Swim School in Kilcornan, where he tutors children from six to 10 years, while he continues to coach Team South Galway Special Olympics team every Wednesday (when permitted under health guidelines).
“So, no, it was never an ambition (to become Swim Ireland President),” he says. “I never set out to be engaged at national level or anything like that. My local involvement is still where my passion is. I love going on a Tuesday evening or a Sunday morning with the ‘smallies’ or on a Wednesday evening with the Special Olympians. That is what floats my boat, really.”
Next week, though, Dowling will on duty when presiding over the National Swim Meet at the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin. The event includes the Irish Time Trials for athletes aiming to secure their elusive times for the Tokyo Olympics.
“The Government, Sport Ireland and Swim Ireland have worked hard on this. It is very confined and clinical and under the proper protocols of NPHET and Government. That said, I love the idea of being able to go up there next week and contribute to the event and operate as a stroke judge-turn judge to the swimmers who are togging out.”
He notes that there are a number of competitors with Galway connections involved, including Andrew Moore, Oisín Cooke and Molly Mayne. “So, I am encouraged to see a number of swimmers from County Galway that have swam at local events in the last 10 years performing at high standards at the national time trials next week.
“That is a good message: that a guy or girl who comes up through the Galway ranks, but who might have moved onto UCD or wherever, is still competing. That is good to see,” concludes Dowling, who is the 13th Galway representative to hold the Swim Ireland Presidency and the first since his club-mate Tony Farrell in 2012.
First pub in County Galway to be convicted over Covid breach
A County Galway publican has become the first in the county convicted of breaching Covid-19 regulations after 70 customers were found on his premises during the partial lockdown last year.
Tuam Court was told that when the Gardaí entered the premises at Tierney’s of Foxhall, there was very little social distancing – and no food being served, as was the requirement at the time.
Proprietor Tom Kelly was prosecuted for the breach of Covid-19 regulations which carries a maximum penalty of €5,000.
After Judge James Faughnan was informed that it was an extremely large premises in rural North Galway, he remarked that when so many people are allowed into a pub, no matter how big, it is extremely difficult to control them.
Prosecuting Sergeant Christy Browne explained that several months ago there had been opposition for the renewal of the publican’s licence on the grounds of alleged breaches of Covid regulations.
He said that, on August 30 last, there were 70 people on the premises, at a time during the pandemic when there was the requirement to purchase a €9 meal before being served a drink.
Sergeant Browne explained that when the premises was inspected, there was no social distancing, there was no food being served and no evidence of food receipts.
Defending solicitor Gearoid Geraghty said that his client ran a huge premises that can accommodate 227 customers and added that his customers were spread among three separate sections of the premises.
While there have been objections to the renewal of publicans’ licences by the Gardaí for breaches of the guidelines, this was the first criminal prosecution that has taken place in County Galway.
Tom Kelly with an address of Corohan, Tuam, the proprietor of Tierney’s of Foxhall, was charged with breaching a regulation to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19. It relates to an alleged breach that occurred on August 30 last year.
The same defendant had been the subject of an objection to his licence by Garda Inspector John Dunne a number of months ago. He was ordered to pay €500 towards a charity at the time.
The Inspector had opposed the renewal of the licences for what he said were breaches of Covid guidelines during the course of inspections carried out when the situation was relaxed during the course of 2020.
Galway recycling company run by Travellers fronts national campaign
A Galway company which employs Travellers to recycle mattresses and wooden furniture has been picked to front a national campaign urging the public to support their local social enterprises which are seen as crucial in the post-Covid recovery.
Bounce Back Recycling has this month also been nominated for top green company in the country.
Social enterprises are businesses that operate mainly to improve people’s lives and achieve a social or environmental impact. While they trade in goods and services like other businesses, the difference is they reinvest their profits to achieve core social objectives.
Bounce Back Recycling provides a mattress and furniture recycling service to domestic and commercial clients as well as several local authorities from its base in Ballybane.
There are currently twelve members of the Traveller community who manage and run the social enterprise, with plans to employ a further four workers as it expands.
