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CITY TRIBUNE

Well-known Galwayman becomes charity ambassador

Denise McNamara

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One of Galway’s true characters has become an ambassador for the homeless charity which helped him turn his life around.

Dennis Connolly spent more than three decades on the streets of Galway battling alcoholism, which led to countless spells behind bars.

He was a regular in Judge John Garavan’s court, often for abusing passersby and breaking into shops. He previously told the Galway City Tribune he must have smashed the window at McCambridge’s around 10 times.

“There were times there that I used to have to break it to get locked up, because it was too cold. I would go in, and get the winter over.”

Dennis had known very little comfort in his younger life. Originally from Fursey Road, Shantalla, his mother died in 1959, when he was six.

Two weeks after he made his First Holy Communion, Dennis was sent to St Joseph’s Industrial School in Salthill because his father could not care for him. He remained there for nine years.

He then went to live with his aunt in the city in 1966 but was unable to settle. Despite short spells in work, he ran away to England where he first slept on the streets while still only a teenager.

He was returned home when UK authorities realised he had been reported missing. At one point he ended up being sent to St Brigid’s Psychiatric Hospital in Ballinasloe because there was nowhere else for him to go.

A brief spell with his brother Gerald in Dublin was soon followed by a pattern that would haunt his life – living rough on park benches and in doorways, in and out of hostels, while drinking himself to oblivion.

It was only after near death that he got to grips with his addiction.

On January 5, 1991, he was one of five homeless men sleeping in an abandoned van on Merchant’s Road near the Spanish Arch when a nearby 10ft wall collapsed during a storm. Minutes before he had scrambled out, pulling two of the men out behind him.

He was unable to arouse two others, Patrick “Pa” Dodd (27) and John Mongan (20), and they were crushed to death by the falling stone.

During the tragedy he had sustained broken toes which were left untreated. Eventually he was unable to get out of bed with threatened gangrene. Doctors told Dennis he would need several operations to save his legs and they would not operate unless he quit alcohol.

Faced with the prospect of losing both legs, Dennis gave up drinking on the anniversary of his mother’s death in 2004. He moved into supported accommodation run by the Galway Simon Community. Apart from some brief lapses, he has stayed sober since.

He first came into contact with Galway Simon in 1979 when some of the charity’s original volunteers visited him on their soup run.

“They were my only friends at that time. I’ll never forget how it felt to be treated like a human being, like I was worth something. At the beginning they used to come three nights a week to talk to us and bring us soup and sandwiches. Only for them I would be dead a long time ago,” he reflects.

“Back then people ignored you if you were homeless, you were kept down, you had nothing at all. I never had any possessions, only what I wore. If the shoes went, sometimes I would put cardboard in them. Christmas was the loneliest part of the year. You had nothing. You had no Christmas dinner. You never mix with anyone when you’re homeless. You’re a lonely person.”

In 2015 Dennis moved into a Council flat while still receiving support from Galway Simon.

“I’m in my own little paradise now,” he exclaims.

Dennis, who is fronting Galway Simon’s Christmas appeal, insists there are no hopeless cases.

“Look at me years ago, I changed my life and I don’t drink today. I’m years off the drink and I did it for myself. I can’t stop thinking about the people, including friends of mine, who weren’t as lucky as me. Galway Simon didn’t give up on me.”

■ Visit galwaysimon.ie to make a donation.

CITY TRIBUNE

“It will be akin to the notorious Rahoon flats”

Enda Cunningham

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The Rahoon flats, which were built in 1972 and demolished in 1998, widely regarded as a failed social housing project.

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – More than 700 local residents have signed a petition against plans for the construction of 330 apartments in Knocknacarra – which have been likened to “the notorious Rahoon flats”.

Child safeguarding concerns have also been raised by the principal of Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh – who pointed out that the apartments will look directly into 19 classrooms.

A total of 27 objections were lodged against Glenveagh Living’s plans to build 332 apartments in six blocks – ranging from four storeys to seven storeys in height.

