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Granny Rita still a hard rocker



Rita Gilligan

Lifestyle –  Judy Murphy meets a Galway granny who mixes with the glitterati of music and film and has been honoured with an MBE

Stop me if I’m talking too much,” says Rita Gilligan as she settles in for a chat over tea and sandwiches in the city’s Meyrick Hotel. Chance would be a fine thing! There’s no stopping this vibrant woman from Bohermore in Galway City, as she recalls a 45-year career with the renowned Hard Rock Café group, which has seen her receive an MBE in the UK as well as mixing with rock royalty from Paul McCartney to Bob Geldof and film stars from Tony Curtis to Paul Newman.

She is, she says, an amazing talker, and she’s not exaggerating. But you wouldn’t want to stop Rita when she’s in full flow, because she has amazing stories. These are captured in her new biography The Rock ‘n’ Roll Waitress at The Hard Rock Café, which is being launched this week in the Meyrick Hotel.

Formerly the Great Southern, this is where she began her hospitality career at the age of 15 on the bottom rung of the ladder, in the dish room. And it has a special place in her heart; Rita, who has lived in London for more than 50 years, visits when she’s back in Galway, which is often – she has an apartment in Bohermore.

The 75-year-old has a jet-setting lifestyle as the Hard Rock’s cultural ambassador and staff-trainer, a promotion she received in 1996. It was just one milestone in her extraordinary career with the group since becoming its first waitress back in 1971. Life hasn’t always been easy and Rita has known extraordinary highs and lows, but has retained her love of life throughout.

Hard Rock was set up in London, “in the shadow of Buckingham Palace” as she emphasises several times, by young Americans Peter Morton and Isaac Tigrett and while it’s now a multi-million-dollar business, few people gave it any chance of survival then

Hard Rock was inspired by iconic 1950s American-style diners and its founders took out a large advert in London’s Evening Standard in 1971, looking for matronly waitresses, ideally in their 30s.

Rita was only 29, but she’s persuasive and, with two small children and a hard-drinking husband, she needed a job.

However, she knew nothing about the Hard Rock concept when she went for interview. Having come from a silver-service background, and knowing that the restaurant was located in London’s upmarket Park Lane, she arrived in formal wear only to be met by a casually dressed Peter, who sipped beer as they chatted. He explained that Hard Rock would be a burger restaurant with loud music and a laid-back atmosphere. The waitresses needed to be sassy, but also friendly and efficient.

Rita got the job and shone.

“I wasn’t a particularly good waitress, but I was good with people”, she says honestly. Whether those people were Paul McCartney, Paul Newman, Rod Stewart, Donald Trump, or regular families, her philosophy was that everybody had to be made feel welcome in the Hard Rock.

People are people, she says, and it’s important to treat everyone with kindness and respect.

That philosophy won her the admiration of her employers and despite several changes of ownership and massive expansion over the decades, Rita has been a constant in the Hard Rock.

“I never wanted to write a book, but the company kept at me to do it,” she explains. Rita has more Hard Rock memories than anybody and her bosses feared those would be lost if she didn’t commit them to print.

The proceeds of the book will go to charity, including motor neuron disease research, a cause dear to her heart. Her good friend, Michael Elwood – “one of the fine men who built Galway” – died from the condition 10 years ago.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

West has lower cancer survival rates than rest



Significant state investment is required to address ‘shocking’ inequalities that leave cancer patients in the West at greater risk of succumbing to the disease.

A meeting of Regional Health Forum West heard that survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers than the national average, and with the most deprived quintile of the population, the West’s residents faced poorer outcomes from a cancer diagnosis.

For breast cancer patients, the five-year survival rate was 80% in the West versus 85% nationally; for lung cancer patients it was 16.7% in the west against a 19.5% national survival rate; and in the West’s colorectal cancer patients, there was a 62.6% survival rate where the national average was 63.1%.

These startling statistics were provided in answer to a question from Ballinasloe-based Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) who said it was yet another reminder that cancer treatment infrastructure in the West was in dire need of improvement.

“The situation is pretty stark. In the Western Regional Health Forum area, we have the highest incidence of deprivation and the highest health inequalities because of that – we have the highest incidences of cancer nationally because of that,” said Cllr Parsons, who is also a general practitioner.

In details provided by CEO of Saolta Health Care Group, which operates Galway’s hospitals, it was stated that a number of factors were impacting on patient outcomes.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Marathon Man plans to call a halt – but not before he hits 160 races



Loughrea’s Marathon Man Jarlath Fitzgerald.

On the eve of completing his 150th marathon, an odyssey that has taken him across 53 countries, Loughrea’s Marathon Man has announced that he is planning to hang up his running shoes.

But not before Jarlath Fitzgerald completes another ten races, making it 160 marathons on the occasion of his 60th birthday.

“I want to draw the line in 2026. I turn 57 in October and when I reach 60 it’s the finishing line. The longer races are taking it out of me. I did 20 miles there two weeks ago and didn’t feel good. It’s getting harder,” he reveals.

“I’ve arthritis in both hips and there’s wear and tear in the knees.”

We speak as he is about to head out for a run before his shift in Supervalu Loughrea. Despite his physical complaints, he still clocks up 30 miles every second week and generally runs four days a week.

Jarlath receives injections to his left hip to keep the pain at bay while running on the road.

To give his joints a break, during the winter he runs cross country and often does a five-mile trek around Kylebrack Wood.

He is planning on running his 150th marathon in Cork on June 4, where a group of 20 made up of work colleagues, friends and running mates from Loughrea Athletics Club will join him.

Some are doing the 10k, others are doing the half marathon, but all will be there on the finishing line to cheer him on in the phenomenal achievement.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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