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April 14th 2004

A Dub opines on the advantages of living in Donegal

The benefits of living in Donegal Town far outweigh any disadvantages. For one thing you can enjoy some of the better things in life at a price you couldn’t match in Dublin or any large city. Take golf - any Dublin club will cost you thousands, that is if you can get in at all. For most clubs there is a very long waiting list, many years in some cases, and most will look for a levy running into thousands of euro - before you pay very high annual subscriptions. You can get into an out-of-city course cheaper, but with the traffic around Dublin, it’s a nightmare to get there before you start to play at all. In Donegal Golf Club, a few hundred euros gives you a year’s golf on a superb links course that is far superior to most inland courses.
And mentioning traffic brings up another cardinal advantage of living in a small town like Donegal, especially since we have got the bypass. Going to work and returning home in the city is a day’s work in itself. I hear the traffic update on the morning radio and realise how lucky we are to be able to drive stress-free and park without effort every day.
If you want to keep a boat in Dublin, it’s either pay very dearly for a berth in Howth, Dun Laoghaire or Malahide or battle through the traffic with an unwieldy trailer. You can anchor your boat for free in several places around our bay - or for a modest charge on the pontoon almost in the town centre.
How about theatres and cinemas? I remember thinking how much I would miss these when I first came to Donegal many moons ago. There’s no need to miss anything. Sure we’ve no cinema in the town, more’s the pity, but within 40 minutes drive, you’ve several cinema complexes where you’ll see the latest films as quickly as anywhere else. Good theatre might take a little more travel, but if you make the effort, you will enjoy as much as you want at the Millennium in Derry, the Grianan in Letterkenny, the Hawkswell in Sligo or the Ardhowen in Enniskillen, not to mention the many superb community productions throughout the year that have that special local flavour you just can’t get in major population centres. For pop groups and celebrity concerts, you’ll get your tickets from Folksy Gerry as easily as you will anywhere, plus transport at reasonable cost.
The sight of people queuing overnight in Dublin to get their children’s names down for the local national school for next September should make us realise how blessed we are to have the best in education available to everybody at Primary and Post Primary levels. Yes, we are far removed from Third Level Colleges where our students attend. But many travel daily to Letterkenny or Sligo and with the excellent service of CIE, McGeehan and Feda O’Donnell, our third level students are well served. Does it make it more expensive? Staying in Dublin or Galway is very expensive and if you can get away for the weekend, you’ll save on groceries not to mention getting your laundry etc done! For social entertainment, Donegal Town is a Mecca. It would be invidious to mention particular premises but from nightclub to pub to superb hotels, where will you get a town of its population with more to offer in this line? In fact the atmosphere in the town is known far and wide. As you travel by car from Dublin or Belfast to Donegal Town what other town, even much larger ones, have as much life about their centres as we do. This is particularly true at Christmas and high summer. Sure we have our problems like anywhere else. You’ll get a bit of drink-related street disturbance on certain nights and, as is the case in the whole country unfortunately, we drink irresponsibly – all age groups – and set young people a bad example which they only too quickly follow. We are saved the worst of the drug culture, but can’t afford to be complacent. All in all, it’s a much healthier place to rear a family, as is evidenced by many people who return with young families to bring them up here if they can.
But can they? This brings us to employment and development. As Donegal Times never tires of pointing out, we need far more co-operation and effort to get this town moving better in areas of employment creation and business development. Here we do have a real problem. Instead of an atmosphere that welcomes enterprise and innovation, we get a lot of objections and obstacle-making - often from people who are afraid of competition or jealous - or plain cussed awkward. In these days of affluence, when Ireland’s economy is top league in Europe, we are very slow to take advantage. We can blame Government, Politicians, IDA etc etc, but the bottom line is, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’.
But take it for all and all, I wouldn’t change Donegal Town for any place. Not in this country - or abroad for that matter - and I have sampled quite a few continents. You can crib about the weather if you like, but I’d rather the rain anyday (as long as it isn’t everyday!) than excessive heat or cold, flood, earthquake, avalanche or, wait for it, pests like my favourite hate, the smallest and deadliest of them all, mosquitoes! Give me a big honest Barnesmore cleg any day!!
Talking about outdoors, you simply cannot beat the ‘country’ for healthy walking and Donegal Town, big enough for town living, is still very much ‘in the country’. Compare the ease with which you can walk so many routes safely around the town, from the Mountcharles Road, so popular in winter, to the Shore at Mountcharles, Murvagh and Rossnowlagh, to the hazards of walking in a crowded city. Here you have all the wonder and beauty of nature and landscape to enjoy. And when you do want to get away to foreign climes, you can fly Ryanair from Derry very reasonably and conveniently.
Of course, for all these activities you have to get up and go. Collapsing into an armchair in front of the TV is so unrewarding long term - and there so many activities, even on winter nights. Go dancing for instance. There are well attended Ceili dancing sessions all winter in the Central Hotel for all age groups - also Salsa dancing, Barn dancing and modern dancing. If you’re retired, join DARA (Donegal Active Retirement Association), only a year in existence but already very popular who run enjoyable outings, as well as all kinds of activities from Painting to Going to the Dogs!
No I wouldn’t change Donegal Town for anything!

