The Battle for the ‘Heart’ of Galway

As the new year begins it’s time to reflect on two major recent planning decisions in Galway that have the potential for long-term adverse impacts on the sustainable development of city and its hinterlands. Although separate schemes both are very much interconnected to a wider vision of how, and in what way, Galway should grow and develop for the betterment of people who live, work and travel into and out of the city. The first of these is located within the city centre, the other is set to traverse the city but allow the expansion of the city in an unplanned ad-hoc manner.

The €104 million Bonham Quay scheme has recently been given approval by An Bord Pleanála. The development has an adjacent separate €25 million accommodation scheme for 345 student resident units, which has also received planning permission. The Bonham Quay development was granted permission by An Bord Pleanála after the developers successfully argued that the student accommodation fulfilled the residential component of their application. In October 2018 the Cabinet approved the €600 million proposal for a bypass project in Galway city. The proposed 18km route runs from the east side of the city to a location close to the village of Barna, and will mean about 40 properties along the preferred corridor will be subject to compulsory purchase orders and demolished to accommodate the road. Advocates for this new road argue the scheme will reduce traffic congestion and improve journey times in and around Galway.

It is envisaged that the construction of the seven-story building at Bonham Quay will employ some 500 people construction workers and on completion the site will accommodate some 2,600 office workers. But how many of these will live adjacent to their workplace? And yet, it was argued that this particular development will have minimal impacts on traffic in and around the city centre. The conflicting signals given with regards to automobility in the city are stark. Part solution to Galway’s sporadic but chronic traffic congestion is to reduce or eliminate the use of the private car from the city centre. Yet, at the same time and with one single development, several thousand workers will seek to travel directly in the city centre without any alternative sustainable ways of doing so other than driving a private car. No reasonable attempt has been made to provide additional living accommodation for these workers close to their work who, based on evidence from previous CSO figures, will largely come from outside the city; and there are little or no attempts to provide and promote active or sustainable modes of transport such as cycling or public transport for these workers. But a number of enlightened solutions to tackling traffic gridlock and regenerating the city already have been fleshed out and are available in the progressive Galway City Development Plan document, which seeks to span from 2017-2023.

The need for diversity and mix-use development is incredibly important for city (re)development and regeneration. This was first suggested by Jane Jacobs in the early 1960s and still retains it’s potency and relevance today. To truly understand cities we need to acknowledge and embrace the notion that combinations and mixtures of use and residential diversity are essential components to improved urban liveability and quality of life. Moreover, the contemporary trend in the US, for example, is for large employers and corporations, particularly in the tech industry, to relocate to city centres when local environments merit such moves.

The Housing Strategy seeks to ensure that a mixture of house types and sizes is provided to satisfy the requirements of various categories of households, including the special requirements of elderly persons and persons with disabilities and to counteract undue segregation in housing between persons of different social backgrounds.

(Galway City Development Plan, page 24)

This provides us with a tremendous opportunity for the proper development of the Galway dockland brownfield sites (the Ceannt Station site is the next major development to be decided upon in this particular locality). But the best and brightest talents that major companies and corporations must attract and retain are no longer interested in suburban living, with its associated long daily commute. They want to live close to their work and enjoy the vibrancy of city community living, with its rich and varied quality of life. These workers are not seeking unaffordable housing with long commutes to a job where they work in isolation. They prefer the accessibility, infrastructure and cultural vibrancy that cities provide and where innovation thrives.

New residential development in particular has contributed to the vibrancy of the city centre. The Council will continue to encourage residential development by requiring a residential content of at least 20% of new development in the city centre. Exceptions may be made on small scale redevelopment sites. On certain key sites in the city centre namely the Ceannt Station lands, Inner Harbour and the Headford Road LAP areas, a higher residential content of 30% will be required.

(Galway City Development Plan, page 36)

The aim of any city (re)development and regeneration plan should be to create attractive and balanced residential neighbourhoods; transforming the prospects of a place depends on creating environments in which people would choose to live in and which provide benefits for existing residents. What point a city in which no one want to lives? The Galway City Development Plan specifically focuses on this and – although I don’t agree with every facet of the plan -thus is a considered strategy for the future planning and development of Galway in a sustainable manner. But on their first test of credibility city planners, decision-makers and, indeed, An Bord Pleanála have all failed to satisfy conditions they themselves support for the better (re)development and regeneration of the city. Even if you were to argue that student accommodation alone is appropriate as a residential component – it isn’t – does 345 units make up the 30% as set out in the Plan? And what about transport in and out of the city centre? How does the construction of an expensive ring road around the city fit into this particular overall planning approach? On the one hand we are asking motorists to avoid coming into the city centre, and at the same time planning for approximately 3,000 workers to do just that on a daily basis.

