More than 200 people from community and voluntary groups from around County Galway were honoured at the Cathaoirleach’s Community Awards Ceremony recently. The awards recognise and celebrate community and voluntary activity in the county. A record number of nominations were received for the nine different categories of awards presented on the night.
Introducing the prestigious Volunteer of the Year Award, Chief Executive of Galway County Council Kevin Kelly praised the work of all volunteers around the County stating that “Volunteering is at the heart of community life. Helping others and giving time to your community is a big commitment but a very rewarding one”. For the first time in history, there were joint winners for the Volunteer of the Year Award this year — John Bhaba Jeaic O Chonghaíle from Lettermullen and Tom Broderick from Oranmore.
John O Chonghaíle is the Director of Lettermullen Heritage centre. This centre located in the heart of the Connemara Gaeltacht was founded due to the high level of interest shown in cultural and heritage exhibitions of the private collection of this local historian. John also founded ‘Cearta Iascairí Intíre agus Cois Cladach na hÉireann’, whom lobby on behalf of the small fisherman and the coastal communities from Donegal to Kerry.
John voluntary travels the country giving talks about our nation’s land and sea culture, history and heritage. He showcases his many artefacts and collections at these talks with the aim of educating and sharing his knowledge and expertise.
The second winner of the Volunteer of the Year Award, Tom Broderick, is well known in Oranmore and surrounding areas for his longstanding dedication to volunteerism and community work. Tom is a stalwart in the community, working tirelessly for over 35 years in providing facilities and amenities for the ever growing population of Oranmore.
Tom is the Chairperson of the Oranmore Development Association, a very active volunteer in the Oranmore Tidy Towns, the Local Cultural Festival, the Local CE Scheme, the Bridge that gap committee to name but a few. His recent achievement that he is most proud of is the establishment of the Men’s shed in Oranmore. Tom was commended for his ‘constant, calm and committed presence’ in helping Oranmore retain it’s sense of community and for making ‘a real and lasting contribution to the Community’.
The Community Facilities Award, was won by Ballinderreen Community Centre Committee. The Ballinderreen Community Centre fulfils a developmental role by providing space to empower people in the community, especially the elderly and the youth to get involved in organising and running their own events. This recently upgraded centre provides a variety of weekly classes, a lunch club, workshops on a variety of topics and even has a 800 metre Walkway adjacent to it. The Ballinderreen Community centre has become the hub for events in the area and was complimented for opening up new horizons for all age groups, thus helping to reduce rural isolation and loneliness
The Environment Award was won by Cuan Beo, a name which means ‘The Living Bay’. This recently formed community based organisation was established with a mission of improving the quality of life, environment, economy and heritage around Galway Bay. CuanBeo is specifically working to reconnect the Land and the Sea communities of South East Galway Bay from Rinville Point to Blackhead point and the villages and towns in between. CuanBeo and its members were complimented for doing such wonderful and important work in raising awareness in our communities of the link between water quality and life quality.
Meelick-Eyrecourt Kayak Club (MEKC ) were the well deserving winners of the Sports Award. In the two years since its establishment, this club has made significant strides in facilitating and engaging people with kayaking in the East Galway region and surrounding areas. Identifying a need locally for alternatives to field sports, MEKC was set up in 2016. This club utilises the amazing and under-used natural resource of the River Shannon. Meelick-Eyrecourt Kayak Club was recognised by the judges as a valuable club that creates an open and inclusive group, helps build friendships, community relationships and generates pride of place.
The winners of the Arts and Culture Award was Kinvara Area Visual Arts ( KAVA ). KAVA is a community arts group based in Kinvara who promote and support the visual arts and the artist to embrace creativity in their own area. Most of its 90 plus members are either full-time or part-time artists who live and work in the Kinvara area. The group were complimented for securing the use of the old Kinvara Courthouse in 2015 as a community arts centre and artist-run gallery. The group feels that this gave them a new lease of life as KAVA now has a dedicated space for holding its wonderful art exhibitions, running workshops, showing films, and hosting artists’ presentations etc.
Pádhraic Ó Biadha won the Heritage Publication Award, for his book ‘Oidhreacht na nOileán’. This is one of many books that Pádhraic has written looking at the history and heritage of Connemara. This book comprised of over 400 photographs on the cultural and social life of South Connemara going right back to the time of the Famine. The judges all agreed that Pádhraic’s work offers a unique insight into the rich history and heritage that Connemara has to offer, a pleasure to read.
Moycullen Historical Society were the deserving winners of the Best Contribution to Heritage Award. This group has achieved its aim of preserving, conserving and recording Moycullen’s rich and diverse visual, written and aural history. It also has successfully achieved its aim of sharing this information locally, nationally and internationally. Moycullen Historical Society is made up of a small but very active and enthusiastic group. As well as actively engaging locals through involvement in projects and events, the group also focus on reaching out to other areas and groups to learn and improve their knowledge and understanding. This was demonstrated in their work with Killannin graveyard mapping project, the Year of O’Flaherty projects and The Esker Trail to name but a few.
The next award of the night was to recognise the efforts groups are making to promote and increase the use of the Irish language in either the Gaeltacht and non-Gaeltacht areas of the County. This category was won by Tuismitheoirí na Gaeltachta. This is a voluntary organisation that came together in 2011 which supports Irish Speaking families in the Gaeltacht. The organisation is of great assistance to Gaeltacht parents who are raising their children through Irish. The judges praised this pioneering and active organisation for all their activities, supports and advice they provide to Gaeltacht parents.
The Athenry Men’s Shed were the very popular winners of the Social Inclusion Award. The shed was well represented by its members on the night who were overwhelmed with their win. The shed is a valuable resource for Athenry, but it is not just a physical space for men to meet, but an outlet, a focal point, a sanctuary. Athenry men’s shed have been involved in a variety of projects and activities including the construction of a school shed for a local school, making bird and bat boxes for local farmers, window flower boxes for the Cancer Care Centre and a polytunnel to name but a few. One of their biggest achievements to date was obtaining an unused premises from Teagasc Athenry and converting it into a suitable premises for their men’s shed which was officially opened in 2017. According to the men themselves, ‘the shed plays an important role in creating a sense of belonging, mutual respect and companionship for the men of Athenry and its surrounding areas’.
Speaking about her experience since taking up the office of Cathaoirleach, Cllr. Eileen Mannion said “she was truly humbled by the dedication, hard work and determination that communities and individuals are involved in every day”. Cllr. Eileen Mannion congratulated all the community groups and individuals present and thanked them for their invaluable contribution to the County’.