From its award-winning design to resident-centred ethos, Áras Chois Fharraige is setting the standard for nursing homes
Áras Chois Fharraige nursing home, Furbo, is unique in offering elderly people from the Gaeltacht an Irish-speaking home from home.
‘It’s a place where people have a smile on their face coming to work because they’re coming to a happy place,’ says the Director of Nursing Aideen Stanley.
The care home overlooks Galway Bay with views of the Clare hills and the Burren. ‘On a good day, if you’re in the right place, you can actually see the Aran Islands so it’s a beautiful vista when the sky is blue and the sun is shining,’ Aideen adds.
Áras Chois Fharraige was built in 2009 but there has been a nursing home on the site for more than 40 years. Its resident-centred design led to the home winning a nationwide architectural award.
‘The Áras is bright and spacious and built around a central courtyard. Out the front we have all the gardens and walks and flowers and plants. There’s a vegetable garden which some of the residents look after,’ says Aideen.
‘We also have seven big hens that lay eggs and some of the residents collect them. More recently we have two little pygmy goats and they’re absolutely a joy!’
Most of the 42 elderly people who live in the home are Irish-speakers from the South Connemara area. More than 40 people work in the home, most are also from the surrounding Gaeltacht, and several staff members have relatives in the home.
‘Gaeilge is manifestly the lingua franca of the Áras so that it’s such a comfortable means of communication between residents and the care team. It means there’s a natural rapport between the workforce and the residents in the care of the Áras.
‘We have a culture and an ethos of looking out for the needs of our residents. We make sure that we give of our best and that the residents get our best and we work as a team to achieve that.’
Last year the home was the subject of an international research project by a professor of linguistics. The Fulbright-funded research found that even elderly people who were bilingual benefitted greatly from being in an environment where they could use their first language.
Aodhan MacDonncha the Chairman of the home’s Residents’ Committee, says: ‘That sense of comfort where people who are native Irish speakers can go and be looked after in their own language is vitally important.’
The Residents’ Committee meets every two months to give residents and their relatives a voice in the running of Áras Chois Fharraige. Aodhan’s role is to Chair Residents’ Committee meetings and to act as an independent advocate on behalf of residents.
‘The Residents’ Committee is an independent forum that gives residents and also their relatives or anyone who’s representing them the opportunity to ask questions or give input into the home,’ he says.
Aodhan works as a Community Development officer in Spiddal, but he is also a peace commissioner and volunteers on the board of a number of non-profit organisations.
‘It’s nice to give something back,’ Aodhan says. ‘And it’s nice to walk into the Áras. Any time I walk in there’s a happy atmosphere in the place.
‘You know that residents are being well looked after. It’s a happy house and a credit to the management and the staff there.’
Katie Folan, the activities co-ordinator at Áras Chois Fharraige, says that the community ethos of volunteers like Aodhan is at the heart of Áras Chois Fharraige.
‘We run a very varied and very busy calendar of event which depends heavily on our local community,’ she says.
‘We have upwards of 14 volunteers that come in each week to help us with the various activities such as the bingo, the ceol, the Ciorcal Cniotáil, crafts, the cards, the prayers of communion the planting of plants and just generally talking and spending time with residents.’
Katie also oversees the Gradam Áras Chois Fharraige, the home’s bursary for young Irish-speakers who want to study nursing.
‘We established the Gradam in 2010 to encourage young people from the area who were interested in undertaking a degree in nursing to encourage them to use Gaeilge in their working life, as well as their home life.
‘We depend on our community and likewise we like to give back. It’s also beneficial for us to have lovely new nurses who also have the Gaeilge.
‘Most of our residents were brought up with Irish as their first language, so that is the language that they’re most comfortable with, so it’s vitally important that we serve them in their native language.’