The objective of the strategy is to help address the transportation issues experienced in the city and the environs. It recognises the need to do so in an integrated, sustainable manner that aligns transport investment with settlement patterns, travel movements and also supports a sustainable use of land as promoted in the Core Strategy. This implies an approach that supports opportunities that will reduce congestion and car dependency through increased capacity of reliable public transport and the promotion and facilitation of cycling and walking, which in turn promotes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

(Galway City Development Plan, page 15)

The City Development Plan clearly outlines the strategy objectives with regards to reducing car dependency in the urban environment but, in the case of the Bonham Quay development and proposed ring road, does not have any plan or approach to dealing with the potential significant increase in commuting into and out of the city centre. Why make progressive and forward-thinking plans if we don’t even attempt to stick with them? I don’t feel obliged to be a cheerleader for economic development over and above the other pillars of sustainability – the social and environmental – (many of our politicians and decision-makers do that often enough) so I can be forgiven for not joining in with the chorus of approval for the new Bonham Quay development or the proposed ring road as its currently envisaged. Of course it’s crucial for such large brownfield site in the city to be redeveloped – I grew up, raised a family, and continue to live in the city centre; who doesn’t want a future for their children close to their family home – but such schemes must be accomplished in a holistic and sustainable manner. Galway City Council commissioned a way forward in this respect with the City Development Plan so why then, at this first opportunity, is this progressive strategy for the (re)development and regeneration of the city cast aside in favour of developer-led planning? And why do we continue to send out conflicting and confusing signals to motorists that we want them to avoid coming into the city centre but would like them to work, but certainly not live, there?

Visit the (Café) Temple to Lift the Soul!

I’ve been trying to get better. While I’m convinced and committed to the concept of, and need for, local sustainability – economically, socially and environmentally – my actions have not always mirrored these firmly held views and beliefs. The value-action-gap is the space that occurs when the personal and cultural values or attitudes of an individual do not correlate to their actions. More generally, it is the difference between what people say and what people do. I’ve been trying to narrow this gap in the recent past, and I’m slowly getting better. So to make amends for my failings I’m seeking to promote some innovative and inspiring local enterprises that are focussed on sustainability and social good.

I like my coffee. In fact, I often find it difficult to function properly in the morning before I’ve had one or two cups of ‘Joe’. In pursuit of my fix outside the confines of my home and workspace I seek out coffee shops that offer a somewhat different experience; where the coffee is good, the staff are pleasant and long-term (reflecting a good relationship with the business), and where the food is sourced locally and  prepared onsite. One such enterprise that I’m a recent fan of and is well worth checking out is Café Temple in the Cornstore on Middle Street, with another entrance directly from Augustine Street.

Café Temple prides itself on being a social business inspired by the work of Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. The business model is founded on the idea of donating all profits to local charities and in this sense they work with organisations such as COPE, SERVE, and other such local charitable organisations. Their ethos is also to focus on local, organic, ecologically sound and homemade produced foods, as far as reasonably possible, and they work with local artisan producers in this respect. This ethos is reflected on their menu where they state:

We want our customers to see the value of food, to see how what we eat affects how we feel, while also eating and drinking good food made with care and passion. Both Seb and Steve truly believe that the only way to see change in the world is to be the change that you want to see, oh and as Mammy always said ‘eat your vegetables’

They also promote the notion of a ‘suspended coffee’. Patrons are asked to consider, if they have some surplus monies to spend, purchasing an additional coffee, taking a slip, signing it with a message, and placing it on the ‘Karma Coffee’ board. These can be then be claimed by anyone who is in need of a cuppa and for whatever reason doesn’t have the money to pay for it at that given time. This is done in a non-judgemental manner and can bring a small element of happiness to someone at a particular moment of time. Great idea; giving far outweighs receiving, in my opinion. So give Café Temple a try if you’re looking for something a little different and, as they state on their menus; ‘Feed your mind, Fuel your Body, and Free your Soul!’

