Advertiser editorial on city water deaths is named winner in global editorial contest

Galway Advertiser group editor Declan Varley — Named in Melbourne as a winner in the 2016 ISWNE Golden Dozen editorial awards.

Galway Advertiser group editor Declan Varley — Named in Melbourne as a winner in the 2016 ISWNE Golden Dozen editorial awards.

An editorial from the Galway Advertiser dealing with the number of water deaths in Galway City has been named as a winner in a global contest to honour the best editorial writing in weekly newspapers. The Golden Quill and Golden Dozen award winners for 2016 were announced by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors at a conference in Melbourne today (Sunday ).

One of those chosen as a winner was an editorial written by group editor Declan Varley published in the Galway Advertiser last year. The editorial (reprinted below ) entitled A River Runs Through It, dealt with the disappearance and death of young visiting student Brian Gubbins, who had fallen into the water after a night out in the city.

The Golden Quill contest is open to all weekly newspapers worldwide with the objective of encouraging excellence in newspaper editorial writing. The contest has been running for almost 60 years, and this is the third time that the Galway Advertiser has been selected as a winner. This is also the third time that Declan Varley has been named as a winner; firstly in 2003, then 2015, and now in 2016.

The judges, drawn from a selection of top newspapers in the US, Europe, Canada, and Australia went on to say that the article showed that "there is no doubt Declan is a true craftsman of journalism. His writing generates raw emotion as he reflects on the tragic death of a university student who drowned due to being unfamiliar with a waterway in the region. 

"Declan assesses the tragedy and encourages the community to learn from it, for the benefit of the greater good. He highlights the value of local knowledge that the community takes for granted, but reminds readers of their obligation to ensure all visitors to the city are aware of hazards and to feel safe. Overall it was a beautifully written piece that stands out for its quality."

Mr Varley has been group editor of the Galway Advertiser group for 16 years and has worked as a journalist and writer for more than three decades. 

Speaking last night he said that he is honoured to have been named as one of the winners.

“While there is obviously a personal excitement, the real fulfilment is that the Advertiser editorial slot has once again been recognised for its ability to highlight social and community issues. It will continue to occupy that role.

“Since the tragic death of Brian Gubbins, unfortunately many more families are mourning members who have lost their lives in our waters. Primarily, my thoughts are with all of them tonight,” he concluded.?This is the winning editorial.

A River Runs Through It — ?

This morning, a Thursday morning, should have been like any other for the Gubbins family. They should be up and about their duties and doing the things that all Irish families do on a Thursday. Thoughts of the week past, the days to come, thoughts of their three children. But today will be a day most unlike any other. It is a day that they will bury their young son Brian. A likeable, popular, student whose ambition was to work in the world of media. For that he seemed to have all the attributes.

At around 2pm today, they will follow his coffin to the cemetery at Lisboney near Nenagh. Because Brian died in our city last weekend.

And when they hear the name Galway again, as they will every day for the rest of their lives, their perception of it will be so different to that from over a week ago.

It was this day last week that the University of Limerick student travelled to Galway for a night out with friends. What unfolded though was tragic. So when a call was made last weekend to help to find Brian, the response was instantaneous. The post on our own Facebook page was seen and shared by more than 100,000, as people rallied to do their little bit to help. Because we all know, that there for the grace of God go we. Tomorrow it could be our family.

There is a certain inevitability to searches in Galway. Ours is a small city, you would traverse it on foot in a short time. It is not too possible to get too lost in the small number of streets and lanes that mark the area populated by people who come to Galway to enjoy it.

And then there’s the water.

The bloody water.

A river runs through it.

A river roars through it.

And there are those who are attracted by the water and there are those who stumble into the water.

There were very distressing scenes last weekend when this search was concluded. People hardened by many other such searches were left shocked and upset by the great sorrow that befell all when the outcome seemed tragically certain.

So what do we do? What can we do? I wrote here last week of Galway’s purple flag and how it signified that our city is safe at night. And it is safe. Very safe, but something must be done to protect people who are unfamiliar with the city, who are disorientated and unable to find their way from place to place, late at night, tired, emotional, confused perhaps. We are a city that promises people a good time. It is our duty too to ensure that these people, our visitors, but real people with real families, are minded and protected so that they get from their place of enjoyment to their place of accommodation. We place a large onus on our ability to attract people into Galway. We have to make sure that everyone who visits, gets out safely as well.

But what are the solutions? I don’t have the answers, but it is incumbent on the entertainment industry, the emergency services, the tourist promoters, the people whose business is Galway, the various agencies and ourselves that something be done to protect people from the water. Not every water death is self inflicted, but all are preventable. Would it mean water guardians or more strategic fencing? Would it mean that we care for patrons once they have become intoxicated and not just in the process of. Maybe these are solutions or maybe they are not.

This process will not bring back Brian Gubbins to his family, but it may prevent other Thursdays being spent in cemeteries. It may also mean that other families will not wince and feel real heart pain every time they hear the name Galway.



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