For years, students at NUI Galway and GMIT lived the American dream during the summer months on J1 working visas in the United States.
Now, a Galway father-and-daughter duo is offering a flavour of the ‘Irish dream’ to US students, through a unique summer school in Salthill.
Eight American high school students, aged 15, 16 and 17 enjoyed a jam-packed diverse programme of learning and activities over the past fortnight at the Galway Celtic Irish American Academy.
The concept is similar to summer language school students from the continent who travel here to learn English.
Except with this new academy, the American students learn about Irish culture, history, business, volunteering and much more, while being immersed in Irish life, living with host families in Salthill.
It is the first of its kind in the West of Ireland.
The two-week programme mixes teaching in the classroom setting, with exciting day trips and excursions, as well as sports and everything in between.
The academy was founded by Brian Fahy, an English and history teacher at St Enda’s College on Threadneedle Road, and his eldest daughter, Dr Johanna Clancy, a lecturer in management at the School of Business at NUIG.
“For a long time dad had the idea of bringing over groups of American students. But he didn’t know in what capacity, or what type of students, or what type of a package to put together.
“He had the idea initially, and with his knowledge of secondary school, and mine in higher level, we blended the minds as to what was needed right now and what was needed for the students for their college applications,” explained Dr Clancy.
They spent much of last summer doing the groundwork and market research in the States by visiting high schools, liaising with the Irish Consulate and connecting with an array of Irish American organisations stateside.
The pair piloted a programme this year, bringing eight students from New York, Michigan and Wisconsin, to Galway.
“I guess they just heard about us through word of mouth, through contacts we made over there in the Irish Consulate and through my two brothers, Brian and Peter, over there in St Pat’s Bar in New York,” she said.
The programme is primarily aimed at the Irish American diaspora. And there are plans to roll it out to students in schools across the US from New York to Boston, Baltimore, Chicago and Ohio.
“The structure of the programme is based around three core pillars,” said Dr Clancy.
“Number one is Irish culture and history. Number two is business and innovation and leadership, so I’m giving them classes in NUIG in business and innovation . . . then the third pillar is what they call over there ‘service learning’. It’s what we would call volunteer work.”
As part of the culture and history pillar, Páraic Breathnach of Galway Arts Centre, gave classes in Irish mythology and drama.
On a day trip to Dublin, the students visited all the historic highlights the capital has to offer, including the GPO and buildings of significance to 1916.
They also explored the Cliffs of Moher, Aran Islands and spent an afternoon in the Connemara Gaeltacht at a Coláiste Samhraidh.
As well as business classes in NUIG, while in Dublin they attended a lecture in Trinity College Dublin with Dr Paul Ryan.
Within the business stream, they visited Altocloud and Medtronic and toured Portershed, the innovation district in the city.
“Altocloud is Irish born. Its CEO is Barry O’Sullivan the dragon from Dragon’s Den and Medtronic is a massive US company in Galway, the biggest medical devices company in the world, who have their plant in Ballybrit,” said Dr Clancy.
The ‘service learning’ or volunteering section of the programme was vital, said Dr Clancy.
“We hadn’t realised it would be needed until we started talking to schools over there. High school students for their college applications, they need service learning. Their college applications are so competitive that what matters is not just your grades but also these types of experiences, and the type of volunteer work that you do.”
The group volunteered with Galway Simon during their stint here, and they climbed Diamond Hill, which was sponsored by Ulster Bank, arranged by Galway senior footballer Finian Hanley, with the monies raised going to Simon.
“We wanted them to be more globally aware. As you know a lot of Americans don’t even have passports. So we wanted them to understand global awareness and they are doing that through their volunteer work with Galway Simon. The whole thing is about giving back,” she said.
The activities during the two weeks were too plentiful to mention. They visited Galway Museum, drank soft drinks while listening to traditional Irish music in Taaffe’s Bar on Shop Street, and ate ice-creams from Supermac’s as they watched the giant Insects street spectacle as part of Galway International Arts Festival at Eyre Square.
As part of their volunteer work, the students did some soccer training and joined-up with the Corrib Rangers girls’ team, and were given some GAA coaching.
Also on the sporting front, Dr Clancy’s husband, Paul Clancy, a former All-Ireland winner with Galway and Moycullen, brought them to Pearse Stadium for the Connacht Final drawn game between Roscommon and Galway.
“They loved it. They couldn’t get over the atmosphere. The weather was absolutely rotten. They were like drowned rats, they were wrecked tired but they couldn’t get over the craic and the atmosphere at the match. One of the guys said to me – he’s only 16 or 17 and has travelled a lot – and he said: ‘I’m so happy I’ve come here. I can’t get over how friendly the people are and how nice it is to be here.’ They all really enjoyed their time here,” added Dr Clancy.
■ For more information about the academy, visit the website.
Anger within GAA community over rejection of €5m plan
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.
Ballinasloe Horse Fair officially cancelled for this year
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.
Atlantic Masters swimmers fund radios for lifeboat crews
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