Submission to the Integrated Transport Management Programme for Galway

Transport Management’s Key Objectives

Ireland’s transportation system has been acknowledged at Governmental level as unsustainable for nearly a decade now . The ‘predict and provide’ policy paradigm has become wholly outdated and is having significant and on-going negative impacts on the environment, entire communities and neighbourhoods, and people’s overall health and well-being. While new thinking on transport and mobility is required, this should draw upon existing European and international best practice, while appreciating the unique cultural features and aspects to our city and environs, to create a new and sustainable transport model for Galway. Moreover, escalating traffic congestion should not be seen merely as a by-product or an unavoidable symptom of economic success. Instead, traffic congestion is typically a sign of significant economic, social and environmental losses. It indicates a transportation system that is not economically efficient. As a result, reducing private car usage in favour of sustainable modes of transport will result in substantial economic gains for the city of Galway and its surrounds and should be the principal focus for any new transport management programme or measures.

The Key objective of any new traffic management system for the city and urban areas of Galway should be, first and foremost, to significantly reduce the use of the private car in favour of more sustainable modes of travel including walking, cycling, public transport and carpooling. Car dependency is economically and ecologically destructive and exacerbates social exclusion for those who do not have access to (or who wish to forego) a private car. There is a critical need to prioritise the most vulnerable (and yet more socially and environmental sustainable) road-users in the first instance to create a healthy, vibrant, liveable city for all inhabitants and visitors to appreciate. With this in mind, a hierarchy (prioritising) of mobility options should be put in place which seeks to strongly promote more sustainable modes of transportation, such as follows:

1.  Pedestrians/Walkers
2. Cyclists
3. Public Transport Users
4. Carpoolers/Dynamic Ridesharing
5. Taxis
6. The Private Automobile Users.

I am opposed to the construction of a new bypass for Galway on a number of grounds. Firstly, such a large-scale project favours the continued (and indeed increased) use of the private car over all other modes of transport. Such a substantial construction project broadly focused on expanding car use in and around the urban areas of Galway will greatly negate any attempts to promote more sustainable and health mobility options. Simply put; more road space means more private cars! Furthermore, any such road will have a detrimental impact and damaging consequences for the communities and local environment in which this road will traverse. No real meaningful cost-benefit analysis, which takes cognisance of its many social and environmental effects, has been undertaken to my knowledge. In any instance, given that there is little evidence that people want to bypass Galway, the case for any new road remains largely unproven and will not result in any reduction in traffic congestion, and air and noise pollution in the metropolitan area of Galway.

Pedestrians/Walkers

Walking remains one of the most healthy and sustainable modes of travel for many individuals. Walkability refers to how safe, friendly and accessible walking is in a given neighbourhood or community and many factors influence walkability. Common elements of the built environment include continuous, level pedestrian walkways and pathways; safe, accessible crossings; pedestrian-friendly lighting; suitable motorised vehicle speed; limited number of lanes, and sufficient street width. Other factors that positively influence walking and walkability include real and perceived safety from crime, unsocial behaviour and aggressive dogs, graffiti and rubbish/waste, maintenance of trees and green areas, safe and easy access to desired locations/destinations (such as parks, schools, shops, libraries, the post office, etc.), public amenities like benches, drinking fountains, public art, toilets, and rubbish bins, among many others. Walking connects people to places. In the case of Galway, walkability is not prioritised, many pedestrian walkways are in poor condition, pedestrian crossings are inadequate and badly located, and traffic speed in the city is not conducive to the notion of walkability. Furthermore, the needs of local communities are seldom considered when designing walkways and crossing and it is crucial that local consultation take place with such communities in order to understand their needs, desire, fears and apprehensions so as to allow walking become a legitimate mode of transport in Galway; a healthy option with minimal social and environmental disadvantages and available to all citizens to enjoy.

