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Connacht Tribune

The Belle of Ballinasloe

Judy Murphy



Author Nuala O'Connor with her new book, Becoming Bella. “I’d love to have done more of Belle in Ballinasloe, but the real juice of the story was how she got here,” says Nuala. Photo: Hany Marzouk.

Lifestyle – A music-hall star in Victorian-era London who ended her days in County Galway is the subject of a new book of historic fiction. Judy Murphy meets the author Nuala O’Connor.

When you’ve lived with someone for more than three years and have become increasingly attached to them during the time, it can be tough letting them go.  Novelist Nuala O’Connor felt that sense of loneliness when sent the final draft of her latest book, Becoming Belle, to its publishers.

It’s based on four tumultuous years in the life of Isabelle (Belle) Bilton, a music-hall star in Victorian London who ended her days in Ballinasloe as the Countess of Clancarty and is buried in the grounds of the town’s St John’s Church.

It’s an extraordinary story, beautifully told by Nuala who first encountered Belle four years ago, through an arts collective she’s involved with in Ballinasloe.

The diocesan secondary school, Garbally College, was the theme of a show they were working on. Most of the group are visual artists, but Nuala (who also writes as Nuala Ní Chonchúir) is a poet, short-story-writer and novelist, so she had to take a different approach. As she began researching the history of Garbally and its previous residents, the Le Poer-Trench family, she came across Belle Bilton and was hooked.

Here was a woman who’d became a London music-hall star at 19 and shortly after, had had a child outside marriage – a big no-no in Victorian times. But instead of ending up on the streets, as so many in her situation did, Belle went on to marry William Le Poer Trench, Viscount Dunlo, and moved to Ballinasloe where the couple had “five children and were a tight unit”, according to Nuala. Belle died from cancer, on New Year’s Eve, 1906, aged just 39.

Dublin-born Nuala, who has previously journeyed into historic fiction with Miss Emily, based on the life of American poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish-born maid, Ada, was smitten by Belle, a woman who thrived, despite breaking the strict rules of Victorian England.

In some ways, there were resonances with her own life. Born into a very Catholic family, Nuala, too, had a child outside marriage in her early 20s, while studying at Trinity, and despite suggestions that she give him up for adoption, Nuala held firm. Cúán is now 24, older brother to Finn and Juno.

Our interview takes place in their warm, quirkily decorated Ballinasloe home, filled with art and eclectic pottery as well as a lively rescue dog, which her husband Finbarr is tasked with keeping under control – a tough task.

After the Garbally project, Nuala knew she wanted to write about Belle, focusing on one period in her life.

“I decided to write about how she got from one place to another; from being a music-hall actress to Countess of Clancarty, looking at those four years,” she explains.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Exploring the merits of moving into the west

Dave O'Connell



Mary Kennedy with Carol Ho, one of the Galway interviewees for her new TG4 series, Moving West. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Broadcaster Mary Kennedy has an abiding image of those early mornings when she’d set out from Dublin at the crack of dawn to begin work on another day’s filming down the country with Nationwide.

“I always liked to go in the morning rather than stay there the night before – so I’d be on the road early. And from the moment I’d hit Newland’s Cross, all I’d see was a line of traffic of people trying to make it from home to their workplace in Dublin,” she says.

These were people whose day began before dawn to get their bleary-eyed kids ready to drop at a childminder along the way, so they could be on time for work – and then race home to hopefully see those same kids before they went to sleep.

But if the pandemic had a positive, it was the realisation that work was something you did, not a place you went to. As a result, many people finally grasped the nettle, moving out of the city and sometimes even taking their work with them.

Which is why Mary – busier than ever since her supposed retirement from RTÉ – is presenting a new television series called Moving West, focusing on those individuals and families who have, as the title, suggests, relocated to the West.

One of the programmes comes from Galway, where Mary met with Stewart Forrest, who relocated with his family from South Africa to Oughterard, and Carol Ho, a Hong Kong native who has also settled in Galway.

The TG4 series also stops off in Sligo, Mayo, Kerry, Clare, Roscommon and Leitrim.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from

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Connacht Tribune

Community’s tribute to one of their own – saving final cut of turf after his passing

Dave O'Connell



Well saved...members of St Brendan's GAA Club honour their departed stalwart, John Geraghty, after a record-breaking evening saving his turf.

A local community responded in force to the death of one of their own – a man who had given so much of his life for the good of the parish – by paying one last practical tribute to him last week.

They lifted and footed his turf.

John Geraghty – or Gero as he was known – lived for Gaelic football and he’d filled every role imaginable with the St Brendan’s GAA Club since he came to live in Newbridge in 1983.

He’d cut the turf before he died last Tuesday week, but there it lay, until his old GAA friends organised a bunch of guys – made up of the football team, friends and neighbours – to meet in the bog last Wednesday evening to lift and foot/clamp John’s turf.

“Upwards of 50 fellas from the community showed up,” said St Brendan’s chairman Gerry Kilcommins.

Which was just as well, because, as Gerry acknowledged, John – himself a two-time chairman of the club in the past – had a lot of turf cut!

“It took up an area around three-quarters of the size of a standard football pitch,” he said.

Not that this proved a problem, given the enthusiasm with which they rolled up their sleeves for their old friend.

They started at 7.30pm and had it done at 7.55pm – that’s just 25 minutes from start to finish.

Read the full, heartwarming story – and the St Brendan’s GAA Club appreciation for John Geraghty – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from

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Connacht Tribune

Liver donor dad would do it all again in a heartbeat

Denise McNamara



Daddy’s girl…Sadhbh Browne with her very special message on organ donations. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

It is nearly two years since Paddy Browne gave his daughter Sadhbh part of his liver to save her life. And just ahead of Father’s Day, he reflects on how he would do it all over again in a heartbeat, without a single moment’s hesitation.

After an initial testing time in the first six weeks when they beat a path to the intensive care unit after the operation in St King’s Hospital in London, Sadhbh has never looked back.

“She’s thrived and thrived and thrived. She skips out to school every day. She loves the normal fun and devilment in the yard. She’s now six and started football with Mountbellew Moylough GAA, she loves baking, she’s a voracious reader – she’ll read the whole time out loud while we drive up to Crumlin [Children’s Hospital].”

But it could have all been so different.

Sadhbh from Mountbellew was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia shortly after she was born. She quickly underwent major surgery to drain bile from her liver. It worked well until she reached three years old when an infection caused severe liver damage and she was placed on the liver transplant list.

She was on a long list of medication to manage the consequences of advanced liver disease. While she lived a full life, she would tire very easily.

Paddy was undergoing the rigorous process to be accepted as a living donor when one of the tests ruled him unsuitable. His brother Michael stepped forward and was deemed a good match.

Then, further tests revealed that Paddy was in fact eligible for the operation and the previous result disregarded as a false positive.

Read the full, uplifting story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from

Organ Donor Cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. You can also visit the website or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to your phone.

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