Workers deconstruct the mattresses and furniture by hand, a labour intensive and time-consuming process.
The steel from mattresses is sold on to a local steel recycling company while the foam is sent to a UK company to make carpet underlay. The textile or covering is compressed and sent to landfill.
Manager Martin Ward explains that between 75 and 80 per cent of the mattress is recycled.
Mattresses that normally end up in the landfill only start to decompose after 15 years – elements such as polyurethane foam and steel springs can take up to 100 years and 50 years respectively to break down.
Since 2017, the company has diverted 50,000 mattresses from landfill.
“In Galway we dispose of 30,000 mattresses annually and they’re going to landfill through a waste company or are illegally dumped. We identified a gap in the market for Connacht and Ulster as there was nobody recycling mattresses here,” he reveals.
The company received funding to set up but is dependent on users to cover ongoing costs such as wages.
It started off with 3,000 items in its first year collecting from around Galway. Last year it processed 20,000 pieces, operating across ten counties, with plans to expand nationwide. They are also preparing to open a unit in Sandy Road where they will upcycle and reupholster furniture and sell directly to the public.
“We’re happy to be part of this ‘The Future is Social’ campaign by Rethink Ireland to support social enterprises which deliver so many other positive impacts for every euro spent.
“Everyone is much more aware of doing their bit for the environment and we hope to be recycling 100,000 items by 2025,” says Martin.
Bounce Back Recycling charges between €15 and €25 for a mattress and €10 for collection.
“We run a collection service and only charge one delivery fee, regardless if it’s one or ten items. We’ve a big demand in Connemara because there is no civic amenity site so people who want to do the right thing for the environment don’t have any access to a facility.”
Bounce Back Recycling has been nominated as a finalist in the Green NGO (Non Government Organisation) of the Year.
It is among 40 companies which have received money from the Social Enterprise Development Fund. Nationally they employ 500 people, mainly from minority groups, generating €22 million in turnover.
The ‘Future is social’ campaign will provide regional webinars, information and resources about social enterprises.
Headford’s plans for public park and gardens
Plans to create a new public park and gardens in the heart of Headford were unveiled this week.
Headford Community Garden and Headford Men’s Shed have submitted a proposal to the Headford Development Association to create the park on the lands adjacent to their gardens in Balrickard.
A rewilded, multi-habitat park would transform outdoor living in the town and provide a much-needed greenspace that would be accessible to all – offering a relaxing setting for all ages and abilities.
The promoters also hope that the project would act as a model for other Irish towns, with Headford becoming a leading example of how parkland and greenspace can help to revitalise rural settlements.
“This proposal for a park and gardens in Headford will create a quiet natural space in the centre of town for all to access and enjoy. It is a project that will benefit the people and the businesses of the town and surrounding areas for generations to come,” said Aengus McMahon, spokesperson for Headford Park and Gardens.
Within the park the emphasis will be on biodiversity; the planting of native trees, introduction of biodiverse meadow spaces with mown paths, walking trails, picnic and play areas.
The existing gardens and new parkland will serve as an outdoor classroom for use by local schools.
There are existing plans for Presentation College Headord’s Seomra Seoda to utilise Headford Community Garden for outdoor classes. The park will be fully inclusive and accessible to all.
The space will also include an outdoor cultural space for concerts, theatre shows and special events.
“During the Covid lockdowns, it was our walks in the rural countryside and wild landscapes that provided therapy for both mind and body,” said Brendan Smith of the Galway National Park City initiative.
“So, in a post Covid world it is important that, for the health of human society and of the planet, we integrate green and blue spaces into the fabric of our cities, towns and villages,” he added.
Recently Galway’s County Councillors unanimously supported a proposal to fund a feasibility study to examine the development potential of a cycleway and greenway from the Galway city to Headford. The park would be the perfect landing site for a future greenway.
Groups already sharing the existing garden area include Tidy Towns, environmental groups, Scouts, Headford Lace Project, Yarn Bombers, Meals on Wheels and Ability West.