Cyclists

Cycling is recognised as a sustainable, health mobility option that has little negative effects or consequences for the environment. It is an effective way of moving large numbers of people through an urban environment as evident from some major European cities such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin and Portland in the US. At present (and as a regular cyclist) the cycling infrastructure in Galway is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of such a vibrant, young city. The limited cycle pathways that exist are patchy in many places and not well maintained, with tarmac surfaces that are particularly prone to weather damage. Road and commercial signage is frequently sited on many of these cycle lanes creating dangerous obstructions and a hazardous cycling environment. In addition, the cycle stop-ways at traffic junctions are frequently ignored by motorists creating unsafe conditions for cyclists. Traffic speed is also not conducive to safe cycling in Galway. In order for cycling to become an integral part of the transport system the construction of an interconnected cycling pathway that connects all parts of the city should be constructed. The location of these pathways should not be an attempt to ‘hide’ cyclists from public view, rather they should traverse all available local amenities and facilitates and impress a strong level of legitimacy on cycling that has, heretofore, been severely lacking in Galway. These cycle lanes should be constructed to the highest international standard, be well lit, and accessible to cyclists of all ages and abilities. To further enhance cycling in the city, careful consideration should be given to bylaws that prevent motorists intimidating cyclists in their daily pursuit, such as preventing the overtaking of cyclists within a two mile radius of schools and greatly reduced vehicle speeds in built-up areas.

The Galway Bike Share Scheme needs to be extended to additional locations right across the city that would help increase the number of individuals using this service. Presently, the location of the bike stations (all located in the city centre) is hindering the development of the scheme. New stations should be located in areas that will afford an opportunity for commuters, students, visitors and others to avail of this service. These stations should be located initially in Salthill, the Westside and around the Dangan area in the west of the city; and in Renmore, Mervue, the GMIT campus on the Dublin Road, Ballybane and Ballybrit in the east of the city. Consideration should also be given to the large communities to the north of the city centre in Ballinfoyle and Menlo. A strong focus and attention to intermodal connectivity, especially for commuters, should be prioritised. Such a focus has proved very successfully for the Dublin Bike Scheme in the past.

Public Transport Users

The promotion of Public Transport should be a key consideration for any new Integrated Transport Management Programme for Galway. At present, the city and environs are not well served by Public Transport and city officials should become much more engaged with public and private transport providers to deliver a better integrated service that will help remove many private cars from the city and urban areas. One of the more obvious examples of this is the mono-centric nature of Bus Éireanns route selection which forces all buses to enter the city centre at some stage of their route. That no Public Transport bus crosses the Quincentennial Bridge, given that the majority of residential areas are located to the west and the majority of industry located to the east, is a stark indication of the lack of thought and unified thinking with regards to the provision of Public Transport in Galway. In addition, the bus lane network should be greatly augmented to prioritise the use of Public Transport over solo-occupancy car dependency. Better consultation between public and private transport providers and their customers, city officials, researchers and sustainable transport advocates, is required in order to increase the modal share in favour of Public Transport users and reduce the necessity for incessant private car usage in and around the city of Galway.

I am strongly in favour of the provision of a light rail service for Galway city and its environs. The thoughtful Gluas/SUIG proposals should be re-considered and a light rail solution more robustly supported in opposition to any new costly road construction project that will have a limited effect on traffic congestion in and around the city. Any new Integrated Transport Management Programme for Galway should not be short-term in nature and instead envision the city as we would like to live in some twenty or thirty years’ into the future. My vision is one of a real integrated and interconnected transportation system that principally relies on walking, cycling and public transport (of which a light rails system is an integral part) rather than a private car dependant congested urban area that is unliveable for its inhabitants and unvisitable for many tourists and other visitors.

Carpooling/Dynamic Ridesharing/Taxis

A more practical and economical use of the automobile is required to provide an additional ‘public service’ role for transportation in Galway. In pursuance of limiting solo-occupancy car travel, a programme of incentivising carpooling and car sharing should be undertaken in Galway. In conjunction with business and industry, this can take the shape of preferred car-parking for commuters who carpool, i.e. reserved parking spaces close to work entrances, the provision of on-site notice boards, intranet use, and other facilitates to organise such ride sharing, and a programme of incentivising such behaviour amongst workers and management. In addition, the provision of adequate taxi rank spaces should receive attention, as well as seeking agreement with all taxi firms on a standard and regularised set of charges for each destination across the city. This will help promote stronger localised intermodal connectivity and transparency with regards to cost within the industry and allow individuals and groups plan their evenings out in the city, in terms of transport choice, needs and price.

