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Volunteer families play host to people with disabilities



Caring for someone with a mental or physical disability can put a lot of strain on families and the individual alike. Thankfully, there are services operating in Galway which can lighten this workload somewhat.

The Home Share scheme was introduced to the county in 1985 and originally recruited families to provide support for children with disabilities for weekend breaks over the summer months.


The programme is provided by voluntary organisation Ability West in partnership with the Brothers of Charity and has grown exponentially since its inception. There are now up to 80 families who offer regular support to people of all ages with mental and physical disabilities.

The scheme is broken up into three areas. Short breaks entails volunteer hosts – families, couples and individuals welcoming people with disabilities to their homes on a regular basis for short periods of time. This can be for a few hours a week, for weekend visits, or for longer holiday-type breaks.

Contract Home Sharing is an extension of this. Host families are required to provide rooms to individuals for a longer period – usually up to 16 nights a month. They can take a single guest for this period or may have a succession of guests to which they have been carefully matched.

The host family receives an annual payment and additional expenses based on the needs of the guest per night completed.

Shared living then is when volunteers offer full or part time accommodation to adults with disabilities, although there are limited opportunities for this in Galway as of yet.

Audrey Reilly, Respite and Community Services Manager with Ability West, says that the scheme centres around offering respite to families with a disabled member.

“The scheme gives the natural family of the disabled person a break and an opportunity to step out of their normal routine for longer periods of time. But it is also quite beneficial for the disabled person availing of our services as well. They are afforded a break from their family which helps them become more independent and form real friendships outside their next of kin.”

The organisation maintains that breaks which involve staying with a host family are universally considered to be much more socially inclusive than respite in traditional segregated services.

Those wishing to volunteer and host a disabled person must go through a bi-annual six week training course and undertake a rigorous vetting process.

“There is a lot of paperwork involved I will admit,” says Audrey. “The requirements to become a host are quite liberal, however. The host family does not have to be a man and woman with children. It can be either or, with children or without, employed or unemployed. All that is needed is home space, a genuine interest in helping and caring and being able to meet certain criteria.”

The organisation looks for what skills or experience a prospective volunteer might possess and how they may deal with certain crisis scenarios during the training course.

After the course is completed, volunteers partake in an assessment not unlike the one required for foster care and a social worker goes to their home to gauge what a family can offer and their own experiences if any with special needs.

Even children are spoken with to see if they would be okay with another child or adult coming to stay with them.

All of this information, as well as Garda clearance, medical records and the provision of three references, are collated by the social worker with their own reference and given to a panel made up of representatives within Ability West and the Brothers of Charity from which they can make their decision on the eligibility of a volunteer.

“Home share acts as a mediator then between host family and natural family. They match individual with special needs with the host family on the basis on what the individual’s needs and what the host family can provide. Things like house location, if the individual has transport needs, if the family has children and so on.

“Each party then is given a penned picture of the other; should they decide upon a match, they meet in a school or day centre and can usually tell from there if the arrangement is going to work or not. We reach a three way agreement and set up when the individual can stay with the host,” Audrey says.

The organisation provides support to the host family and individual then on matters such as wheelchair accessibility, sleeping, toilet, hygiene, education, religion needs. All avenues of difficulty are catered for – which is a testament to the experience and quality of the organisation.

Recently the practice guidelines for hosts were put in accessible book form and will be made on the website at in the near future. Those interested in the scheme can find more information there also.

Audrey herself is adamant about the merits of the programme. “The scheme provides something worthwhile and fulfilling for the volunteer host and the differently-abled person. Families receive companionship and a chance to make a difference to the lives of everyone in their households and that is truly worth pursuing.”

Connacht Tribune

One half of Hollywood’s golden couple sings Galway’s praises after trip



Magic Mike star Joe Manganiello and his chihuahua Bubbles, with Fergus Lally of Galway’s Celtic Chauffeurs at the Cliffs of Moher.

He may be married to the highest paid actress in the world, but that did not stop Magic Mike star Joe Manganiello savouring the best that Galway had to offer – hailing the people, the cheese, chocolate and salmon during his trip west.

