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Connacht Tribune

Stranded far from home by Covid-19

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Kayla Isabel Sandigo Davila, from Nicaragua, with her housemate and fellow student Nadia Bea Gonzalez, from Spain. They've been enjoying the Prom during lockdown.

Lifestyle – Students from all over the world who came to Galway to learn English were shocked when language schools had to shut down in March as part of the Irish Government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. Many who were able to fly home did so then. Those who stayed continued to study online and have been enjoying Irish hospitality and time out, as three of them tell CIARAN TIERNEY.

They are among the forgotten victims of the coronavirus crisis in Galway. Many of them spent years saving up to come here, planning to change or improve their lives, and they never imagined the transformation that would occur when schools across the country were forced to shut down in mid-March.

They come from countries as varied as Switzerland, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Mexico. Many get eight-month visas which allow them to work part-time and the thousands of students who come to Galway to learn English every year make a significant contribution to the local economy.

From the host families they stay with to the hotels and shops they work in, and the tour companies who bring them on weekly excursions to Connemara and the Aran Islands, foreign students make an immense contribution to the economy.

Language schools contribute an estimated €880m to the national economy and there have been pleas for the Government to provide support to a sector which is facing a very uncertain future.

Three of the country’s biggest and most established schools are in Galway (Atlantic, the Bridge Mills, and Galway Cultural Institute), so the difficulties faced by the sector are a cause for concern locally.

Almost all the language students who come to Galway go on day trips to the Aran Islands, Connemara, or the Cliffs of Moher at the weekends, using local companies like Lally Tours and Aran Ferries.  Meanwhile, trips on the Corrib Princess and outings to Galway pubs for special student nights out are scheduled into their weekly timetables.

While there’s no roadmap for when language schools can reopen, these places rely primarily on advance bookings from students who plan their trips to Ireland months or even years in advance. It is hard to see too many people in Brazil, Spain, or Italy planning to come to Galway to study English in the near future.

For those who were already here when the schools shut down on March 12, it has been a surreal time. Many of them choose Galway because of its famed night life and compact size. And they found it strange to see roads and beaches deserted and pubs and restaurants closed during the first few weeks of the lockdown.

Among them are three students who came here in February, with plans to spend months studying English at Galway Cultural Institute (GCI) in Salthill.

They are Kayla Isabel Sandigo Davila, originally from Nicaragua; Nadia Bea Gonzalez from Granada, Spain, and Caio Eduardo Batista from Brazil.

They were given no notice when the Government announced on a Thursday at lunchtime that all schools in Ireland were shutting down.

It was a strange time, they recall. Some students never got a chance to say goodbye to classmates or teachers. Some of their friends wanted to go home as the places where they worked part-time were also closing and they wondered what they’d do with their time.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Italian archer brings whole new outdoor leisure pursuit to Loughrea

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An eagle-eyed Italian has converted a cohort of locals in Loughrea into archery enthusiasts – in the heart of their local forest.

Mattia Cestonaro set up Loch Riach Traditional Archery, the first field archery club in Galway to be affiliated to the Irish Field Archery Federation (IFAF).

After raising nearly €800 in public donations, he established the course geared to different levels in a forest located in Peterswell on the Slieve Aughty Mountains.

Field archery has participants shooting at various targets. The targets may be concentric circles, animal faces on paper or 3D animal targets, from a variety of distances, which can be marked or unmarked.

There is a main course layout in a loop shape, where small groups of archers, typically up to four, walk around and stop at each station to hit a target.

The club is a non-profit organisation with the main aim to promote our beloved sport in Ireland.

“This is a sport for everyone, we have kids, adults, families shooting together. It’s some mighty fun,” enthused the native of Vicenza in north-eastern Italy.

“This is an exciting new activity for the local community, as well as to visitors from other counties and clubs.”

Mattia has created three small bridges to cross the river in different points using pallets on the course located on over 160 acres of forest. There are currently 14 targets spread out over 1.5km, crossing different types of terrain.

The club teaches a ‘traditional, instinctive way of shooting’.

“It is a challenging course with different tricky shots, uphill, downhill, between trees. We tried as much as we could to use natural backstops to make the shots look as natural as possible,” he explains.

“We think our club as a group of friends who share the same passion, we organise many social activities and we encourage members to volunteer in the club’s activities.”

The main course is made entirely of 3D targets.

“We believe there is nothing else like the sight of a realistic 3D target in the forest.”

Several of the first courses held last July sold out. The courses in August completely sold out.

It costs €50 per person for four weekly classes lasting an hour and a half, with the minimum age of eight set for participants. Archers aged under 18 must have at least one parent participating in the course with them.  Adult membership of the club costs €60 for the year, while kids pay €30, which includes membership to the social club.

“There was an overwhelming response to our first beginner courses and an ever more surprising conversion rate, which saw the 100% of those who completed the course become members of the club. This was amazing and already repaid the months of hard work in the woods,” enthuses Mattia.

The club will now concentrate on making sure all the new members receive proper support during their first months in the archery world.

Mattia was doing field archery in Italy but took a few years off until he got the opportunity here over three years ago to reignite his passion.

“I went back into it thanks to my friend Enea, who is the son of the iconic Italian character Papetto, who is one of the greatest masters of Instinctive shooting and whose values and philosophy he is trying to promote and keep live for over 45 years.

“This is the same I’m trying to do with the club, I am offering beginner courses where we cover all the basics of field archery and where I try to spread my archery philosophy which has the social aspect of this discipline in his core values.