Private Automobile Users

In any urban area there will still be a need for some level of private car usage and it is not my intention in this submission to in any way ‘demonise’ individuals who are habitually forced to use their car to travel the city. Indeed, I myself have and drive a car and understand the need for an automobile at specific times. My resolve is to strongly promote more sustainable modes of transport for the betterment of all the citizens of the city and environs and not just car drivers. Such a course of action, I believe, is respectful of the social fabric of Galway and is cognisant of the environmental burden imposed by disproportionate car-dependency. In any case, the views of car drivers are frequently over represented in national and local transport policy discussion & design.

The municipal space given over to private parking in Galway is excessive and should be reduced, in particular on-street parking. Whilst I appreciate that some level of local residential parking is required, there is a need to reduce the amount of public space that private cars currently occupy. There is sufficient capacity for private cars provided by off-street parking and this should be utilised in the first instance. The public space that car parking presently occupies should be transformed to enhance the liveability of these areas for the betterment of the residents and citizens of the city. In addition, providing seasonal ‘free on-street parking’ sends a mixed, confused message to commuters and visitors to the city and helps to increase congestion, noise and air pollution, and places additional burdens on the transport infrastructure, and as such should be discontinued.

Summary

Finally, to summarise and attempt to be more specific on the detail of my submission I wish to emphasis the following key points:

Bring to an end any proposal to construct an economic, social, and environmentally damaging bypass for Galway

  1. Take steps to limit private car usage and promote sustainable modes of transport such as walking, cycling and public transport
  2. Create a hierarchy of mobility/travel options in urban areas prioritising the most vulnerable (and alos most sustainable) modes of transportation
  3. Increase the walkability of Galway by providing adequate, safe, and public pedestrian walkways, and prioritise pedestrian crossings at all intersections (and shared public space) with other road users in the city
  4. Construct a network of safe cycling lanes connecting all areas of the city and its surrounds, adhering to international best practice in this regards
  5. Provide new docking stations for the Bike Share Scheme for many outlying areas and communities
  6. Provide a public forum for consultation with public and private bus operators to better serve the city and environs with Public Transport
  7. Provide a bus lane on the Quincentennial Bridge for Public Transport and private bus operators
  8. Increase the numbers and length of bus lanes in the city to support Public Transport usage
  9. Support the construction of a light rail system for Galway
  10. In conjunction with local business and industry, incentivise the practice of carpooling and dynamic ridesharing
  11. Standardise and publicise typical taxi journeys in and around the city and provide adequate safe taxi rank facilities
  12. Reduce unnecessary on-street car parking and abolish seasonally offers of ‘free parking’ which merely increases private car usage at the expense of sustainable modes of transport.

My ‘tuppence worth’ on Galway’s mobility management problem

While many progressive cities and towns across the globe now recognise the damage to the fabric of their communities, societies and the environment that car-centric thinking brings, in contrast Galway has embraced a ‘build a road at any cost’ approach to solving on-going mobility management problems. The dogma of ‘predict and provide’ – where road use demand is anticipated and we build to fulfil these frequently grand expectations – remains dominant in decision-making circles and pushes sustainable transport considerations to the peripheral. That towns and cities are designed for motor vehicles is so endemic and so engrained from decades of the automobile coming first, that people don’t actually see it anymore. But simply put; more roads and parking spaces means more cars! What is the natural end-game of continuous road building in a medieval city like Galway and what do such decisions tell us about the regard that people who chose to live and raise a family in the city are held in? Indeed, what evidence is there that people will use this particular bypass for the purpose its promoted (the number of trips made by people travelling from outside through the city to an external destination is less than five per cent of Galway’s traffic, it is argued), and what provisions are envisioned for people who choose healthier and more ecologically friendly mobility options like cycling and walking? Moreover, does anybody really believe that a new road will lessen or eliminate congestion around the heart of Galway?

