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Preserving an ancient practice at St Dominic’s Holy Well

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January is not a month you would normally associate with pilgrimage – but each year the people of East Galway make a most unique journey to St Dominic’s Holy Well to prepare for the agricultural year ahead.

The well is located in the townland of Esker a short distance from Athenry – and unlike the majority of holy wells, St Dominic’s is not associated with healing or penance.

BY DR LOUISE NUGENT

The pilgrims do not come to say prayers or to leave offerings; they come to collect the holy water from the well which they take home to bless their fields, farmyards, homes and animals.

The water is taken because it is believed to have special powers of protection and healing through its connection with the saint.

Little is known about the history of this holy well.  Some believe that the well came into existence following the arrival of the Dominicans, who came to Esker after the destruction of their priory at Athenry in 1652 by Cromwellian soldiers.

Keeping a low profile and at great personal risk they continued to minister to the local people of the area. Following the relaxing of the penal laws, they built a monastery a short distance from the holy well.

The monks were gifted of 150 acres of land, by a local landlord called Daly from Dunsandle, to help support them and their charitable works. The Dominicans remained at Esker until 1896 when the monastery passed to the Diocese.

In 1903 the Redemptorist Order took over control of the monastery and by this time the modern traditions of the well were firmly established.  Through the years the Redemptorists have continued to support the well as the Dominicans did before them, and today they still providing blessings of its waters.

The traditional time for visiting St Dominic’s well is from midday on January 5 until midnight on January 6.

On the morning of January 5, troughs are placed beside the well and filled with water taken from the well.

On both pilgrimage days a mass is held at the church in the Redemptorist monastery, and this is followed by a procession from the monastery to the holy well.

A number of short prayers are said and the well and its waters of the well are blessed by the priest. This year the blessing was performed by Fr Seamus Devitt, and afterwards pilgrims fill plastic bottles and containers from the troughs surrounding the well.

On returning home, the water is sprinkled in the farmyard, the fields, just as Easter water was and is still in some places spread on the fields on May’s eve.  The water is also sprinkled on farm machinery, cars, out buildings and homes.

The remainder of water is kept throughout the year and used for sick animals and for cows and sheep during calving and lambing.

A number of people told me of what they believed were cures of animals due to these holy waters.  Others sprinkled the water again during the planting and harvesting of crops.

For generations the agricultural year of  farmers in East Galway has begun with a visit to St Dominic’s holy well – and it’s wonderful to this the tradition continuing into the 21st century.

Dr Louise Nugent is an archaeologist specialising in medieval pilgrimage and author of blog Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland (http://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com)

CITY TRIBUNE

Cyclists and disability groups don’t feel the love for ‘kissing gate’ barriers

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From the Galway City Tribune – Cyclists and disability groups long campaigning for the removal of ‘kissing gates’ on popular routes were overjoyed to see the one at ‘the Swamp’ in the Claddagh removed last week.

But their joy quickly turned to anger when it was returned a few days later. They learned that it had only been taken out to facilitate a private company. Grant Thornton had organised a 5K run along the Salthill Promenade for corporate staff and sports teams.

Gráinne Faller, who organises the Sundays4Safety awareness campaigns in Salthill, said she could not believe how quickly the Council could act to remove, then replace the barrier when bike groups have been calling for their removal for years, only to be met with inaction.

“These gates lock so many people out of our parks and playgrounds. How can we justify blocking access to public spaces? They are ableist, ageist and they block people with buggies and bikes. They really discriminate against parents. And then we learn that the Council is claiming that this isn’t a problem? We wait. And wait. It is not okay. It’s Council-sanctioned discrimination.”

Chairperson of the campaign group Cyclist.ie, Neasa Bheilbigh, said the gates excluded families and people with mobility impairments from using safe active travel routes to school and public amenities.

“To suggest quiet routes through housing estates and parks are not active travel routes, shows a lack of understanding about how people move in our city,” she insisted.

She highlighted the fact that the National Transport Authority (NTA) has committed to providing funding to remove barriers to promote universal access.

“I always feel safer cycling than walking at night, but having to dismount leaves me feeling vulnerable. The Council don’t seem to grasp the needs of people who use non-standard bikes as mobility aids and who cannot dismount or have the strength to navigate through these barriers.”

Liam Ferrie from Menlo said he was long past retirement age but he found his e-bike was a great way of getting around Galway.