The American actor, who played stripper Big Dick Richie in Steven Soderbergh’s box office hit Magic Mike, was not joined by Modern Family’s Sofía Vergara until a week later on his trip around Cork.

But he did ring his wife of six years in the US while exploring the countryside of south Galway and Clare with guide, Fergus Lally, who had picked him and his chihuahua Bubbles up from the Glenlo Abbey Hotel in Bushypark on the city’s edge.

“I had a great time with him. I brought him to the Cliffs of Moher and along the way we stopped off at the Hazel Mountain Chocolate factory, the cheese shop at the Aillwee Caves and he had a tasting at the Burren Smoke House in Lisdoonvarna,” reveals Fergus.

“He had an amazing time tasting all the foods. The back of the car was full – everybody did well out of him. He was blown away with the places I brought him. He loved the history of the Corcomroe Abbey and Dunguaire Castle in Kinvara. He was a great guy. I was delighted to drive him. The two of us just clicked.”

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

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Connacht Tribune

Covid-19 outbreak compounds UHG crisis



UHG's Emergency Department.

As Government applied the brakes on the planned full reopening of society this Friday, the West’s largest public hospital remained in a state of crisis – dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks, large numbers of patients and lengthy wait times in its Emergency Department and postponed elective procedures.

An outbreak of Covid-19 at University Hospital Galway (UHG) was having a significant impact on critical care services, Saolta University Healthcare Group has warned.

UHG confirmed it was dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks on two wards of the city hospital. A further two wards were being used exclusively to treat Covid positive cases.

This was impacting other patients – elective procedures were postponed at UHG this week due a lack of beds.

On Monday, 41 patients with Covid-19 were being treated in UHG compared with 19 the same day last week.

Portiuncula was treating eight Covid positive patients on Monday, twice as many as last week.

There were two Covid patients in ICU in Ballinasloe and six in ICU in UHG; there were four in ICU in total at both hospitals last week.

Saolta said that people presenting at the Emergency Department in UHG were experiencing long waiting times.

“The hospital has seen a significant increase in patients presenting to the hospital and many of these patients are very sick and need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment.

“As a result of the ongoing pressures and lack of bed capacity a number of elective procedures are being postponed. Patients are being contacted directly if their procedure is being postponed,” Saolta said.

Read the full story – and our latest on Covid-19 – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download the digital edition from  

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Connacht Tribune

Galway lecturer’s transatlantic story of Boston dynasty and Irish roots



Larry Donnelly, with the Bostonian, on the grounds of NUI Galway.

Of all the transatlantic cultural differences that greeted Bostonian Larry Donnelly on arrival in Galway, the search for a clean towel in something called a hot press left him puzzled and perplexed most of all. He also came to quickly realise that Hoover had so conquered the vacuum cleaner market that the brand name had become a verb.

But the Boston-born son of an Irish father and Scottish mother – from a famed American political dynasty with roots firmly embedded in Galway and the west – found infinitely more that united his old and new home than divided them.

His voice is familiar to radio listeners from his frequent analysis of American politics; his thoughts are already well-known to readers of his weekly column in – and law students at NUIG have benefited from his expertise in that field on both sides of the Atlantic.

He spent a fair portion of lockdown writing the Bostonian, a biography in part – not just his own, but of his family and his uncle, US Congressman Brian Donnelly (the man forever synonymous with the Donnelly Visas) in particular.

Typical of him, he rarely puts himself centre-stage but what he succeeds in doing is putting his life, his work and his journey into context. He was a man with roots on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean long before he ever made the journey to live here.

The photo on the cover of the Bostonian sets out the stall for the book, uniting uncle and nephew in an iconic pic; US Congressman Brian Donnelly marching in the 1983 Dorchester Day Parade in Boston – and an eight-year-old Larry Donnelly in the baseball cap looking up in wonderment.

“I’d always intended it to be a book about more than me. I particularly wanted it to be the story of Brian’s political career because that deserves to be told – but I didn’t think he would allow that to happen, because he has always loathed the limelight,” he says.

Read the full story – and an exclusive excerpt from the Bostonian – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download the digital edition from  

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