When we talk of Galway’s traffic management problems it is just that; a task of ‘management’. The road network throughout the city is congested at some of the main arteries for at most 10% of the day and traffic flows freely and unhindered for the remainder. In this regards, even the most basic business mind would question the need for such exceptionally costly infrastructure given that the transport system is only busy for perhaps three or four hours out of every twenty four. We need to manage the road network we already have and only then should we consider turning over even more scarce public shared space and monies to the private car. With regards to cost, light rail for Galway was estimated at €600 million by Arup Consulting Engineers, who are leading the N6 Project, and they deemed a revival of the GLUAS project not to be cost-effective. While I recognise that GLUAS alone would not solve all traffic problems in the region, and there are genuine concerns about residential density, considering novel alternatives such as light rail and improved public transport will greatly benefit debates on regional mobility.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the car became an indispensable mobility tool that facilitates both traditional and novel forms of social and economic activity. In many developed countries people’s everyday mobility, such as their commute to work or for leisure activities, frequently depend on access to a private car, but in the case of Ireland we have become wholly car dependent. I drive a car myself and understand its need from time-to-time, particularly given the lack of alternatives. But ownership of a car does not afford the right of unhindered travel through a city or town at the expense of the people that choose to work, visit, live and raise a family there. Indeed, I should be forced to slow and sometime stop (smell the coffee and roses) and fully appreciate and respect that I’m travelling through people’s neighbourhoods and communities. My principal concern, therefore, is that car-centric thinking trumps everything and everyone. While it’s important that people travelling into and out of the city, whether they are workers or visitors, should be facilitated as efficiently as possible, this should not be done at the expense of people who have chosen Galway as their home, and the city’s urban design, social cohesion and genuine environment and sustainability considerations.

The limited available space of Galway and its surrounds has become a battleground with the car, once again, triumphing over family homes, communities, and environmental concerns. We need to rethink our urban space and environment and view it as a shared space for all to enjoy. Car-centric thinking and rhetoric has led to increased speeding on the new traffic system operating on Lough Atalia Road, Forster Street and College Road, leads to discourteous and illegal parking, and planning that promotes the use of the private car over the concerns of people living and bringing up families in the city and surrounds (just try this experiment; attempt to walk from Eyre Square to the hospital crossing the road only at designated pedestrian crossings and traffic lights and see how far you get). And therein rests the fundamental problem; we must reframe our conversations on mobility management not just with respect to private car use but what’s proper for every member of the community and society at large including people who live in these affected areas, people who choose to cycle and walk the city, and people who wish to use public transport. Many of these individuals and groups have been forgotten in our conversations on transport and mobility in Galway and abstracted discussions on ‘where should we build a road’. In this respect we are going in the opposite direction to recognised wisdom in developing a city (even our capital city Dublin is now discussing a radical plan to remove cars from the city centre). Any transport management system for Galway should focus on the city as a healthy place to live, where we enjoy living, where our children grow up in a safe healthy environment, we’re proud to welcome visitors, and not just a place that’s subservient to cars.

When Friday Comes!

Some of the many guys who have played on a Friday evening in Mervue

Each and every Friday evening for the past twelve years the all-weather pitch in Mervue is the venue for the greatest assortment of tough guys and cry-babies, divers and whiners, kickers, flickers, hoggers, cloggers and boggers, crossers, headers, no-gooders, spoofers, yellers, tacklers, show-offers and exhibitioners to have ever laced their boots in Galway. The gathering has evolved from an over-35’s kick around for some veteran Mervue players to an over 40’s, then over 45’s, and now closing in on a half century congregation made up of ex-players from a wide array of clubs whose main purpose is the lasting satisfaction of playing football at a competitive but enjoyable level.

There is a fundamentally social element to this regular get-together, one rooted in participation in sport and community in Galway. Many of the players have forged links and friendships competing against each other over the years for different clubs across the city. Mervue United, Cresent United, Bohs, West United, Hibs, Thermo King, Renmore… no quarter asked and none given during their playing days but always mutual respect which ultimately leads to lasting friendship. The power and enduring influence of sport, no matter what the code, is epitomised by this group, an assembly that has now evolved to having regular social get-togethers and trips abroad.

And so to the issue of representative football at national level for Galway. With three strong competing football entities vying for supremacy in a county with the carrying capacity of one League of Ireland team a solution to this impasse may not come from above, a cauldron of strong personalities and legitimate but narrow self-interest. Transformation and footballing realism is more likely to be decided and more sustainable from the ground up, a Galway Football Spring so-to-speak. Friday evening’s gatherings ought to be held up as an inspiration and provide motivation for comprise in this respect… but don’t hold your breath!

