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by Tom Kenny

Our Lady’s Boys Club was founded in 1940 by Fr. Leonard Shiel S.J. “to help young lads, flung into work at an early age when their characters are most easily formed for good or for ill. The Club hopes to play its small part in the present day effort all over Ireland to help poor boys to be more reliable and useful members of society and a credit to their faith”.

It has succeeded beyond Fr. Shiel’s wildest dreams.

Our President, Michael D. Higgins in a speech some years ago, said “Like so many successful community initiatives, Our Lady’s Boys Club was built on a vision, a spirit of participation and a will to make a genuine and positive difference to the community. When Fr. Shiel established a club in 1940, I doubt that he realised just how enduring his vision would be. Today, the Club is the largest youth club in the country and had woven its way into the fabric of community life in Galway, welcoming members from many neighbourhoods including Shantalla, Westside, Ballinfoile, Rahoon, Corrib Park and Newcastle.

Generations of young men have grown and flourished in its nurturing environment, many of them carrying the ethos and values of the club with them throughout their lives, passing them on to further generations and enabling the spirit of the club to touch many communities in Ireland, and indeed, across the world. That the club continues to be run by its former members is perhaps the greatest endorsement of all that is achieved over the years.

The Club has continuously evolved and progressed to reflect and tackle the different demands presented to us in a rapidly changing world. Established in an Ireland of huge poverty and deprivation when one of the most important aspects of the Club was responding to a lack of food through the provision of bread and jam to those who were hungry, the Club has, across the years remained relevant in an Ireland where emigration, unemployment and new and changing societal problems continue to present difficulties for young people.

The Club is of course synonymous with a long and proud tradition of sporting activity and achievement, allowing its members that vitally important opportunity to learn the importance of teamwork; of just how much can be achieved when everyone works together, playing their own important and unique role as they strive to achieve the best possible outcome”.

As President Higgins said, the Club organises a whole range of activities for the boys, many of them sporting. The continued Jesuit influence on the group ensures there is always a spiritual element to their work. The highlight of their calendar is the annual ‘Camp’ where a large group of members are taken foe a week’s holidays with a group of senior volunteers. There are thousands of graduates of the Club today who will tell you the best days of their lives were spent on Camp.

A newspaper report of July 11th, 1944 stated “For one brief week of glorious weather, they had left aside their messenger cycles, they had escaped from the dusty din of the foundry, the hum of the woollen mills, the cinema queues, the drabness of the streets, and gone out to the country to relax awhile, to gain new strength and to get fresh courage to face their heavy lives of labour”. All through the years, the Camp has been financed by the generosity and support of the citizens of Galway and once again, OLBC are appealing for help towards this year’s Camp. They will bring a large group of boys to St. Colman’s College in Claremorris from July 8th – 14th for a memorable week’s holiday. So if you would like to contribute to this great Galway tradition, you can do so through a Club member or through their bank, Lynch’s Castle, Shop Street, Galway. Their account number is 31958-014, the IBAN is IE3I AIBK 9372 2331 9580 14 and the BIK is AIBKIE2D. Please be generous to this wonderful institution that has done so much for the quality of life in Galway.

We have two images for you this week …. Firstly, all the boys who attended the first Camp in Lough Cutra Castle near Gort in 1942. They are, back row; Paddy Fahy, Paddy Feeney, ------ , Mickey Sullivan, Padraic Costelloe, Gerry Griffin, Dominic Walsh, John Joe Kelly, John Boyle, Paddy Walsh, --- Kelly, Paddy Halloran, Percy Conneely, Francis Feeney and Paddy Tyrrell. In front are --------- , Michael McNamara, Bartley Gill, Tommy Hornibrook, Mickey Hession, Peteen Carr, Sean Thornton, Martin Burke, Dessy Halloran, Mike Conneely and Jack O’Donnell.

Our second image is of a group at a prize-giving after snooker and table tennis competitions during a Club night in the Columban Hall c1953. They are, back row; Gerry Glynn, Michael Cunningham, Peter Devlin, Tommy McDonagh, P.J. Murray, Martin Crowley, Jimmy Dodd. Middle Row; Martin Madden, Fr. John Hughes S.J., Peter Greene, Mayor of Galway, Henry St. John Blake, William McDonagh, Michael Darcy and Fr. Michael McGrath S.J. Seated are Eamonn Naughton and Tony Conboy.

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