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Connacht Tribune

Music legend Johnny Connolly laid to rest

Judy Murphy

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Johnny Connolly was born on Inis Bearachain and began playing the melodeon as a child. His skill on the instrument later earned him the title ‘King of the Melodeon’.

There were few people who played music with such joy and with such a welcoming air as Connemara melodeon player Johnny Connolly whose death occurred last week.

Johnny Phádraic Phíotair, as he was known locally, was born on the small island of Inis Bearachain in Leitir Mór and that’s where he first began playing the single-row melodeon, as a child in his parents’ house.

He emigrated to Preston, England, for work in his late teens before returning to Ireland in 1976 with his Mayo-born wife Patricia and young family. The Connollys settled in Cor-Na-Rón Láir, Indreabhán, and Johnny played music locally and further afield, although at that point his instrument was the accordion rather than the melodeon for which he later became renowned.

Then, in 1990 during a Celtic festival in Lorient, encouraged by his friend and fellow musician Meaití Jó Shéamuis Ó Fátharta, he performed on the melodeon and got a great reaction.

Shortly afterwards, Johnny was forced to take six months off work due to an injury and Patricia bought him a melodeon. It became a life-defining gift.

For the most part, while his three children Jimmy, Mary Ellen and Johnny Óg, were young, he had concentrated on their musical development, driving them to and from competitions and concerts near and far.

When he resumed playing the instrument of his childhood, Johnny redicsovered his own passion for music – and he played a key role in reviving the one-row instrument. In an era of superb accordion players such as Joe Burke and Paddy O’Brien, the melodeon had come to be regarded as simplistic. However, Johnny was able to play tunes on the melodeon that people hadn’t believed it was capable of delivering and his talent brought it back to centre stage.

“In his hands, it was every bit as expressive as the two-row instrument,” according to his son and fellow musician, Johnny Óg on the 2018 CD, Fear Inis Bearachain, which the younger man released as a tribute to his father. In the sleeve notes to that album, Johnny Óg wrote: “My father had an almost magical ability to overcome its limitations in a musically satisfying manner. This is the great challenge the melodeon poses and it compels you to find musical solutions that might not occur to you with the wider palette of a diatonic accordion.”

Sean Johnny Connolly’s graceful and effortless style earned him the title ‘King of the Melodeon’ and over the years, he was in great demand for concerts, at sessions or as an accompanist for set- or sean-nós dancing.  His joyous, rhythmic playing and welcoming presence at sessions won him fans among musicians and listeners and his love of the traditions and culture of Connemara coloured every tune he played.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Anger within GAA community over rejection of €5m plan

Stephen Glennon

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Rejected: the site for the proposed pitches and sports complex at Rinville West. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

There is widespread anger within the GAA communities of Oranmore and Maree this week after planning permission received for the €5 million Renville Sports Project – which includes four playing pitches and a public playground, among other facilities on their 34-acre site – was rescinded by An Bord Pleanála.

The Planning Appeals Board reversed Galway County Council’s decision to greenlight the project ‘in the absence of any specific measures confirmed’ in relation to the junction on the Maree Road leading to the proposed development at Rinville West.

An Bord Pleanála maintains that if the proposed development was to go ahead, this junction ‘would endanger public safety by reason of traffic hazard, due to the additional traffic turning movement which the proposed development would generate’.

It’s understood An Bord Pleanála had sought clarification in relation to this from Galway County Council and that ‘in the absence of any specific measures confirmed as part of the proposed development to address these deficiencies within the existing junction’, it was refusing permission.

Given the scope of the proposed multi-million euro centre of excellence, those associated with the Renville Sports and Community Grounds project are furious that Galway County Council did not address this issue in the initial planning stage – particularly as they originally gave the project the go-ahead.

“The land where they could widen that (junction) entrance to take the right turn, they actually own all that land down the right hand side,” fumed Oranmore/Maree Club Chairman Gerry Rabbitt this week.

“You could put a roundabout in there! They have dropped the ball on this one and they have made a mess of it. We have spent nearly €90,000 on planning and this is just unbelievable.”

The proposed development was to provide three sand-based grass playing pitches along with an all-weather synthetic playing pitch, three warm-up and training areas, floodlighting and a covered terrace for one of the playing pitches, a hurling wall, a looped amenity walkway, 248 carpark and eight coach spaces and a public playground.

Galway County Council granted planning permission last July to Renville Sports Project Committee on behalf of Oranmore Maree GAA Club, subject to 15 conditions.

However, local residents appealed the proposed development under a number of headings.

One of those concerns raised focused on the existing road infrastructure, which residents maintained was unsuitable to take the traffic a development of this magnitude would generate.

It was on this point – restricted sightlines and an inappropriate speed limit at that location – that An Bord Pleanála upheld the residents’ objection.

The decision is a big blow to the Renville project, which operates under the slogan ‘Supporting Renville, Our Clubs, Our Community, Our Future’, and the committee is currently considering its next step.