Whatever does happen one thing is assured; battle re-commences next Friday evening with plenty of commitment, arguments, slagging, anger, and sore limbs… and I can’t bloody wait!

Eamon ‘Chick’ Deacy; much more than a Legend!

Chick focussed on the ball | The Salthill Fives

Galway is in a state of shock with the sudden death of Eamon ‘Chick’ Deacy and for many the unexpected nature of the news has utterly devastated us. His passing, before starting his usual route delivering fruit and vegetables across the city, from a suspected heart attack leaves us reeling, much like being on the receiving end of one of the crunching tackles he was renowned for. The passing of someone loved and admired is always distressing, but the disbelief that it’s Chick is palpable. The man was the epitome of a sportsman; never smoked, rarely if ever drank, never over-weight, and had continued to play football when called upon to this faithful day. But he was more than just a sportsman; he was a gentleman and an unquestionable decent human being.

The term ‘legend’ is commonly overused and often simply lacing a pair of boots for a number of years is enough to earn that accolade. With this in mind, it’s not fitting to simply call Chick a legend because for so many he was more than just an ordinary footballer. Having been part of the famous fourteen at Aston Villa for the league winning 80/81 season and the foremost trailblazer from Galway to play football in the UK, the pride that we felt in him was (is) immeasurable. He was our representative at the top table of football, our ambassador, and he never let us down. Many who travelled on the West United trip to the game against Southampton that season spoke of ‘pride’ and recall the respect his teammates had for Chick, a respect that was extended to his family, friends, and neighbours from Galway. It was not enough for the players that day to simply meet and greet Chick’s Galway people they pushed the boat out transporting them to pubs and clubs across Birmingham, in their own personal cars. Somehow, in an age of multi-millionaire footballers I don’t think that same level of respect for teammates, and by extension family, friends, and neighbours, exists today.

So we mourn the passing of a true Galway sporting icon and hero today and his impact on our lives will be enduring. Chick had all the attributes that we should aspire to for our own self-realisation. He was quietly persistent, tough as nails on the pitch and humble off the field of play, with a kind self-effacing approach to life and to the people he met daily. He was undeniably called to the dugout far too early because, as usual, he was playing the game of life just like the true pro he will always be!

P.S. an aside for many Galwegians will be an interest in the photo accompanying this post. It was taken at the Salthill 5’s and some other notable Galway individuals are closely monitoring Chick’s close ball control.

It’s time for sport to be taken seriously as a social good

A Galway Supporter urges on her team

Galway truly needs a person, or organisation, to champion sports in the city and county. For too long Galway City Council, Galway County Council, politicians and other civic leaders have paid limited attention to the provision of modern sporting facilities and offered little support to sporting clubs and organisations throughout the county. It is my belief that many decision-makers in the county have no real understanding of the benefits, both from a health and social perspective, of participation in sports and thus treat the issue in an off-hand inconsequential manner. Instead, they prioritise issues that will be economically beneficial or will afford them a ‘peaceful’ working day and evening. The worthy effort, time, and resources spent attracting visitors to the city must be commended, the Volvo Stopover being a good case-in-point with Deloitte estimating that the stopover was worth 55 million Euros to the local economy [1]. Nonetheless, the focus of decision-makers is too frequently skewed towards attracting visitors to the city at the expense of the local populace, and in particular local sporting organisations and activities.

In 2005 the Economic And Social Research Institute, in conjunction with The Irish Sports Council, released a report on the social significance of sport in Ireland. The key recommendation of that report is that sports policy in Ireland should recognise and support the social aspects of sport, taking account of social bonding, community involvement, and general contribution to the effective functioning of society that it provides [2]. This social dimension of sport has attracted growing attention over the past number of decades in the context of an interest in ‘social capital’. The concept of social capital refers to the social networks, norms, values, and understandings that facilitate cooperation within or among groups [3]. This might be understood as simply a new term for ‘community’.

