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Oncologist Paul on song with cancer choir



Date Published: 13-Dec-2012

After spending nearly two hours in the company of consultant oncologist Dr Paul Donnellan, two things immediately jump to mind.

The first is that I hope I never have to see him ever again.

The second, is that if I ever did, I would be happy if it was him I was entrusting my life to.

For someone who spends his life giving bad news, dealing with death and disease, battling a relentless scourge within our bodies, he has such a pleasant and upbeat manner about him. Dr Death he is not.

It is entirely unsurprising that it is he who came up with the novel idea of creating a cancer choir.

Something to Sing About (STSA) is a network of choirs which aims to create a haven for cancer survivors to forget about their illness, have fun and give them the opportunity to network with other patients.

The only requirements for setting up a choir centre are a handful of cancer patients, a room for rehearsals, a musical director willing to help, and access to the internet so every centre can download the material to ensure all the choirs are learning the same repertoire.

“I was kind of wondering myself why I got involved. It’s kind of whacky. It’s not a thing a medical oncologist gets involved in. No one has so far had the decency to say I’m daft. I’m sure they are thinking it,” he grins.

Since its launch last month at University Hospital Galway (UHG), there are already nine STSA centres, dotted mainly around the west of Ireland.

Ideally there would be an STSA centre attached to every cancer support centre in Ireland. The idea has also sparked international interest. Paul has been approached by the world famous Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York about setting up a branch, with interest shown too by 14 Breast Cancer Centres in the UK and a centre in Brisbane, Australia.

Paul’s vision is that cancer survivors will be able to drop into centres around the country and the world for a rehearsal and a chat; maybe hear about a particular treatment or drug that are unfamiliar with, and learn something new.

He hopes the website will provide a forum for medics to answer questions from patients and that the rehearsals and performances will give experts the opportunity to deliver news on new and exciting developments.

It could also become a means of fundraising for cancer research. Above all it should be a place for people to have fun.

In its short history of existence, he believes being part of a choir has helped people cope with their diagnosis and get through their treatment.

“It might just improve their outcome by keeping spirits up. There is some evidence that music therapy helps improve outcomes. It’s good for the body and the mind.”

The idea emerged when he took up singing himself, which he did to mark the tenth anniversary of becoming an oncologist.

He started voice lessons with the Galway Voice Studio and was persuaded to join the hospital choir, which is directed by Seamus Leonard.

“I’m not a good singer at all. My brother is a good singer and I always wanted to be able to sing in the pub. I’m no great addition to the hospital choir but as long as I keep it low they don’t throw me out,” he laughs.

He was struck by the sense of camaraderie during the weekly rehearsals. The choir meet up for dinner occasionally and instead of drinking, the group can’t help singing. He was impressed by the sheer energy he got out of the experience and began to think about how beneficial it would be for his patients.

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

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



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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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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