Lifestyle – The influence of Irish monks on early Christianity is renowned. But with the Reformation in the 1500s and later the Penal Laws, their monasteries and abbeys fell into disuse. The country is dotted with their ruins and thanks to the work of archaeologists and local communities, many of the buildings have rich stories to tell as JUDY MURPHY learns.
The beautiful Meelick Church, on the banks of the Shannon in East Galway, is billed as the oldest still-functioning Catholic church in Ireland, having been in use since 1414. But any tourist, foreign or Irish, wanting to visit this sacred and historic place would want to be determined – and be blessed with a good sense of direction.
Driving along the narrow roads that lead to Meelick Weir, there isn’t a sign that to indicate this church actually exists. Thankfully, perseverance pays off and having navigated many bends on an increasingly narrow road, there it is – a simple, elegant structure which was once part of a larger Franciscan settlement close to the Shannon.
The last friar left in the mid-1800s, after which the church came under the remit of Clonfert Diocese. Mass is still celebrated in this simple, spiritual place and the Saturday evening ceremony was just about to begin as we departed.
Meelick is part of the Hymany Way walking trail, a 100km path which follows the course of the Shannon. On this occasion, however, we were travelling by car to what was our final destination on an tour of ecclesiastical sites of East Galway and into Offaly.
It was a sunny Saturday and as the rest of the country headed towards the Atlantic beaches, we were almost on our own as we wandered through once-great religious settlements at Clonmacnoise, Clontuskert Abbey, Kilnalahan Abbey (in Abbey of Abbey-Duniry fame) and Meelick. Except for the famed St Ciarán’s site at Clonmacnoise, we met almost nobody in these places. Even Clonmacnoise, which was relatively busy, was far from packed.
This heritage site, on the banks of the Shannon which is accessed via narrow roads between Ballinasloe and Athlone, is a special place. The original monastery, which was founded in the 6th century by St Ciarán, who was its first abbot, is home to the ruins of seven churches, three high crosses, a cathedral, two round towers and more than 700 early Christian burial slabs.
Those early monks knew what they were doing and the monastery’s location, by the Shannon and at an important bridging point in the centre of the country, ensured it became a major centre of learning and religion, where many of Ireland’s finest Celtic manuscripts and art were created. Artefacts found here include the Clonmacnoise Crozier (now in the National Museum) and the 12th century Book of the Dun Cow.
Today, Clonmacnoise is under the care of the Office of Public Works and, because of Covid, admission is free although it must be pre-booked. But there are no guided tours, which is a great pity. The friendly person we met at the reception area informed us about the Covid-compliant entry route and handed us a sheet of paper which had limited details about the site. After that we were on our own on this medieval monastic settlement. Figuring out what was what involved a lot of guesswork.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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Thousands on waiting list for student accommodation in Galway
The student housing crisis is ‘the worst it’s ever been’ – with thousands on waiting lists for rooms; hundreds relying on hostels and friends’ sofas; and countless more facing deferral or dropping out altogether.
The President of NUI Galway’s Students’ Union, Róisín Nic Lochlainn, told the Connacht Tribune that students had been left in a desperate situation, as she called for mass protests to have the issue addressed.
According to Ms Nic Lochlainn, 3,000 students were currently on the waiting lists for NUIG’s on-campus accommodation – Corrib Village and Goldcrest Village – with around 500 in line for any bed that might come up in the Westwood.
“Gort na Coiribe and Dunaras have told us their waiting lists are well into the hundreds too. I’ve only got to contact two of the hostels around town, but Kinlay and Snoozles have almost 200 students between them already – and they’re expecting more.
“The first years haven’t even arrived yet, and on top of all that, you have people in B&Bs and staying on their friends’ sofas,” said Ms Nic Lochlainn.
Pressure on the student rental market had been building for years, she said, but it had gone off the cliff edge this year as a perfect storm was created by increased student numbers and reduced bed availability.
“[Minister for Further and Higher Education] Simon Harris created new places on courses this year and talked about maximum access to education . . . I’m not sure how that works for students who are homeless.
“Because there weren’t many students around last year, some private landlords might have moved on. There was no new purpose-built accommodation delivered, and then Simon Harris creates new places with no new beds,” said Ms Nic Lochlainn of the causes of this year’s problems.”
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Government asked to “do everything” to ensure Intel chooses Oranmore as base
The Taoiseach and Tánaiste will be asked to do “everything in their power” to ensure technology giant Intel selects Oranmore as the location for its new microchip manufacturing plant – which could create 10,000 jobs and transform the West of Ireland economy.
The 540-acre site is owned by the Defence Forces and was selected by IDA Ireland as the preferred site for the company’s new EU ‘chip’ base.
BY STEPHEN CORRIGAN
AND DARA BRADLEY
Oranmore is up against sites in Poland, France and Germany and Intel confirmed to Taoiseach Micheál Martin that the site is under consideration.
Galway East TD Ciarán Cannon said the development would be “transformative” and would be Intel’s largest microchip manufacturing plant in the world.
Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Athenry Oranmore Municipal District this week, councillors backed a proposal from Cllr Liam Carroll to write to Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar to urge them to push forward the plan.
“This would be a game-changer, not just for Oranmore but for the whole of Connacht. Imagine 10,000 directly employed at some stage in the future, and the spinoff from that,” he said.
The Oranmore site is reported to have been selected ahead of three other locations in Ireland.
It is on Intel’s short-list for the proposed project, which would involve building eight factory modules on a single campus at the site off the M6 motorway, northeast of Oranmore, the newspaper reported.
The American multinational tech company has whittled down its short-list to 10 finalists; Oranmore is up against sites in Poland, France and Germany.
The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that if it proceeds, the new Oranmore ‘mega-fab’ would dwarf Intel’s existing site in Leixlip, which employs almost 5,000.
Galway East TD, Ciaran Cannon (FG) said: “It would put Galway on the map internationally as a place for high-tech investment and it would serve to rebalance the economic imbalance that exists in our country where all of the weight is on the east coast.
“The IDA has a formula where every one new job created in that industry creates about eight or nine more jobs downstream in terms of the supply chain and services. They’re saying 10,000 jobs on site – twice the population of Athenry – on one campus and then another 80-90,000 jobs off site. The figures are phenomenal, mind boggling,” said Deputy Cannon.
The demand for the facility arose during Covid-19 when the supply chain between Asia and Europe broke down.
Fraudsters ‘spoof’ Galway Garda Station’s phone number
Fraudsters replicated the phone number of Galway Garda Station and used it to call a local woman to demand money.
Crime Prevention Officer, Sergeant Michael Walsh, said that the number ‘091 538000’ was somehow used by criminals who attempted to extract money – in the form of the online currency Bitcoin – from the victim. Despite the phone call appearing to come from the Garda station at Mill Street, the woman became suspicious and reported it to Gardaí.
Sgt Walsh said it was the latest in a series of ‘spoofing’ phone calls to have occurred this year.
Spoofing is where fraudsters change the caller ID to ring unsuspecting members of the public to try to extract money or personal information off them.
He said that the number of spoofing incidents reported to Galway Gardaí has more than doubled in the past year.
“It is top of my agenda,” he said.
He pointed out that criminals can obtain a ‘ready to go’ phone and SIM card, relatively cheaply, and it was “very difficult” for Gardaí to trace the caller.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story and more details on fraud figures in Galway, see this week’s Connacht Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.