World/Irish AIDS Day

World AIDS Day Concert 2011

 There were many special events to mark 2011 World AIDS Day on the 1st of December throughout the World. From the lighting of Sydney Opera House to the Empire State Building in New York, all glowing in red. Here in Galway, we had our very wonderful candlelit memorial service at St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church. This marked the 11th year of they event. The theme for World AIDS Day 2011 was ‘Getting to Zero’; zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero HIV-related deaths.

There were many special events to mark 2011 World AIDS Day on the 1st of December throughout the World.

Our Chairman, Keith Finnegan introduced her worship Mayor Hildegarde Naughton, who spoke of how important the event has become to the people of Galway. She said, for her, it was time to reflect on  those who have lost their lives to the virus. It was also a time of hope because of advances in medical treatments over the past 20 years and the ongoing care and support that organisations like AIDS West provide to those living with HIV. Keeping awareness of HIV in the public consciousness is a hugely important part of the work that AIDS West does within the community.

Our keynote speaker, Fr. Peter McVerry, always one to speak on behalf of the marginalised, gave the huge audience both an inspiring and challenging talk on the need for tolerance in today’s society. Those who came to listen to him speak were not disappointed. It was wonderful to have him present on the night. It highlighted, to a deeper level, the need to overcome the stigma that continues to exist across our society. Liz Martin spoke of getting on with her life having lived for over 20 years with the HIV virus. She told a beautiful story about a present given by an elderly man to his younger friend, the present was literally to be able to live in the present, rather than the future or the past.

Fresh from the inauguration of President Michael D. Higgins, the voices of Cois Cladaigh filled the church with an eclectic mix of numbers such as Alma Redemption, Shenandoah,Rejection and Beannacht. Our heartfelt gratitude to every member of Cois Cladaigh, under their renowned musical director Brendan O’Connor, accompanied by John Rowe on piano for a truly outstanding performance. Delia Boyce and Sandra Schalks, who have given their time to our concert over the years, delivered stunning solo performances, but also joined together for a beautiful rendering of Sunrise Sunset. Board member, Patrick Towers, closing address was inspiring and rounded off what was truly a remarkable night. The Grand Finale had Patrick and Brendan stirring up the audience to fever pitch with some seasonal carols. The girls joined the choir once again and delivered a truly wonderful rendition of ‘O Holy Night’. Finally the audience were treated to light refreshments, which was a fitting ending to a memorable night.

Coping With Adversity Conference – Irish AIDS Day

The Ardilaun Hotel was the venue for this ambitious conference run by AIDS West to mark Irish AIDS Day. It was an inspirational event, a time for the attendees to reflect on the challenges that life holds and help them respond in a positive manner. As Gaybo used to say “there was something for everyone in the audience”.

Evelyn Stephens, our founder, introduced Michael D. Higgins whose opening address set the tone for the meeting. Michael, a great public servant and campaigner for the marginalised over a lifetime in politics, was at his eloquent best. He reflected on some of his own experiences working with those most in need.

Joan Freeman, the Director and Founder of Pieta House, talked about her own life, becoming involved with suicide prevention and about the need for challenging the stigma associated with suicide and self-harm. She outlined the hope and support that Pieta House gives to its clients and families every day.

John Lonergan, author and former Governor of Mountjoy Prison, spoke of working with prisoners as an education in the reality of life and what it’s like to “draw the short straw”. Stigma comes in all forms and what greater stigma is there for a person trying to get back into society after having served a prison sentence. John argued the case that to see a person who has hit rock bottom, and maybe through the help/support  of a friend, partner, family member  or often  a prison officer,  survive and come back and flourish in society, is really nothing short of a miracle.

Ophelia Haanyama Orum was our keynote speaker. Ophelia is truly a remarkable woman and spoke about how she has coped with adversity in her own life, migrant, mother, wife and about living with HIV. Her approach to life and its challenges were inspiring to the very appreciative audience.

Kate Mulkerrins, acting chairperson at AIDS West, in summation said how delighted we were to be able to bring these inspiring and renowned speakers to the people of Galway. Kate reminded us all of the need at times to reflect on our lives .  She expressed  the wish that the conference would give hope and encouragement to all participants , and particularly those who  had to live with the stigma of the HIV.


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