Obamas Stock Up
THE Obamas did all their souvenir hunting in Mary Fanning’s An Siopa Beag in Moneygall.
The president sprinted into the shop when he arrived in the village and, said Fanning, “bought round him.”
“He bought some Shannonbridge Pottery for his mother-in-law, and Michelle bought two chains for their daughters,” she said. “They also bought a hurl with his face on it. They just picked up items.”
The president bought the pottery, but it was too big for the bag.
“I was holding the bag and he was trying to shove it in. They were just so nice and natural. You could tell he had a normal upbringing. If he rang your doorbell you wouldn’t think there was anything special about him,” said Fanning.
The shopkeeper revealed that when the couple came into the shop, her daughter, Tara, was there with her and the Obamas said, “Hello. How are you?”
She said Michelle gave Tara and hug and asked her if she had any other brothers and sisters. When Tara said she had a brother, Michelle asked, “Do you fight?”
Michelle told her about her two daughters, and Fanning said she was sorry afterwards that she had not known in time that the Obamas were coming into the shop or she would have had something special for the girls, but the visit was kept top secret.
After the president had bought for his mother-in-law, Fanning presented them with some specially commissioned Shannonbridge Pottery mugs commemorating the visit.
Fanning revealed that, not to be outdone in the souvenir hunting, when the president went to Ollie Hayes Pub, all the Secret Service agents rushed back into the shop and bought items.
And was she now hopeful that business would remain brisk?
“Hopefully business will continue. The visit has put Moneygall on the map.”
Player Has to Go
WESTMEATH County Board chairman Tom Farrell has spoken about the ongoing problem of GAA players emigrating in search of employment, after it emerged that county forward Paul Greville is moving to New York later this year.
Greville, who was one of Westmeath's leading performers last year, has given a guarantee he will see out the Leinster senior football championship campaign for Westmeath before moving to the Big Apple.
However, news of his impending departure has further brought to light the problems facing some local Gaelic football clubs.
Farrell said it's "an ongoing issue" that won't go away for some time yet.
"Everyone associated with Gaelic games is obviously disappointed to see it happening. It's a sorry situation, but it's a fact of modern life in Ireland," he said.
"It obviously has a detrimental impact on local clubs, particularly rural clubs, and it's very regrettable. Traditionally, emigration had always been a huge drain on Irish society, but it obviously wasn't a problem in the more recent past.
“Nowadays, I don't think there's a family in Ireland that isn't affected by it in some shape or form. Some of my own kids are working abroad at present, and it's just the way it's gone.
"Unfortunately, people have to go where the work is, and it's going to have an impact on the GAA, and other sporting bodies too. Thankfully, the GAA has close-knit communities throughout the world, and they look after each other, but unfortunately this trend of players leaving for pastures new shows no sign of stopping at the moment," added Farrell.
The case of Greville is the first instance of a high-profile Westmeath inter-county footballer emigrating during the current economic recession.
Farrell said the county board did "everything we could" to find employment for Greville, but to no avail.
"The connections just are not there now. The work is not out there," said Farrell.
Greville, a highly-valued dual player with Killucan and Raharney (his hurling club), admits it will "kill me to go,” but the qualified carpenter plans to stick around to help the county in the Leinster championship.
"Up until last September everything was going well. I was working with a friend of mine, working by ourselves, and we had enough work. Now he's after going to London, he moved over there about three months ago, and I'm going to New York at the end of June," Greville said.
"It will be tough, but it's just a matter of having to go. There's no choice. If I had a choice I wouldn't be going.”
One of the reasons Greville has chosen to go to New York rather than Australia is that he wants to continue playing, and a by-product of the Irish recession is that the GAA scene in the Big Apple is stronger than it has been in years.
"The Leinster semifinal is on June 26. If we get into it and then win it, the Leinster final is two weeks later. I'd probably hold off. How could you turn down the chance to play in a Leinster final, but the minute Leinster's over I'll be gone," he stated.