“To put it in simple words, I’m in love with this sport, and I try to transmit my passion to other people.”

The Italian moved to Ireland from Italy in 2014 looking for a change in lifestyle. After three months in Clifden, he transferred to Galway and found a job in supply chain with Schneider Electric, where he continues to work.

In December 2020 he bought a house in Loughrea and moved in with his partner Tatiana.

“It was a huge step in our life, and we couldn’t be happier with our choice. We found a lovely welcoming community, everyone is so kind with us and there is so much to do around here: from the lake which is at our doorstep, and we walk daily with our dogs, to the numerous sport activities available.”

Mattia plays with the Loughrea Rugby Club and recently helped organise a group of 14 Italian teenagers to visit Loughrea from his old club, the Rangers Rugby Vicenza. They stayed with host families and trained with the Loughrea RFC for a week.

Mike Feerick of Ireland Reaching Out said he and wife Eileen regularly get behind the bow and arrow on a Sunday morning after completing a beginner’s course earlier this summer.

He has praised Mattia’s hard work, with the support of Coillte, in turning an area of Slieve Aughties into a recreation hub.

“It’s interesting that someone has come to live among us and helped us strengthen our community, starting a new pastime in the locality which takes advantage of the wonderful hinterland we have in East Galway.”

“It is a big undertaking for any one person – but he has persevered and indeed succeeded.”

Mattia has plans to expand the course with new targets and create a bigger training range.

“We plan to create nice picnic areas for members to spend time together with benches and tables and some shelter for the rainy days. We also plan to host the first official IFAF shooting in 2023, where people from other clubs from all Ireland will come over to compete as part of the IFAF annual calendar,” he explains.

“The future ahead is exciting, and I am very proud to be able to offer something different to a community which is giving so much to me and my family in terms of quality of life.”

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Connacht Tribune

Hurdle cleared for Claregalway traffic calming and flood relief scheme

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A dispute over land acquisition that threatened to sink a long-awaited traffic calming scheme and flood relief works in Claregalway has been resolved.

A meeting of the Athenry Oranmore Municipal District councillors heard that an agreement had been reached with the landowner, enabling the Council to proceed with its plans to install a surface water drainage scheme at the bridge.

Cllr Jim Cuddy (Ind) said following repeated representations, he had been assured that a resolution had been found.

“I have been informed that we are waiting for Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) to come back to the Council to tell them to proceed,” said Cllr Cuddy.

This came as councillors hit out at the lack of progress on the project, with Cllr James Charity (Ind) pointing out that it had been three years since they approved the project.

“I have had a lot of complains in the last few days about flash flooding in Claregalway, on the street outside Centra . . . we’ve mentioned it in here ad nauseum,” he said.

“It is very frustrating for communities and residents up there that this is not progressing – it’s a long-standing problem that’s being put on the long finger.”

Cllr Albert Dolan (FF) said it was disappointing that having approved the project in 2019, councillors were being kept in the dark and had received no official communication from the National Roads Project Office (NRPO) to explain the delay.

“It’s three years on and we have not seen any progress . . . the Athenry Oranmore councillors are not happy that this has been delayed for so long without being given a reason,” said Cllr Dolan.

Cllr Charity suggested that a representative of the NRPO should be invited to a meeting of local area councillors to explain the lack of progress.

“If the matter is progressing, we need an update from them. Resolution with the landowner is one thing but the TII committed to this in 2019, so now there is a question of funding as well,” said Cllr Charity.

Cllr Liam Carroll (FG) concurred and said with the increasing cost of construction materials, funding would need to be addressed without delay.

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Connacht Tribune

HSE-owned houses have been left lying empty for past four years

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A local councillor has expressed his fury at the fact that two structurally-sound houses in Gort have been lying idle for the past four years by their owners, the Health Service Executive – despite families locally crying out for a home.

Cllr Gerry Finnerty wants a system put in place to insist that the owners of any long-term vacant properties should ‘use it or lose it’.

The two adjoining houses at located in a prime location on the Ennis Road in Gort and while they are structurally in good shape, they have become overgrown and there is even vegetation growing out of the chimneys.

According to Cllr Finnerty, the imposing two-storey properties could each house a family of five or six if they became available on the market.

The councillor has raised the deteriorating state of these two houses with the HSE on a number of occasions but has not got any satisfactory response.

“They are just sitting on their hands,” he remarked.

“Shame on them at a time when people are really struggling for accommodation and these two dwellings could easily be brought back into use before they deteriorate any further,” Cllr Finnerty added.

The houses were originally owned by Gort Mental Health Services – but due to running costs, upkeep and a lack of clients it was decided to offload these properties which were then taken over by the HSE.

At the time it was expected that the HSE would put them to some use, but they have not been occupied since they acquired them and parts of the dwellings are now boarded up.

The properties have their own entrance, two large rear gardens and two car garages. However, on closer inspection, some of the tiles are falling off the roof and there is vegetation growing out of one of the chimneys. The exterior has also become overgrown.

Cllr Finnerty explained that the HSE had been approached by both himself and a number of concerned asking them to either sell them off or utilise them but the response has been vague.

“No state body should be allowed to leave property vacant at any time not to mind in a housing crisis that currently. It should be a case of use it or lose it.

“The Government are out of touch in relation to what is happening out there. This is just one example of property that could be occupied going to waste.

“If the amount of vacant properties were brought back into use, it would certainly go some way towards addressing the crisis,” he said.

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