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Seeing stars: awestruck by wonders of the universe



A pupil from Scoil Einne in Spiddal at the Galway Astronomy Club display at the Galway Atlantaquaria during Science week Ireland.

Lifestyle – Judy Murphy meets Brian Mac Gabhann of the Galway Astronomy Club and learns how every one of us is linked to the stars

It’s amazing to think we were all forged in the heart of a great star about 10 billion years ago. The gold ring you are wearing was forged in the heart of a supernova – which is when a star explodes. If you are wearing a gold earring, that’s a bit of a supernova on your ear.

Brian Mac Gabhann is Chairman of the Galway Astronomy Club – he’s also its Education and Outreach Officer. And given that he’s so good at explaining the universe, he’s the perfect man for this position.

“There are amazing objects out there and what is more amazing is that you can go out at night and look up at that world,” says the former army man, who now works for the Money, Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) in its Tuam office.

Gazing up at the night skies sounds like a wonderful pastime, but it must be frustrating for people living in Galway, a place where rain is the norm.

“You have to have a masochistic streak to be a stargazer living in the West of Ireland,” Brian acknowledges, “but that’s universal – everybody moans about the weather.”

Two things are helpful for watching the sky at night; clear weather and lack of light pollution.

Unless you live deep in the countryside, light pollution can be an issue but, explains Brian “you have to learn to work around it – look for bright objects such as the moon or star clusters”.

Alternatively, “get a rig that’s relatively portable and go to a darker site”.

And despite our mixed weather, Ireland had many sites that are free of light pollution, which offers huge potential for off-season tourism, he says.

Dark Sky Star Parks – places certified by the American-based International Dark Sky Association – are a major draw for astronomy enthusiasts in countries such as Spain.

Currently Ireland’s only designated Dark Sky Park is on the Skelligs, but places such as the Burren could meet the criteria and this is worth exploring, he says.

Brian was first inspired to look skyward as a teenager, influenced by the English astronomer Patrick Moore.

“I wrote to him and he replied,” he recalls, adding that Moore, who died three years ago, replied to every letter he received.

Fifteen-year-old Brian who lived in the “middle of Dublin city”, bought a small telescope and “was hooked”.

He subsequently joined the army, “which wasn’t conductive” to stargazing, although there were fantastic opportunities to see clear skies in some of the countries to which he was posted, including Lebanon.

“There are different skies, depending on what part of the world you are in,” he says.

Brian joined MABS in 2007 – which was “spectacularly bad timing”, as the recession hit shortly afterwards – but it allowed him to indulge his passion for astronomy.

He lives in Corofin where he has set up a home observatory, and outside that, he is a key member of the Galway Astronomy Club, which hosts a series of guest speakers at its monthly meetings, as well as having regular observing sessions.

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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