Locals have demanded An Bord Pleanála hold an oral hearing into the plans – that planning authority is due to make a decision by March 20, although it can decide to hold such a hearing first.

A computer-generated image of the Glenveagh plans for the site opposite Gort na Bró and beside Gaelscoil Mhic Amhlaigh.

One of the objections – which accuses the developer of designing “tenement style” homes in a “blatant attempt to profiteer from the housing crisis” – was signed by more than 700 local residents.

Another objector said the development was “akin to the notorious Rahoon flats, with people being packed on top of each other”.

Locals have raised concerns about the huge number of apartments planned; overshadowing of homes; inadequate open space, playing pitches and community infrastructure; parking and traffic problems; low quality of design and road safety.

Glenveagh Living did not respond to a request from the Galway City Tribune for comment.
This is a preview only. To read extensive coverage of the Glenveagh plans and objections, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. Buy a digital edition of this week’s paper here.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Arts fraternity rallies as Theo faces deportation

Denise McNamara

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Less than a year after being invited by the Arts Council to perform at a conference about diversity in the arts, a musician, DJ and rapper – who is about to embark on a project for Galway 2020 – is facing deportation.

Theophilus Ndlovu left Zimbabwe after what he claims was a lifetime of abuse at the hands of the people who were supposed to mind him.

His mother left when he was just six years old and he never met his father. He was placed in the care of an unofficial foster family but it was never a happy arrangement.

“These people I stayed with were abusing me. They were never my family. I was running away from persecution and abuse and the way I was treated by these people. I had to fend for myself since I was ten years old,” he recalls.

When Theo was 20, he saved up enough money from mowing lawns and selling chickens to escape, arriving in Ireland where he sought asylum. Authorities placed him in a Direct Provision Centre in Finglas for a fortnight before he was transferred to the Great Western Direct Provision Centre off Eyre Square, where he has remained for nearly four years.

Almost immediately, Theo felt at home.

“This is my family. Galway is where I found my voice. It has become my home. It is just where I’m meant to be.”

Theo has immersed himself in the arts community and has become a leading hip-hop artist, known as Touché, performing regularly at venues such as the Róisín Dubh and the Black Gate. He was instrumental in getting fellow asylum seekers and refugees involved in music collaborations.

He is a founding member of the multicultural music project ‘Atmos Collective’ and has facilitated numerous music workshops in Galway, “teaching, motivating and inspiring hundreds of young people along the way”, according to co-founder Alice McDowell, an Australian filmmaker and fiddler.

The collective was recently granted funding by the Galway European Capital of Culture 2020 committee to host community music workshops in the city and county over the next year as part of their ‘Small Towns Big Ideas’ scheme.
This is a preview only. To read the rest of this article, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. Buy a digital edition of this week’s paper here.

The petition is available online HERE

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CITY TRIBUNE

Regeneration funding sought for community centre

Stephen Corrigan

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A computer-generated image of the proposed communit centre in Newcastle

From this week’s Galway City Tribune – With a decision imminent on planning permission to build a new community centre in Newcastle, city councillors will be asked next Monday to support an application for major government funding to proceed with the project.

A motion by Councillor Eddie Hoare (FG) will seek the approval of the City Council to make an application for funding under the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF) – an overall fund of €2bn available for major infrastructural projects in cities.

Chairman of the Newcastle Combined Community Association (NCCA) Seamus Davey said that they expected a decision on their planning application by the end of January, and were hopeful of getting the support of councillors for this funding application.

“While planning permission hasn’t been granted yet – it has dragged on a bit because of a request for further information – we expect to have it approved soon.

“This project will be shovel ready and as soon as we get planning permission, we’ll have the engineering documents drawn up. As soon as we have funding, we’ll be putting it out to tender,” said Mr Davey.

The Council is set to reach a decision on the application on February 6.

The proposal for funding under the URDF has to come from the Council so it is crucial the project got the full backing of Council members, Mr Davey added.
This is a preview only. To read the rest of this article, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. Buy a digital edition of this week’s paper here.

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