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Students can get free year on Aran with island scheme




In our native tongue you might call it a ‘bua bua’ situation – there are students who love Irish or just want to improve their grasp of the language and there’re are island schools that needs to keep up pupil numbers . . . so if you marry the two, everyone’s a winner.

Which is why the Island Scholarship Scheme may well be one of the best ideas – as well as one Ireland’s best kept secrets.

Funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, ‘Scéim na bhFoghlaimeoirí Gaeilge’ offers a once in a lifetime opportunity vis-à-vis full scholarship for an entire academic year on the five offshore post-primary schools in Ireland.

Three of them are on Aran – Coláiste Naomh Éinne on Inis Mór, Coláiste Ghobnait on Inis Oírr and Coláiste Naomh Eoin on Inis Meáin – along with Gairmscoil Mhic Diarmada (Óileán Árainn Mhór), agus Coláiste Pobail Cholmcille (Oileán Thoraí) in Donegal.

Recipients of the €5,000 scholarships are awarded the golden opportunity to experience total immersion in Gaeltacht life and culture.

Places are open to students from first to sixth year, and boarding accommodation with a host family is also provided.

“The schools on these islands are the heart and spirit of their respective communities,” says Bríd Ní Dhonnacha, Príomhoide at Coláiste Ghobnait on Inis Oírr.

But depopulation of offshore islands coupled with changing demographics and a modern persuasion towards smaller families, poses a very real threat to the future prosperity of Gaeltacht island communities.

Census figures reveal the five islands shared a collective population of 4,506 in 1901, compared with 1,909 in 2011 – that’s a 42% drop in population.

But this is a two-way street – because while the schools need the students, there’s plenty in this too for the visiting students themselves….the culture, recreational activities, friendliness and sense of community that life on a small island brings

From an academic perspective, the immersive experience offered by their scholarship programme, says Bríd, “could be the difference between your first choice and your second choice” – because, as she says: “when it comes to the CAO, those five or ten points are gold dust”.

These island schools commit themselves to cultivating the inquisitiveness of youth, quenching their thirst for knowledge and instilling confidence in conduct of their teanga dúchais.

But Bríd also admits that these offshore schools also face “unique challenges” not experienced by mainland schools.

It’s hard to find teachers who are willing and able to teach through Irish at second level – and then to convince them to live on a remote and secluded island.

Last year, the €1,658 island allowance for offshore teachers was cut from the budget. Bríd says this supplement needs to be reinstated – immediately.

“It is not attractive for teachers to apply for a job on an island school,” she says.

“With it comes leaving your family on the mainland and relocating to the island. It would not be feasible to commute on a daily basis to the islands and often there are not full teaching hours with the vacancy.

“For teaching on an island to be enticing, we need to have the island allowance reinstated,” she says.

Other crucial proposals also need to be implemented to safeguard the future of island schools.

These include ensuring air services between islands and the mainland, reinstating island allowance, increasing teacher quota from one to 2.5 (to allow for curricular provision), and increasing the schools budget by €10,000 (to offset additional transport and servicing costs), ensuring there are at least two management roles per school.

They also want to increase the number of residential scholarships from ten to twenty per island school.

“These are not wants – they are needs – for island schools to survive,” she insists.

Despite their troubles, island schools also possess distinct advantages like their low pupil to teacher ratio, ‘way above average’ CAO points, wide range of extracurricular activities and sporting facilities, safe environment, independent learning and personal development.

One scholarship student with Coláiste Ghobnait, Inis Oírr, said the experience “opened my eyes to my heritage, nationality and the realisation of how important community and culture is”, adding that both host family and teachers helped to create a “positive learning experience”, bestowing her with “the gift of enriching my Irish”.

At the moment, the schools are struggling to cope with budgetary cuts to financial aid and lack of resources – and it’s a fight they are determined to win.

“If there’s no school, there’ll be no island life – it really is the heart of the community. We want to keep the islands inhabited and keep the culture alive,” says Bríd.


Salthill funfair enjoying busy tourist season

Denise McNamara



The operators of Curry’s Funpark in Salthill are reporting a busy tourist season, despite a delayed opening and ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

While it is nowhere near the busiest season since the amusement company took over the fun fair site in Leisureland in 2014, they are delighted at how the shorter season has been going under difficult circumstances.

With a separate entrance and exit in place and customers expected to queue apart from each other, numbers have been reduced in the park. But opening hours have extended from 11am to 11pm to allow the public to avail of longer hours to enjoy the rides, explains owner Owen Curry.

“There’s a good turnout of people and a great response from our customers at being open. This year adults in their 20s are really coming in the late evenings, whereas before we would have been quiet in those last few hours.

“There’s nothing like getting out in a bit of fresh air and do something together. Without a doubt there are a lot more Irish people this year and an awful lot of them are people who haven’t ever been to Salthill which is surprising.”

After initially bringing in the equipment in February to prepare for a St Patrick’s Day opening, at one stage it looked like it would all have to be removed when lockdown was introduced, with Owen running the business from his home in Derry.

Were it not for the great support he got from the business group The Village Salthill, the park may never have opened on July 1, he says.

The opening happened after a two-day inspection, all staff undergoing courses and a lot of work implementing all the guidelines set out in a 90-page document for the operation of amusement parks.

“All our other events have been cancelled – we’d normally have equipment travelling around the country to festivals and events. We were delighted with the support and help from other businesses in Salthill. They helped with advertising and getting the word out there.”

While the park is weather dependent, he enthuses that Salthill is at least blessed to have Leisureland, the Aquarium and plenty of cafes and restaurants alongside the famous beaches and Prom.

“The staycation is definitely working for Salthill – despite the weather,” Owen remarks.

Still lit in the signature Big Wheel is the blue heart in honour of those working at the frontline during the pandemic.

“It was originally meant to be a digital screen for advertising and when we couldn’t open we decided to light a blue heart as a thank you to the front line workers until the Covid finished – we didn’t think it would be still be there but that’s the world we’re in.”

The funpark’s season is likely be extended into the Autumn.

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Galway Pride Festival makes the move online

Denise McNamara



The Pride Parade in Galway last year.

For the first time in its three decades of breaking taboos, Galway Pride will not be holding a parade.

Instead, organisers have switched to a full schedule of almost exclusively online events.

There will be just three events out of more than two dozen where people can gather for Galway Pride week, which begins today (Monday).

There will be the traditional flag-raising event in Eyre Square at midday to mark the launch with a number of speakers and those attending will be asked to social distance and wear masks.

On Wednesday evening, they will host the annual vigil in Eyre Square, while on Sunday morning, a new event will see the community on their bikes for a coffee and cake session in collaboration with the Galway Cycling Campaign.

Last year for the festival’s 30th anniversary, an estimated 2,000 people marched through the city in the parade – a cornerstone of the celebration – with thousands more lining the streets to watch.

Event chairperson Scott Green said that having even a limited number of chances to meet and come together in person safely is really important for the community.

“Undoubtedly isolation is difficult for us all and sometimes it can be taken for granted that your home is a safe and welcoming place. For too many members of our community that safety is not guaranteed.”

“The safety of our community is paramount and so for those who cannot join us in person we will bring our passion and vibrancy to you digitally until it is safe for us all to meet again.

“This will not be a stereotypical Pride but it will still have the same heart and soul put into its organisation,” Scott said.

The Community Awards 2020 will honour those who have been important role models, ran campaigns and helped out in community groups

Several panels will also take place across Pride with topics on anti-racism, mental health, workplace well-being, activism, and trans and non-binary voices.

On the entertainment side, there will be music nights, ‘movie watchalongs’, and a rainbow cake tutorial.

Scott says like many organisations, Galway Pride has had to “learn on our feet” to put together a suitable schedule.

“We had imagined a very different Pride before Covid-19 but we have gone ahead with a mostly virtually calendar of events to deliver another Pride Week because we know how important it is for our community.”

The theme for Pride 2020 is ‘Ní Neart Go Cur Le Chéile’ or ‘strength through unity’.

“It’s a sign of the times in many ways. Never before have we all had to stick together by making choices and sacrifices not just to keep ourselves safe, but to keep others safe. It’s why this year we have dedicated our ‘virtual grand marshal’ role to all healthcare care workers, for exemplifying these selfless principles.

“There are those that are increasingly trying to target the most vulnerable of our community and increasing incidents where a seedy underbelly in our society attack our community members with the utmost of bile. The LGBT+ community stands completely united, and united we will continue to progress as a society.”

All events can be accessed through the Galway Pride Festival Facebook page.

(Photo: Last year’s Galway Pride Parade).

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One year wait for hearing of criminal trials in Galway

Enda Cunningham



It takes up to one year for criminal trials to be heard in Galway Circuit Court, according to new figures from the Courts Service.

According to the service’s newly-published annual report for 2019, in the Galway courts area, it took an average of 9-12 months for criminal trials to go to hearing, which is unchanged from the 2018 figures.

The shortest waiting times in the country were in Carlow and Tralee, where cases are heard at the next sitting of the court, while the longest wait was in Monaghan at 18-24 months.

The wait for sentence hearings (from the trial date where a guilty plea was entered) in Galway was 3-6 months, unchanged from the previous year.

Appeals are heard following a 3-6 month wait, which is an increase from two months recorded in 2017 and 2018.

The report shows that civil cases – both trials and appeals – and Family Law cases (contested, non-contested and appeals) are generally heard at the next sitting of the Circuit Court.

Civil trials in Dundalk can take between 12-18 months to be heard, while contested and appealed Family Law cases can take 6-12 months.

Meanwhile, in district courts in Galway, domestic violence barring order and protection order applications take four weeks to be heard – the previous year, such cases were held at the next sitting of the court.

However, urgent applications relating to domestic violence in Galway are heard on the next day the district court sits.

Criminal summonses in Galway District Court can take 16 weeks to be heard (the previous year it was a 12-15 weeks wait), while charge sheets are heard at the next sitting of the court, the same as the previous year.

Summonses in Carlow can take 20-28 weeks to be heard, while in Tralee, the wait is 8-12 weeks.

In Family Law sittings in Galway, applications for maintenance or guardianship take between 4-8 weeks to be heard, compared to 6-8 weeks the previous year.

Last year, civil cases took 16 weeks to reach the District Court here, compared to an 8-12 week wait the previous year.

That compares to 12-16 weeks in Portlaoise and Letterkenny and four weeks in Roscommon and Waterford.

In the High Court, waiting times for civil and family cases stood at two months, unchanged from the previous year and the shortest in the country. The longest wait was recorded in Limerick at 25 months.

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