“Last Sunday I cycled a total of 28km without any difficulty – apart from a very close pass by a motorist. However, if I had come to a kissing gate I’d have had to turn back as there is no way I could lift the bike through it.”

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the National Ambulance Service, Reg Turner, said his family cycles along the Terryland Forest park en route to school and they have to manoeuvre a large cargo bike carrying his baby son through a kissing gate.

“My seven-year-old calls them jail gates. She says she is sick of lifting her bike and asks when are they coming to remove the gates. The crazy thing is the forest can be accessed from various other exits and entrances which don’t have these gates.”

At a Galway City Council meeting last July, City Council Director of Services for Transport, Patrick Greene, told councillors the NTA had written to Councils acknowledging that kissing gates were problematic for some users.

He said the NTA was working to come up with a new design for gates that are more accessible for users such as people on cargo bikes, pram users and people in wheelchairs, and the Council would act on any recommendations from the NTA once an alternative was sourced.

He said the City Council was planning to do an audit of all kissing gates across Galway.

Cllr Noel Larkin stated that without kissing gates, housing estates and public parks would be more accessible to vehicles and could result in antisocial behaviour.

Cllr Donal Lyons said motorbikes and other vehicles could access public parks and amenity areas if they were removed and not replaced.

(Photo: A cargo bike stuck at a kissing gates. The City Council removed one in Claddagh recently for a road race but then reinstated it).

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune, September 23. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council needs extra loans for home-buying scheme

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From the Galway City Tribune – Galway City Council has had to draw down further loans to keep up with demand for the Local Authority Home Loan Scheme.

At a meeting of the City Council, Director of Services for Housing, Brian Barrett, said they had initially sought approval from councillors for a loan of €4.1 million but such was the demand that they required a further €1.4 million.

A renewed Local Authority Home Loan was announced in December last year and provides for Government-backed mortgages for first-time buyers and ‘fresh-start’ applicants – those who are divorced or separated, or who have undergone personal insolvency or bankruptcy.

The scheme was introduced to provide lower interest rate mortgages to those who are creditworthy but would otherwise find it difficult to access sufficient finance.

Mortgages up to 90% of the value of the property are available, with a limit of €320,000 applicable to Galway. An income ceiling of €65,000 applies to single applicants, or €75,000 in the case of a joint application.

Mr Barrett said since the original scheme was launched in February 2018, 277 applications had been received by Galway City Council and 120 had been approved.

Twenty-three of those loans applied to the Tenant Purchase Scheme for local authority tenants buying-out their homes.

“In February, councillors approved a loan of €4.1 million and we need another €1.4 million . . . we require €5.5 million,” said Mr Barrett, who explained this applied to 2022 applications only.

The funding would be borrowed by the Council from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Cllr Declan McDonnell (Ind) raised the issue of joint applications in the case of parents and an adult child who wished to buy out a local authority house under the Tenant Purchase Scheme.

“There is a situation arising where a parent with a son or a daughter in the house and the parent is in their 60s. After getting approved, they go to the Housing Finance Agency and they’re told they can only get a four-year mortgage – they waste five months getting approved to be told that,” he said, explaining that money would not be loaned for a period beyond when the parent turns 70.

“That information was not relayed to the Council,” added Cllr McDonnell.

Dermot Mahon of the Council’s Housing Department said he was aware of this issue, but it was part of the scheme.

“The loan scheme specifies that the maximum age of the eldest borrower is 70,” said Mr Mahon.

Councillors agreed to increase the loan, bringing it to €5.5 million.

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CITY TRIBUNE

City councillors pack their bags for Dutch transport junket

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From the Galway City Tribune – A group of city councillors will be packing their bags for Holland in the coming weeks as part of an initiative to introduce them to revolutionary transport solutions.

A meeting of the Council heard that the National Transport Authority (NTA) was willing to fund a trip for councillors to an area similar to Galway – in order to highlight the possibilities in relation to sustainable travel.

Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath confirmed that the NTA “feel it would be beneficial for councillors to see some of the solutions implemented in other areas”.

“It would be to a town in Holland, similar in size to Galway, to see their active travel solutions,” said Mr McGrath.

There would be no cost to the City Council, he added.

The meeting heard the trip would last three days and would be open to nine councillors – half of the full Council – while two City Hall officials would accompany them.

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