Future's Arrived in Ennis

The Sunday World, 21st May 2000, by Kevin Murphy

Ennis, County Clare was chosen to be Eircom's Information Age Town in 1997 after strong competition from most other towns in Ireland. Since then some 5,600 computers have been distributed to people's homes, 500 to its schools and the 800 businesses of the town are part of a £2 million programme to have half of them trading on the Net by 2001.

Ennis is now a town of the future. To the people there the internet is as natural as getting a bus, and broad band width means alot more than keeping your trousers up. They have state-of-the-art phones, computers and life in the town has been transformed. We decided it might be a good idea to have a closer look at what the high-tech citizens of Ireland's most modern town have been getting up to. That job has been made a little easier, because Eircom, sponsors of the entire project, have been doing pretty much the same thing.

It has put in place an awards system to recognise the people of Ennis who are making the most use of the technology they've been given free by the country's largest phone company. The awards were designed to showcase the many ways in which people are using Information Technology in homes, businesses, schools and voluntary organisations. And what an inventive lot they are in that historic town just north of the Shannon estuary.

Top of the list for inventiveness was Tom Mannion of Tom Mannion Travel, one of the best known travel agencies in the mid west. He scooped the premier trophy which included the prize of a week long trip to Silicon Valley in California, the US capital of the IT industry. Just because the firm had been in business for 50 years didn't mean it couldn't recognise the threat posed by the Internet to the traditional travel trade. So the firm started using electronic communications for sourcing information, making bookings, issuing confirmations, alterations and cancellations. Already Tom Mannion Travel is one of Eircom Ennis Information Age Town's 'Business Champions in IT' and the firm's objective is to become known as Ireland's information age travel agency.

But talk about enthusiasm. Some 200 individuals, groups, schools and companies submitted entries which required dedicated work and commitment. The result produced a standard of work that proves beyond all doubt that eircom Ennis Information Age Town is making a positive difference. And it's filtering into all aspects of town life.

Another award went to 27 year old Rebecca Hogan of 27 Shanaway Road, Ennis who suffers from autism and cerebral palsy. Her new PC has allowed her life-long interest in jigsaws to reach a new level with three dimensional interactive software. After she has built the jigsaws, Rebecca can take virtual tours of famous buildings around the world.

Yet another award was presented to Thomas Connolly who is totally blind. He operates his Information Age Town Computer with special software called JAWS - Job Access With Speech. This works by issuing vocal instructions that tell Thomas what is on screen at any time. He can now communicate with friends around the world through e-mail and pursue his interest in creative writing.

Each winner received £2,500 from Eircom as well as a special trophy commissioned from award-winning East Clare artist, Bill Edwards. There were four main categories, Residents, Business, Education and Community and in each there were two awards - 'Connected' for innovative computer use, and 'On Line' for setting up your own website. Have a look at what some of these people have been doing.

Winners of the 'Residents Connected Award' were the Reid family, for a Microsoft Power Point presentation focusing on the First World War. It begins with grandfather showing the young Reid boys photographs of their great grandfather in 1917 and details his involvement in the Great War.

Next was the 'Residents On Line Award' which was won by Eoin O'Conchuir. Eoin is a 17 year old Leaving Cert student at Gael Cholaiste an ChlŠir in Ennis. His website includes "All Things Irish" featuring a comprehensive Irish culture/language element.

The 'Business Connected Award' was won by Tom Mannion Travel, Ennis as we said. And the 'Business On Line Award' was won by Custy's Traditional Music Shop. This unique shop serves local and international markets with a range of Irish traditional music. The website has on-line shopping, servicing customers all over the world.

The 'Education Connected Award' went to St. Clare's School, Gort Road, Ennis. The school developed a software package with a group of special needs pupils in the six to eight age group. They were very excited when they recognised photographs of themselves on the screen and one pupil who never speaks managed several words clearly with the assistance of the programme.

In the Education - Electronic Newspaper Awards category, the winners were the Holy Family Senior School's 6th class which took their responsibility as Editorial Team very seriously. Information was gathered using e-mail, the Internet and interviews.

A second award went to Colaiste Muire for 'Byte', the voice of the secondary students at Colaiste Muire. The content reflected a wide variety of interests and the students have been using a digital camera for the fashion shoots.

Other awards include the Community Connected Award, which was won by St. Flannan's Senior Citizens Programme for connecting the town's senior citizens through free computer classes in the college, the Community On Line Award, which went to Clare Schoolboys Soccer League for being the first sporting organisation within the county to have its own well developed fully functioning website.

This is what IT means when it is applied to a community that embraces it fully. Hopefully, in a short few years, every Irish town is going to be as well connected.

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