Smoked Out: As the no smoking ban in the workplace kicked in on March 29th, Donegal businessman Alrick Thompson had to take his chair outside Linda’s Kitchen when he wanted a cigarette. To make sure he stayed there auctioneer Keith Anderson mounted guard on the door.

Sewerage stoppage

In reply to a query from Donegal Times as to why Conway Brothers have ceased work on the wastewater contract in town, Paul Kilcoyne, Senior Engineer with Donegal County Council, gave us the following statement “Conway Bros are undergoing a company restructure at the moment and have no site presence at the current time. They are expected to be back on site soon when they resolve their own situation.”

Local lady gets Health Board Promotion

As part of the health reforms and movement of staff within the NWHB, Bernie Hyland has taken over the position of Assistant CEO with special responsibility for older person services and primary care. Bernie is daughter of Brede Hyland, Old Golf Course Road and the late John. One of three Assistant CEOs in the Health Board, Bernie is the only female currently in this position in the north-west. We congratulate her and wish her the best of luck in her new position.

Grainna celebrates her Golden Jubilee

“That first Sunday I played the organ in Donegal was for Benediction. I must have done o.k. because the following week I played at Mass.” A music teacher who has been playing the organ in her local Catholic church for half a century says she hopes to continue for many more years before she even considers retirement. Grannia Doherty believes her 50 years at the keyboards of the same organ in St Patrick’s Church, Donegal Town, may mean she is Ireland’s longest-serving organist in the same church. The organ, with traditional piping, was built by Evans and Barr, of Dublin and Belfast at the same time as the church was opened in 1934. It was a gift from Fr Daniel S. Sheerin, Donegal-born Parish Priest of Belmont in Massachusetts. Ms Doherty, who still combines piano-teaching with her duties as church organist, first sat on the organ-stool in January 1954. At the time, she used to travel from her Donegal Town home to Derry for special tuition for a degree to qualify as a music teacher. It was suggested she apply for the position of organist which had just become vacant in Donegal Town. By coincidence her own piano-teacher, Clarence Hahn, was also a cathedral organist. He agreed to teach her the organ as well. She says: “Being offered the position of organist at St Patrick’s was a wonderful opportunity for me. I was already teaching the piano and all I wanted to do was be involved in music all my life. That first Sunday I played the organ in Donegal was for Benediction. I must have done o.k. because the following week I played at Mass.”
Since then, Ms Doherty estimates she has been organist at about 3,000 Masses, a similar number of weddings, a number of funerals in recent years and at special services to mark retirements and anniversaries. She recalls that for many years the most popular requests from brides were “In A Country Churchyard” and “The Wedding song” – until non-hymns were banned by the bishop about 10 years ago. “It was a decision I agreed with”, she said. “After all, marriage is a sacrament.” Now, the most popular wedding hymns are “Ave Maria” and “Panis Angelicus”.
It’s a family affair in the gallery of St Patrick’s. While Grannia is the organist, her sister Frances O’Neill is choirmistress.
When relaxing, Ms Doherty also turns to music. “I like to sit down at the piano and play”, she says. Her musical tastes are catholic. She is as interested in good modern music as she is in classical. “I quite like Westlife”, she says. “They sing in harmony and they sound so nice.”
She proudly recalls that former pupils include Frankie McEnhill who was once Prince Vince, lead singer with the 60s showband The Kings, and Jim McCann who sang for many years with The Dubliners.
But her abiding passion is the organ in St Patrick’s. “I would say it’s one of the best church organs in the country”, she says. “When a tuner recently worked on it, he said it wouldn’t be possible to get the same organ again. When I play I feel at one with the organ – as if the instrument is an extension of myself.”
The parish priest, Fr William Peoples, who readily concedes that Ms Doherty is the absolute boss on the organ gallery, said: “Grannia has given years of dedicated service to the Church. I hope she will continue to give service in the years ahead. What I appreciate most is that she is happy in what she is doing.”

The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

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