Maureen Hernon and Mary Bell settle in to loungers in the oratory of St Mary’s Nursing Home in Shantalla in the city.
It’s 10.30 on Friday morning of the week when phase one of lockdown restrictions were eased – and both women, residents of the home, are waiting to be entertained.
They’re dressed to the nines and immaculately turned out – St Mary’s healthcare assistants have had to up-skill in hairdressing since Coronavirus reached Ireland.
A private audience with musician Val McNicholas, a Swinford native who now lives in Taylor’s Hill, awaits the glamorous duo.
“Maureen,” shouts Val through a glass partition which has new technology that facilitates safe, socially distant visiting.
“This one’s for you, í nGaeilge,” he says, before strumming his guitar and singing a rendition of Ave Maria in Irish for Maureen, a native speaker.
Mary, from Mayo, and Maureen from Furbo, beam when the music starts. It brings back memories of weekly Monday sessions they used to enjoy before visiting was curtailed due to fears of Covid-19 reaching the home.
“We’d get the staff and residents to sing as well. Anything can happen,” says Val of the sessions that can now safely resume. “We tell stories and tell poems and we get the residents and staff to do their party piece as well. They love it, they light up.”
Visitor restrictions have been in place due to Covid-19 for nine weeks, but the home has now converted its small chapel into a safe space where family and performers like Val can visit.
A glass wall separates Mary, Maureen and St Mary’s staff, Carol Preisler, Director of Operations, Linda Cunningham, and Mary Carpenter, Director of Nursing, from Val and the Connacht Tribune.
There are two gaps in the glass, fitted with Melapholes – a technology that allows visitors and residents to interact safely, face-to-face. It’s similar to technology used in prison visiting rooms but the comparison ends there.
“They (Melapholes) won’t let the virus through and they amplify the sound, for people who have difficulty hearing,” explains Ms Carpenter. “We were long enough having no visitors,” she adds.
Ms Priesler agrees it’s a welcome addition. “It’s so families aren’t outside, looking in bedroom windows. At least here they can sit down, and have a chat, and it’s more comfortable, there’s more space.
“We started it the last couple of days, and we’re doing it on a booking basis, so that there is social distancing for the people coming in, and so that there is staff available to be with the residents on this side. It’s worked out really well.”
Jack Finnerty, a local craftsman, installed it. Before this, residents and families kept in touch through letters and more modern modes, but Skype and teleconferencing isn’t for everyone. “This is simpler and it’s better,” says Ms Priesler.
Covid-19 has ravaged some nursing homes, particularly in Dublin, but St Mary’s hasn’t lost any residents to the virus – Ms Carpenter credits that to having time, compared with the East coast, to up-skill and put policy and procedures in place.
“This is a community, this is a home but all of a sudden we’d to flip into almost becoming an acute hospital. It was very unusual, that’s not what we’re trained for. We had time; if we got a case now – hopefully we won’t – but we’d be ready and trained,” she says.
Meanwhile, the residents are enjoying the concert and conversation.
Maureen Hernon, a keen gardener, was eager to chat with the Connacht Tribune.
“I’m from Furbo . . . I was born in Barna, and I worked in the telephone exchange in Galway, and then I retired from there,” she says.
Mary Bell adds: “I’m from Mayo originally, from Hollymount and I grew up on a farm. I’ve been in Galway in recent times.”
Both agree Val’s music and the new visitor arrangements are great.
Val’s sister, a nun and former music teacher who has Alzheimer’s, is a resident in the home and many of the weekly performers who volunteer their time, have connections with St Mary’s.
“It’s our giving back, if you like,” says Val.
Ireland is at the heart of Europe’s political agenda
By Gerard Kiely, Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland
When European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, delivered her first State of the Union address to the European Parliament on Wednesday, it is no exaggeration to say that Ireland was at the heart of this important speech, which outlines the EU’s vision and political priorities for the coming year.
Citing inspirational examples of political wisdom and humanity from the late John Hume and the heart-warming story of Suaad Alshleh, who arrived in Ireland as a refugee from Syria and received a prestigious scholarship to study medicine in Dublin, the President clearly appreciates Ireland’s positive contribution to advancing the values of the European Union.
President von der Leyen placed many of Ireland’s priorities at the top of Europe’s political agenda. She stressed the importance of reinforcing Europe’s social market economy to protect workers and businesses. President von der Leyen announced that the Commission will present a European anti-racism action plan and a strategy to strengthen LGBTQI rights. “LGBTQI-free zones are humanity free zones. And they have no place in our Union” she declared.
To help tackle the Covid pandemic in the coming year, the Commission will focus on building a European Health Union, with stronger agencies and enhanced capacity to respond to cross-border threats. The President called for a common plan for a ‘digital Europe’, with clearly defined goals for 2030, such as for connectivity, skills and digital public services.
On climate change, the European Commission proposes to increase the 2030 target for emissions reduction from 40% to 55%. This will put the EU on track for climate neutrality by 2050. “Meeting this new target will reduce our energy import dependency, create millions of extra jobs and more than halve air pollution,” Von der Leyen said.
The President further announced that 30% of the €750 billion #NextGenerationEU budget – a plan to ensure Europe’s recovery is sustainable and fair – will be raised through green bonds. And 37% of funding will be invested in European Green Deal objectives, including ‘lighthouse’ European projects – hydrogen, green building and one million electric charging points.
As part of the Green Deal, the ‘Farm to Fork Strategy’ proposes a transformation of the food system right across the supply chain. Given Ireland’s strong agricultural tradition, we need to work together to ensure that Irish farmers are financially supported when developing more sustainable practices.