While a Judicial Review can be sought in the High Court within eight weeks of the planning authority’s decision, the Renville Project Management Committee can only question the validity of An Bord Pleanála’s decision and cite, on this ground only, why the decision is ‘invalid or ought to be quashed’.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Management Committee considered the issues raised as ‘addressable’ and said they will be ‘doing everything possible to overcome this setback to the project’.

Mr Rabbitt said all concerned remained deeply committed “to bringing this vital project to fruition”.

Whether the Renville Project Management Committee explore the option of a Judicial Review or not, it looks as if the project may have to go through another extensive planning process once more.

“It’s terrible,” stated Mr Rabbitt. “That could be two years down the road. We have €600,000 (raised through fundraisers and donations) already and this is just a massive disappointment for us all.

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Connacht Tribune

Ballinasloe Horse Fair officially cancelled for this year

Declan Tierney

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One of the oldest horse fairs in the country has been officially cancelled this year on health and safety grounds – with the organising committee planning to meet at the end of the year to make plans for 2021.

The Ballinasloe Fair and Festival Committee decided to cancel this year’s event – traditionally held in October – because of the continuing uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak.

The October Fair attracts around 80,000 visitors for the week-long festival – including a major influx from England – providing a huge economic boost for the town, and the pubs and restaurants in particular.

The co-ordinating committee said that the decision to cancel the Fair was taken with regret but that the public’s safety was paramount – because the crowds that throng the Fairgreen would be very difficult to implement social distancing

“The Committee made the decision in the interests of public health and safety and has agreed to meet in December 2020 to prepare for the return of the Ballinasloe Fair and Festival in 2021 and make advanced plans to celebrate the 300th anniversary in 2022,” said the committee in a statement.

“The Co-ordinating Committee would like to thank the local community, sponsors, and all associations involved for their ongoing commitment and support.

“We look forward to welcoming all participants and visitors to Ballinasloe Fair and Festival in 2021,” they added.

The recent meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council saw some elected members urge a ‘wait and see’ approach, given that the event takes place in October and that the Covid situation could change considerably in the meantime.

But that suggestion divided members of Ballinasloe Municipal Council with the majority believing that the public’s safety should be the primary consideration and that the event should be scrapped for this year.

The meeting was also told that the HSE’s advice was that the Horse Fair should not go ahead but that all ‘stakeholders’ would be contacted in advance of any decision being taken.

The annual Ballinasloe Horse Fair dates back to the 18th century and there were pleas from some councillors that it be retained on restricted basis but this suggestion was largely rejected by other elected members.

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Connacht Tribune

Atlantic Masters swimmers fund radios for lifeboat crews

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Members of the Atlantic Masters Club presenting VHF radios to the Galway Lifeboat Station (front – from left) Mike Cummins, Mark Dwyer, Sean Óg Leydon; (middle) Paul Carey, Shane Folan, Barry Heskin, George Curley, Mike Swan, and (back) Helen Colfer, Annette Cullen and Bridget Wing.

A group of Galway swimmers – forced to cancel their annual fundraiser for the lifeboats – decided instead to pool their club subs to buy new radios for the service.

And within 24 hours of taking delivery of the four new VHF radios, Galway Lifeboat members used them on three separate call-outs – to save lives on the water.

The Atlantic Masters’ Lifeboat Swim took place for the first time last year, raising over €7,500 in funds for local sea-based organisations.

But Covid-19 restrictions forced the club to postpone the 2020 Atlantic Lifeboat Swim on June 12 – and at the same time club members’ training sessions were unfortunately cancelled as well.

But when offered refunds, members decided to pool their refunds and purchase four VHF Radios for the RNLI – in the hope that this would go some way to fill the gap in funding due to the cancellation of the Atlantic Lifeboat Swim.

Galway Lifeboat Operations Manager Mike Swan expressed his thanks on behalf of the Galway Lifeboat and RNLI.

“Atlantic Masters club members are as passionate about water safety as they are about swimming and that can be seen by this generous donation of VHF radios,” he said.

“Within 24 hours of receiving the radios they were in use on three separate shouts, enabling crew members to respond faster and with greater efficiency. They truly will save lives,” he added

Last year’s event saw over 120 swimmers take on the 2km swim in Renville.

And as restrictions are being lifted and guidelines being created for hosting outdoor sporting events, Atlantic Masters Club have not given up hope of being able to run a version of the Atlantic Lifeboat Swim at some point in the coming months.

Atlantic Masters chairperson Helen Colfer acknowledged that the health and safety of swimmers and local communities was their number one priority – but as the rules changed, they would look at their options.

“We are liaising with all relevant governing bodies to identify what we need to do to hold an event, be it virtual or scaled down, that could support the RNLI,” she said.

“As a swimming community, we cannot stress enough the gratitude we have for the work the RNLI do. Our club members are delighted to be able to help them in any way we can.”

For more information about Galway Lifeboat or to donate, click HERE

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