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Marathon runner Gary is on top of the world



A Galway man was literally on top of the world this week after winning the UVU North Pole Marathon.

Gary Thornton led a field of 35 competitors on Tuesday to take the title in what has been called ‘the world’s coolest marathon’.

The Newcastle native battled deep snow and temperatures of -30C to complete the course in a time of 3 hours 49.29 seconds.

Speaking from Svalbard in Norway, the 33-years-old said that the race was “indescribable”.

In travelling to the event, Gary admitted that he was “going into the unknown”.

“I wasn’t going up there with a target time in my head because it’s so different.”

Even though the event organisers called the conditions “the toughest we ever had”, the race winner revealed that he was feeling a lot better after the marathon than he had expected.

“I feel ok, I thought I’d be pretty tired but I’m not too bad. I feel good having rested since Tuesday,” Gary said.

“We were running on snow, so the damage to your muscles wouldn’t be the same as a normal road race.”

Gary had company on the long trip to the North Pole as his wife, Elaine, also ran in the event, completing the half-marathon. He finished just 13 minutes behind the race record set by fellow Irishman, Thomas Maguire, in 2007.

According to Galwayman Richard Donovan, the race founder, Gary’s achievement is difficult to compare against past events due to the constantly changing conditions on the North Pole.

However, he said the Galway man’s effort was “a cracking time” considering the conditions.

“The guy Gary finished ahead of is a very good runner and he finished a long way in front of him,” Richard said.

Temperatures were hitting -30C when the competitors set off on the 26.2 mile looped circuit.

Gary said that ice formed across his eyes during the race, the only part of his skin that was exposed.

“I went up there not thinking I’d need a facemask but thankfully I made the decision before the race to wear one,” he revealed.

The primary school teacher said temperatures ‘warmed’ to around -20C during the race. While the snow was soft underfoot, it meant that the marathon became more challenging as the race continued.

While one would think that the athletes would be thankful for the rising temperatures, it actually proved a hindrance to them.

“As the temperature rose, the course became softer. The snow started to disintegrate and it became really difficult for the racers,” Gary explained.

He described the snow as “very deep” by the end of the race.

“As people were going round the circuit it was breaking up and coming up over your knee,” he said.

“The section running along the camp runway was the best bit as it was solid ice.”

The race’s remote location meant that event organisers had to send out a crew to scout a route for the marathon.

“Once we found that, Russian paratroopers were air-dropped with a tractor to prepare the runway and camp,” Gary said.

He believes that the race is probably the only one where a man with a rifle is required to protect the competitors from the threat of polar bears.

“The race is an adventure where running is only a secondary element,” Richard added.

The marathon began at midnight local time on Tuesday and finished in the early hours of the morning.

For most people, a marathon beginning at midnight would conjure images of competitors racing through the night. However, Gary explained that the race’s unique location meant that this late start was possible.

“It’s bright all the time at the North Pole this time of year so we were able to race through the night,” he said.

When he is not running over the Arctic Ocean, the 33-years-old is a teacher at Claddagh NS. He was quick to praise his employers for their support.

“The school have been outstanding in terms of helping me with my career. I’m working as part of a job-share at the moment which has me working three days a week,” he said.

The former Irish 10,000m track champion’s flexible working hours allow him to continue the training required to compete in top level athletics.

After narrowly missing out on qualification for the London Olympics, Gary fully intends to return to more traditional athletic events in the coming months.

“I have altitude training in France in two weeks and I have track races coming up in the Summer. I feel fit and strong, I’ve been doing a lot of gym work in the last six weeks,” he said.

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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Workers in Galway still waiting for ‘frontline’ payments



From the Galway City Tribune – A number of workers in healthcare settings in Galway have yet to receive promised pandemic bonus payments for toiling on the frontline during the Covid-19 crisis.

The Government had pledged each front-line worker would get a €1,000 payment as a thank you for contributing to the national effort during the pandemic.

But nine months on from when the Cabinet signed off on the payment, many local workers, including nurses and carers, particularly in private nursing homes, have received nothing.

Louis O’Hara, a general election candidate for Sinn Féin in Galway, labelled it as another broken promise by this Government.

“Workers here in Galway such as caterers, cleaners, security staff, agency staff and many more on the frontline in our local hospitals and healthcare settings have been contacting me to express their concern that they are still waiting for this payment,” he said.

“They are entitled to receive this payment, however the Government has failed to follow through on their promises and workers have been left in the lurch with no answers and no sense of urgency from the Government,” he said.

Mr O’Hara told the Galway City Tribune that the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, needed to clarify that the funding was still there to pay the staff.

He said a breakdown of figures for the number of staff in Galway that were not yet been paid was not available, but Sinn Féin has been inundated with complaints from workers – particularly agency staff and those in private nursing homes.

“Frontline workers in Galway have been let down badly by this Government’s failure to follow through on their promises. This is absolutely unacceptable,” Mr O’Hara said.

The party’s Health spokesperson has written to An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, urging him to intervene directly to ensure this payment is paid promptly.

Minister Donnelly, in a recent reply to a Parliamentary Question in the Dáil, said priority was given to payment of eligible staff in hospital groups, such as Saolta, and community services within the HSE.

He said that the Department of Health was “examining progressing the rollout” to six groups of non-HSE and Non-Section 38 Agencies, who were included in the scheme.

These include eligible workers in private nursing homes and hospices; staff on-site in long-term residential care facilities for people with disabilities; agency staff working for the HSE; healthcare assistants such as home help, home care and home support staff contracted by the HSE; Defence Forces members redeployed to work “in front-line Covid-19 exposed environments in the HSE”; and paramedics employed by Dublin Fire Brigade.

This was a “complex task”, he said, because “these employees are not normally paid by the public health service, duplicate payments need to be avoided, and there are many organisations to be covered”.

This work was being given “priority attention” he said.

“Payment to eligible workers will be made as soon as possible,” Minister Donnelly added.

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