The European Commission’s support for Ireland on Brexit remains unwavering: President von der Leyen stated once again that the EU would never backtrack on its support for the Good Friday agreement and peace on the island of Ireland.
Certainly, this brave political agenda for Europe and Ireland will meet many challenges, but as President von der Leyen put it: ‘Europe will be what we want it to be. So let us stop talking it down. And let’s get to work for it.’
The Herbal Academy’s leading course on living a healthy life
There has already been a phenomenal upsurge in the use of holistic treatments to deal with a whole host of common ailments – but a Galway herbalist and educator has now taken this to the next level.
Because Tuam-based Patrick Murphy – owner and founder of the Herbal Academy – believes that that anyone can learn to make and use herbal remedies at home, for their own wellbeing and that of their families and clients.
Which is the ethos behind the Herbal Academy as an institute of alternative medicine for the general public, delivering a variety of courses completely online to allow for remote learning.
The courses offered at the academy, designed by Patrick, were produced during the lockdown months – and now the work is ready to be presented to the public.
The Herbal Academy itself was developed to use a unique blend of Western Herbal Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine to learn how to create a range of holistic treatments for common ailments.
And, as Patrick points out, all of this can be safely used alongside medical treatments, if necessary.
His philosophy in his work is to ‘cleanse, nourish and heal’ – and that is woven through the course material, which he has written and which is accredited by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.
It’s the latest career evolution for Patrick Murphy, who as the Skin Herbalist, provided his first herbal remedies to his patients back in 1995 – with good results.
Then as different ailments emerged in his patients, he would accommodate them by using new herbal formulas, again with marked success. These formulas worked well with subsequent patients that they became standard.
His true philosophy is ‘getting to the root cause of the disorder’, helping him to create healing tonic herbals. These herbs help the body overcome disease by strengthening through cleansing and nourishing.
Patrick’s ultimate vision is to cleanse and nourish so the body can heal, using wild crafted, organic herbs.
The Herbal Academy itself has a comprehensive mission statement.
It aims ‘to empower energy, wellbeing, and confidence, physically and mentally by imparting knowledge of healing, nourishing, and cleansing the body using natural, organic, earth-sourced sustainable herbs and supplements that focus on treating the root causes of ailments rather than just the symptoms’.
The Academy offers three courses – the Foundation Course; Herbal Home Remedies, and Colour Therapy.
Material on the Foundation Course is aimed to provide the basics in herbalism, that students can recognize and devise effective herbal treatments for themselves and others and to educate themselves in how to use herbal remedies for first aid use and how to use alongside mainstream medical treatments.
Participants will also gain the knowledge of distinguishing between supplements and their properties as well as learning to make their own effective herbal treatments for a range of common ailments including common colds, IBS and various skin conditions.
Those studying Herbal Home Remedies will learn of the herbal remedies available to treat an array of situations such as insomnia, infections, rashes, coughs, digestive issues, stings/bites, bruises, and joint problems amongst many others.
Students will learn to prepare these remedies using a range of fruits, spices, oils, and herbs-all ingredients that are completely natural and have been used and relied on for centuries to promote wellbeing and vitality.
Colour Therapy is used as part of medical practice for hundreds of years, colour therapy is an important element in the holistic approach to complimentary health practice.
In this course, people will identify and understand the need for certain colour themes in their lives and how to use it for healing, good health, relaxation and protection as well as learning how to use this therapy to compliment other therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology and aromatherapy.
“The Herbal Academy is delivered completely through online learning. No prior experience is necessary,” says Patrick Murphy.
“The courses can be accessed on the website instantly and offers a payment plan to spread the cost if needed. Upon completion, students will receive accredited certificates for each course.
“We have a special limited time offer in place from now until September 30 – if you order the Foundation Herbal Medicine Course, you get the Colour Therapy and Healing for free.”
Patrick also has his own herbal dispensary, stocking herbal remedies from highly reputable organic herbal suppliers. Mainly organic, bio dynamic and fresh herb tinctures are stocked.
Dried herbs which are always organic where possible, as well as pessaries, capsules and specifically made up creams, are also dispensed, when required.
Patrick helps people with common ailments such as arthritis, asthma, acne, eczema, Fibromyalgia, ME, constipation, digestive problems, heartburn, acid reflux, back pain, menopause and more.
We’re on the move – but we’re going nowhere!
This week marks the end of one major chapter in the history of the Connacht Tribune – and the start of a new one.
Because this is the last edition of this proud old newspaper to be produced from the Market Street offices where we’ve been from the Tribune’s inception in 1909.
From next week, we will be working from our new state-of-the-art offices in Liosban Business Park – or at least those not working remotely because of Covid restrictions will.
But while we’re on the move, in truth we’re going nowhere – because we are committed to covering everything that goes on in Galway now as our predecessors were back in 1909.
And by deploying the latest in technological advances, we aim to make that an even smoother journey from the source of the story to your homes and workplaces every week.
These are troubled times, not just for newspapers, but for all businesses; so this investment in a new base – complete with cutting-edge technology – is a real investment in our future and a vote of confidence in our staff and readers.
Covid has tested every one of us, not just in Galway or indeed in Ireland, but across the globe; we’ve seen such loss of life and such threat to livelihoods – and perhaps there’s much more to come.
But while we leave Market Street with memories and sadness, we also look forward to the brighter days ahead – as we do what we always did, which is to provide all the news, sport, features, entertainment and more as our colleagues have done over more than 110 years.
It’s the end of one chapter for sure, and the beginning of another – but this is a story that we know will just run and run.