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Connacht Tribune

Women on crest of a wave with daily swim for 35 years



The Blackrock Lady Swimmers pictured recently (front, from left) Mary Wade, Muriel Silke, Pauline Henry, Alice Parsons and Pamela O’Donovan, with (back) Monica Sweeney, Patsy Callinan, Maureen Farrell, Anne Grete Gormley, Frances Daly and Mary Nee. PHOTOS: JOE O'SHAUGHNESSY.

Lifestyle – A group of women who began taking a daily dip in the Atlantic more than three decades ago have formed firm friendships as a result of year-round swimming, sharing each other’s joys and sorrows and being there for each other through thick and thin. They tell DARA BRADLEY about its benefits and how they welcome the new people who’ve taken to the beaches during Covid-19.

When a series of swimming lessons given by Sr Noelle, a Mercy Sister, finished at Leisureland one summer many moons ago, a group of women on the course decided they’d go sea swimming the following week at Ladies’ Beach.

That was 35 years ago this year – and the group is still going strong, swimming daily in Galway Bay at Salthill.

In the beginning there were about 15 of them, who swam every Wednesday. Then they upped it to three times a week, and now it’s a daily endeavour for a hard-core group of a dozen women who are affectionately known as the Blackrock Lady Swimmers or BLS for short.

The twelve are Alice Naughton, Alice Parsons, Francis Daly, Mary Nee, Mary Wade, Muriel Silke, Monica Sweeney, Pauline Henry, Anne Grete Gormley, Maureen Farrell, Patsy Callanan and Pamela O’Donovan.

“Some of us had never been to the beach and certainly never swam at the beach,” recalled Pamela O’Donovan, who hails originally from landlocked Boyle in County Roscommon but has lived in Maunsell’s Road for 50 years.

“It was an off-shoot of swimming classes we were doing with Sister Noelle. From there we got a love of the sea. Some of us were only beginner swimmers and some were quite good swimmers. Some of our group have gone on to get teaching certificates in swimming; they’re qualified and teach swimming in Leisureland,” she said.

Initially, the women used to stop sea swimming for the year in October. But one year, possibly 1990, a ‘brave heart’ among them suggested a Christmas swim – and 2020 marks their 30th dip on December 25.

“I remember the first Christmas we were down there, we had our hats on, and musician Benny O’Connor, who plays melodeon, serenaded us down to the tower!

“We were only one of a few groups there on Christmas Day that time and now you can hardly make your way down to the tower, it’s become so popular,” Pamela said.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

‘Give even one big GAA game to Ballinasloe’



It’s the most centrally located ground in the country but Ballinasloe’s Duggan Park won’t host a single inter-county match this year – much to the annoyance of one local councillor who wants the GAA to allocate at least one big game to the venue.

Cllr Michael Connolly told a meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council that the ground is entitled to host major football and hurling fixtures – even though all but one of the Galway footballers’ home league games are assigned to Pearse Stadium with the other one in Tuam.

“If they gave us one match in Duggan Park, it would be something,” he said. “But at the moment, it seems as if it is being ignored.”

The Moylough councillor described it as the most accessible ground in the country and a venue in which players and supporters like to travel to – unlike, he suggested, Pearse Stadium.

He said that it was “a hateful venue” and few GAA supporters relished the prospect of travelling to the “far side of the city” to watch a football or hurling match.

A recent meeting in Gullane’s Hotel to discuss Duggan Park was attended by Deputy Denis Naughton, Senator Aisling Dolan, Cllr Evelyn Parsons and Cllr Declan Kelly among others.

But the Duggan Park Committee then issued a statement saying that the ground is owned by Galway GAA and any use of the facility needed to be authorised – and no authorisation was given to the meeting organiser, former Mayor of Ballinasloe Joe Kelly, for this purpose.

Mr Kelly has been a staunch campaigner for the redevelopment of Duggan Park and has called on the local authority to row in behind this initiative.

They went on to say that there is a plan in place for the development of Duggan Park which is multiple staged which started with the new dressing rooms, flood lights and a new entrance to the venue.

Planning permission is in place for this development and that €500,000 has already been spent in the Duggan Park over the past number of years carrying out these projects.

The work in the ground, they say, is done to an excellent standard by local contractors with the support of the previous Town Council for grants and sports capital grants.

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Connacht Tribune

Former tourism magnet officially on register of derelict sites



The fire-ravaged hotel that was once one of the most popular in the county is now officially considered a derelict site – and that has led a local councillor to call for it to be either redeveloped or levelled.

Portumna’s Shannon Oaks Hotel, for so long popular with anglers and golfers in particular, has been boarded up for more than a decade since it was destroyed by fire.

Local councillor, Jimmy McClearn, has called on the owners to reopen or sell the property – adding that it should either be levelled or redeveloped.

“We are a tourist town and we need a hotel. The last thing we want is for a hotel to be shut up,” he said.

“It is a fine facility and on an extensive site so there is no reason why it should be boarded up,” he added.

The Shannon Oaks saga has gone on for the past twelve years – but now the owners, the multi-millionaire Comer brothers, will be forced to pay a derelict site levy if they do not reopen or redevelop.

That amounts to a seven per cent levy based on the market value of the property, which is worth around €1 million even in its derelict state.

The Shannon Oaks was ravaged by fire in September 2011 and four years later, the site was acquired by the Comer Group who, at the time, gave an undertaking that it would be reopened.

Around two years ago, planning permission was granted by Galway County Council to Barry Comer of the Comer Group to renovate the hotel by providing 60 new bedrooms along with 40 apartments to the rear of the structure.

However, there has been little or no movement on the site since then and now the owners are being again asked to give some indication as to when the hotel will be rebuilt.

It is considered an integral part of the tourism industry for the town and that is why pressure is mounting on the owners to rebuild the hotel.

Cllr McClearn said that all he is asking for is the owners to develop the site and provide a hotel there. “It’s not much to ask in a tourist town,” he added.

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Connacht Tribune

More than €200,000 worth of cannabis seized in East Galway



More than €200,000 worth of cannabis was seized in during two separate search operations in East Galway on Saturday.

Gardai from the Divisional Drugs Unit conducted a search at a residence in Aughrim and seized cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €146,000 and €20,000 worth of cannabis herb which will now be sent for analysis.

Two men (both in their 30s) were arrested at the scene in connection with the investigation and are currently detained at Galway Garda station under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996.  Both men remain in custody.

A separate search was carried out at a residence in Ballinasloe yesterday afternoon and cannabis herb with an estimated street value of €35,000 was seized. Cannabis jellies and €7,510 in cash were also seized.

A man in his 40s was arrested and later released without charge and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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