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by Tom Kenny

“There is nothing as Galway as Our Lady’s Boys’ Club,” was how our president Michael D. Higgins described OLBC some years ago at a function in the Columban Hall. It is over 80 years since it was founded and it is the longest-running youth club in the country. It was set up by Fr. Leonard Shiel S.J. at a time when there was a lot of grinding poverty in Galway and no recreational facilities or extra-curricular activities for young people in areas like the Claddagh, Bohermore, Shantalla and ‘The West’. The club provided these and has been a source of guidance and inspiration to thousands of young men and boys since, especially those from working-class background. From that first day of nervous membership, right through their teens, and even after they had taken up the challenge of adult life, the spirit and watchful eye of the Club is ever with them.

Their headquarters were in a space behind the Columban Hall which was loaned to them by the Jesuits. They held ‘club nights’ a few times a week, teams were formed which took part in supervised games and competitions such as darts, draughts, rings, volleyball, basketball, groundball, skittles etc. There was also free time during which they could play billiards, snooker or table tennis. They were taught drilling, said the rosary and finally were given a mug of tea and some bread and jam, an important supplement for many diets. This generic youth club was and is the critical core of OLBC, without it, other aspects of the Club would be threatened in the long term.

The club offers a mix of spiritual direction, games, sport, camaraderie and training in basic skills. Amby Roche and Mick Lohan set up a boxing section and trained many of the boys in the art. Mickey Sullivan and Eddie Fahy (the coachbuilder) started training soccer teams and the soccer section still thrives to this day having produced many fine players and collected numerous trophies down the years. Father Michael, who had been a rugby coach in Mungret College, introduced that game to the boys in the fifties and, happily, members are still competing for the club. In the early days, they taught Irish Dancing and the pupils brought home many All-Ireland and various Feiseanna medals. The boys also took part in an annual retreat.

For those less fortunate who might have stepped out of line, there was always support from the club helping to sort out their problems. Today, there are countless club boys in every walk of life in the city and elsewhere who have had very successful careers in their commercial and civic efforts and they will tell you how much their formative years in the Club influenced their outlook on business and pleasure and helped make them what they are today.

Many will tell you that the best days of the life were spent on 'Camp' with the Club. Camp is an annual event where they take about 70 boys away for a week's holiday, a busy highly organised time full of games, competitions, entertainment and craic during which they are well fed. It all costs money of course and they have always relied on the generosity of the people of Galway to finance this very worthy project. This year is no exception. They are currently preparing for their 80th Camp after a break of two years due to Covid, so once again, they are appealing for help.

So please be generous to this Galway institution who do such wonderful work. Donations can be sent to Pat Giles, C/o Our Ladys Boys Club, Sea Road, Galway or to Account number 31958-014 at AIB, 18, Eyre Square; IBan IE31 Aibk 9372 2331 9580; BIK AIBKIE 20.

Our first photograph shows a group of happy billiards players c.1955 including Paddy O'Connell, Dominick Curran, Seanie Flaherty, -- Harty, Joe Walsh, Tommy Gannon, Des Fitzpatrick, Michael Burke, Tom Cunningham, Bartley Hynes, Tony Conboy, Gerry McNamara, Gerry Ryan, Willie Golding, Colie Rushe, William McDonagh, Peter Folan, Leo Crean, Francis Walsh, Danny Collins, Jackie Molloy, Dominick Geary and Paddy McDonagh.

The second image was taken at 'Camp' in Lough Cutra c.1958. They are, back row: Jim Cunningham, Johnny Heaney, Martin Crowley and Peter Joyce. In front are Jimmy O'Connell, Paddy McDonagh, Leo Crean, Billy Carr and Patsy Burke.

Third pic. A soccer team c.1963. Back row: Joe Cunningham, Tommy Carr, John Rushe, Martin Noone, Peter Griffin, Seánie Flaherty, Michael Burke. In front are Michael 'Bomber' Browne, John Carr, Gus O'Connor, Leo Crean and Tom McDonagh.

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