Self-Harm on Rise
THERE has been a significant increase in the number of people in the west engaging in deliberate self-harm.
The number of deliberate self-harm (DSH) cases presenting to Irish hospitals between 2007 and 2009 rose by 23% in men and 13% in women, from a total of 11,084 cases in 2007 to 11,966 in 2009, according to the latest figures from the National Registry of Deliberate Self-Harm.
The greatest increases were in the 20-29 age group for both men and women.
The largest increase in cases of DSH was between 2008 and 2009 as the recession heightened, corresponding with a significant increase in the national suicide figures.
The most common forms of DSH in men and women were deliberate overdose and self-cutting.
The figures show that the number of male and female DSH patients in Mayo rose from 208 to 264 in 2009. In Sligo there were 137 cases for men and 117 for women, and in Galway there were 337 male DSH patients and 296 female patients.
In Mayo General Hospital, 19.9% of patients treated had been admitted before for self-harm. In Sligo, 19.6% were repeat patients and in University College Hospital, Galway, the figure was 15.4%.
The deliberate self-harm rate is highest among the young -- among 15 to 19 year-olds for women and 20 to 24 year-olds for men.
Dr. Ella Arensman, director of research at the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF) which compiles the registry, warned that the figures were only the tip of the iceberg as many people who engaged in DSH were never seen by the health services.
She said that in areas with significantly increased DSH rates in men, there were indications of a strong link with the impact of the economic recession, for example a rise in unemployment among young men in the building trade.
Company Steps Up
A SLIGO-based senior company executive, Declan Walsh, has received assurances from pharmaceutical manufacturer Elan that the company will work closely with his Deferno Trust to provide support and detailed information relevant to his wife's condition.
His wife, Dr. Natalie Murphy, contracted an incurable deadly brain disease while using Elan's Tysabri multiple sclerosis treatment. Elan's new chairman Bob Ingram and CEO Kelly Martin confirmed at the company's annual general meeting that Elan will support the Deferno Trust, a foundation established by Walsh, a shareholder and finance professional, providing it with all research on his wife's ailment, Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML).
Addressing Elan’s directors, Walsh invited Elan to make all resources available to ensure his wife received the best possible care. He called on the company to appoint a patient liaison officer to assist patients and families, free of “hospital jargon.” and asked Elan and its partner on Tysabri, Biogen, to sponsor a PhD research program in the area of Tysabri-related PML in the name of the Deferno Trust.
“As a research professional herself, with a PhD in pharmacology, Natalie has always championed the need for constant research,” Walsh said.
Ingram commended Walsh on his “poignant words” and said there was “clearly an obligation” on Elan.
“It is an inspiring story in many ways, albeit tragically,” he said. “I have no doubt that we will do what’s right and be compassionate as possible and respond to those requests.”
Murphy is currently in a paraplegic state in Sligo General Hospital and is unable to speak after she contracted PML in 2009, having been using Tysabri since about 2006. She's the only known Tysabri user in Ireland or the U.K. to have contracted the disease.
PML is a known, but very rare potential risk factor associated with Tysabri. Only 124 PML cases have so far been identified among Tysabri users, while 23 of those patients have died.
Walsh's wife is a pharmacologist and at one time she worked as a product manager with drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, the company where Ingram was once vice-chairman of pharmaceuticals.
Walsh, while welcoming Elan's assurances, said that the company had failed to effectively engage with him last year when he first raised the issue of his wife's condition, which he estimates results in medical costs of about €600,000 per annum for the health service.
"There was absolutely zero interaction between Elan and ourselves. The only interaction was when she was initially diagnosed," said Walsh.
"I had to come here to try and make a point. My beautiful wife is dying. From the outset, I've made it quite clear I'm not interested in any legal suit."
Happy Earth Day! Ireland sure looks gorgeous from outer space