As a way of emphasising my point on the lack of reasonable facilities, I suggest that the majority of playing pitches vested with Galway City Council, particularly soccer, are in poor condition. When I visited West Park recently I was transported back in time some 30 years. This heavily utilised pitch remains the same as it was when I played schoolboy football, with the massive dip in the centre and a dangerous and uneven surface throughout. I also, of late, sat and watched games at South Park on a surface that would have Roy Keane blowing a gasket (remember Saipan). Crestwood, Millers Lane, Renmore, Cappagh Park, Westside, Oranmore, Jes Pitch (to name just a few that come to mind), all these pitches would fail even the most basic and rudimentary criteria set down for participation in the Mayo Soccer league. A report for Galway City Council some two years ago also focused on the fact that the majority of playing surfaces were well below the required standard for participatory modern sport activities [4]. It’s grossly unfair on players, managers, and teams who train twice weekly, if not more, to then risk injury every Saturday/Sunday on sub-standard pitches which are poorly maintained through no fault of their own (it’s important to note that Galway City Council forbids any work to take place on these leased pitches without their explicit consent).

It’s time for some action and it’s time sport was taken seriously by the powers-that-be. The progressive clubs like Salthill Devon and Mervue Utd are to be applauded for the enormous efforts they have put in to improving their facilities, but the city and county have many other smaller, and just as vital, clubs which allow the various leagues and cup competitions take place each year. They need help not bureaucratic stonewalling, they need support and assistance and, more importantly, they need encouragement. Sport is providing an extremely important social service in Galway and it needs tangible and practical support from our local leaders.

Mick Dolan: An Unsung Hero

Every cloud has a silver lining, or so the saying goes. As we plummet even deeper into the most damaging economic crisis in the history of the state it can be difficult to imagine, never mind witness, any sign of this silver coating. However, in our midst are unsung community activists who have given tirelessly of their time, effort and enthusiasm in the promotion of sport and the healthy development of young people long before, during, and now after, the last whimper of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ can be heard. These are people who understand the concept and deep need of community in the natural development of society. As we chalk down the last painful experience of buying bogus Bulgarian property we should appreciate these people and truly value their work and, perhaps, consider offering our support and a helping hand from time-to-time.

Just last week saw the passing of one of these individuals with the death of Mick Dolan. Mick lived for Gaelic Football and although a proud Roscommon man devoted most of his life to the promotion of football in Galway City. Mick’s club was Fr Griffins and he drew immense pleasure from the initial triumphant years, even writing the definitive early history of the club. When things became difficult and player numbers began to dwindle a lot of people threw in the towel and walked away, but adversity only served to increase Mick’s zeal and dedication to his club. He spent countless hours assembling teams and drove thousands of miles bringing players of all ages to games all over the county. He did have help but he’s tireless enthusiasm and can-do attitude allowed me, and many other, develop a love for the sport and build friendships that endure today.

The reasons for the club’s difficulties is straightforward. As the city developed over the past few decades Fr Griffins were placed in a unique but damaging position. The GAA ethos is very much based on the concept of the parish and each player is tied to this recognised boundary setup. As new houses are built within a parish, potential players, officials and supporters manifest themselves. However, in the case of Fr Griffins the natural catchments area consisted of the old Heart of Galway City. The rapid development of the city from the 1980s meant many of these regions turned from residential to business areas. Those estates that remained residential were very much the older parts of the city, and the demographic profile therein also grew older. Where development is seen as assisting the majority of GAA clubs nationwide, for a handful of clubs like Fr Griffins it has proved to be detrimental. For example, when I grew up on Forster Street there was a vibrant community and we were even able to field our own team, with all players resident on the street. The Hynes’s, King’s, Wall’s, Qualter’s, Walsh’s, Feeney’s, Trill’s, Fahy’s, O’Reilly’s, to name but a few. In fact the present Galway manager, Liam Sammon, came from Forster Street and he also played his early football for Fr Griffins. Today, however, we are the last family left living on that street. People have moved away from the area and now pledge allegiance to their new parish and new clubs, leaving behind a decimated entity. Mick fought against this destructive tide that threatened to annihilate his beloved club for years and there are very few people from Bohermore, Woodquay, Eyre Square, College Road, Riverside, and the Claddagh who weren’t approached by Mick to play Gaelic Football over the decades.

All his work and dedication to Fr Griffins was done not out of self-gain but for the greater good of the sport, the community football serves, and the enrichment of society in general. George F Will, the US commentator & political columnist, wrote in 1941 “sports serves society by providing vivid examples of excellence”. In this respect Mick has more than served society and is indeed a perfect example of a real community hero. He will be sorely missed, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam!