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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.


‘Furore’ over rezoning plan for access to B&B on Headford Road in Galway



From the Galway City Tribune – Councillors have voted to rezone a small section of Terryland Forest Park from recreational and amenity use to residential.

A majority of elected members also approved the insertion of a specific objective into the new Galway City Development Plan 2023-29 that would allow an entrance to the site through Sandyvale Lawn.

This was to facilitate safe access to a home and B&B business off Headford Road, which had become dangerous due to the recent changeover of Kirwan roundabout to a traffic lights junction.

Residents of Sandyvale Lawn, a 100+ housing estate off Headford Road, had objected to the proposals, and so too had Tuatha Terryland Forest Park, an alliance of volunteers and organisations.

The Office of Planning Regulator (OPR) and Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, as well as his planning department and recreational and amenity department, had all objected to the changes.

The rezoning, and insertion of a specific objective to facilitate an entrance to the estate, was contained in the same material alteration that came before councillors, but they were obliged to vote on them separately.

Several councillors argued that a new entrance to Sandyvale Lawn was necessary to facilitate safe access to a B&B on Headford Road.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

Cllr Mike Crowe (FF) said the family who owned this business and home had been treated poorly by the City Council during the reconfiguration of the Kirwan roundabout to a signalised junction.

Referencing the large opposition to the proposal, he said the “furore over this is astounding” and argued the impact on green space and the Sandyvale Lawn estate would be minimal.

Cllr Crowe said the proposal was about creating a safe exit and entrance.

Cllr Frank Fahy (FG) said there had been a number of near misses of cars coming in and out of the B&B, which were captured on video.

He said the current system, whereby an amber traffic light allows access to the B&B was “haphazard and dangerous”. He feared there would be a fatality if a new entrance was not approved.

“I don’t like to rezone RA [Recreational & Amenity] land but in this situation we don’t have a choice. We have to remedy a dangerous situation,” Cllr Fahy said.

Cllr Colette Connolly (Ind) said RA land was “absolutely sacrosanct” and she would not vote to rezone.

She asked what the legal position was regarding a rezoning of green space, which residents claimed had been paid for through a green levy applied 40 years ago when the estate was built.

Cllr Owen Hanley (Soc Dem) said he had voted initially to include the material alteration to support the B&B owners, as the removal of the roundabout had made access more dangerous for them.

But he said he would now support the residents of Sandyvale Lawn who had opposed the change.

Cllr Declan McDonnell said the family had lived there for 50 years and now it was more dangerous accessing their home through no fault of their own.

He said it was not safe that they have to enter and exit their home on an amber flashing light.

In a submission, residents of Sandyvale Lawn said the new entrance would negatively impact their estate, by increasing traffic, noise and an addition risk to children playing. They said it could be turned into another rat run like Ballinfoile and Tirellan. They also argued against the loss of green space.

Submissions also objected to the loss of the green space which was part of Terryland Forest Park, dubbed the ‘lungs of the city’.

Mr McGrath asked councillors not to rezone the land and not to insert the specific objective for a new entrance.

Both changes, however, were approved. The RA to R rezoning passed by a 12-5 vote and the specific objective for a new entrance passed by 11-5.

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Money-back vending machines set to be rolled out in Galway



From the Galway City Tribune – Galway’s first ‘reverse vending machines’ – which reward the public for recycling plastic bottles and aluminium cans – are set to open in Doughiska.

German supermarket giant Lidl has sought planning permission to roll out the money-back machines under a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) which was first introduced in a Dun Laoghaire branch last year.

The company wants to make changes to the Doughiska store – including the demolition of the existing entrance pod and removal of the shopping trolley bay – to make way for a DRS room with five vending machines.

The machines will accept plastic drinks bottles and cans – for each one deposited, custoemrs will receive a 10c voucher for spending in Lidl, up to a maximum voucher limit of €2.

According to the retailer, each machine can collect and process up to 17,000 units each week – this will equate to 1,500 tonnes per year when the system is rolled out at all 170 stores in Ireland.

City Council planners are due to make a decision on the planning application – which also includes the construction of a new standalone sheltered bay for shopping trolleys and the relocation of a number of ‘blue badge’ parking spaces – shortly before Christmas.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscriotion costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.


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Councillors ignore zoning advice of City Hall, Planning Regulator and local campaigners



From the Galway City Tribune – Two agricultural sites in Roscam have been rezoned by city councillors to allow for housing to be built – despite strong objections from planners.

Councillors voted to rezone from agriculture (G) to residential (R2) a 1.67-hectare site close to the coastline in Roscam.

Cllr Noel Larkin (Ind) proposed the material alteration, and it was seconded by Imelda Byrne (FF) and supported on a vote of 13 for, three against, one abstention and one absentee.

Save Roscam Peninsula, a lobby group of local residents, had campaigned against the rezoning.

The Office of Planning Regulator (OPR) said it was contrary to national and regional planning policy, and the Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, and the Planning Department team strongly advised elected members not to rezone.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

Mr McGrath said that the G zoning are predominantly agriculture lands “but also have an important natural environment and landscape value, which distinguishes them from less visually sensitive and amenity rich agricultural lands”.

Cllr Larkin said that the reason he was proposing the motion was to allow the landowner to build a family home. He insisted it was for immediate family.

Senior Executive Planner Caroline Phelan said moving from agriculture to residential zoning “is not to facilitate a family home”.

Cllrs Frank Fahy (FG) and Declan McDonnell (Ind), who both supported the material alteration, said the landowner had to move to Craughwell due to planning issues at the site.

Cllr Fahy said the land was zoned agriculture, but the owner was not permitted to farm on the site.

“If you can’t carry out agriculture on an agricultural site then there is something seriously wrong with our planning system,” he said.

Ms Coleman said that site was close to a monastic site, Roscam tower and church, which were protected structures of archaeological interest.

The site is also at a protected panoramic view, she said, and there were concerns the rezoning would conflict with that.

Mr McGrath said rezoning the land would be contrary to national and regional policy.

“This site is located in an area that is at a remove from existing water and wastewater services and lacks proximity to the existing public transport and pedestrian networks. To allow this rezoning would represent and uncoordinated piecemeal approach to zoning. Expanding residential use in this area is unsustainable and will create additional demands for services and essential infrastructure,” he said.

The current zoning helps climate action by “supporting carbon sequestration and extensive biodiversity” and it forms a “buffer between the built environment and the coastline”, he said.

Meanwhile, another site in Roscam was also rezoned from G agriculture to R2 Residential against the advice of planners.

Some 14 councillors voted to rezone the land and insert a specific objective that it is for one house reserved for the immediate family of the landowner.

The 0.877-hectare of land

Senior Planner Helen Coleman said there was no requirement for additional residential lands.

Ms Phelan said the rezoning would not be democratic, sets a precedent and would undermine sustainability.

Mr McGrath urged them to retain the existing zoning otherwise it could “erode the character of the area” and conflict with planning policy.

(Main map shows the 1.67-hectare site close to the coastline in Roscam, smaller map is of the 0.877ha land)

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