LEISURELAND, 50 YEARS OLD
by Tom Kenny
The front page story on the first ever issue of the Galway Advertiser in 1970 was about the announcement of plans for a proposed new leisure centre to be situated between Revagh Road in Rockbarton and the Promenade.
On this day 50 years ago, June 29th 1973, the centre was formally opened by the President of Ireland, Erskine Childers. There had been some debate about what it should be called and eventually it would be known as Leisureland. It was only a section of the original plan but it was the first large-scale recreational facility in the west of Ireland. It featured an indoor heated swimming pool, a learner’s pool, a solarium, a multi-purpose hall, a cartoon cinema, outdoor and indoor amusements. Bórd Fáilte were the main investors with a significant input by Galway Corporation. The complex was designed by Simon Kelly and cost about £1 million pounds.
The swimming pool meant that swimmers in Galway could now swim and train all the year round. There was some disappointment in swimming circles that the pool was not 50 metres long, in other words, Olympic standard, and there was a rumour around at the time that for just £11,000 extra, they could have extended it. The pool was thirty three and a third metres long and of international standard. Indeed, a number of international galas have taken place there since as well as many national and local competitions.
One of the features of the pool is the number of selfless women who have dedicated so much of their lives over many years to teaching swimming here …. People like Maureen Farrell, Anna Conboy, Alice Naughton and Róisín Lally who has been there since 1977. And Tom Kavanagh has been organising Water Safety classes every Sunday almost since the opening, training thousands of teenagers in life saving. The contribution of these volunteers has touched so many lives in a positive way and it is a measure of their success and dedication that about 3,000 children attend swimming lessons every week here. The pool is, fittingly, named after Jimmy Cranny, who taught generations of young Galwegians to swim.
In 1993, the main pool was changed to a competitive 25-metre deck level pool and a learner pool with a boom between them. The original small rectangle kiddie’s pool was also changed to a larger pool with features and a water slide.
The event hall has been busy since the day it opened and had hosted conferences, political rallies, trade shows and countless plays and concerts. Major international acts such as David Bowie, Madness, Bad Manners have performed there as have virtually every Irish star of note over the last 50 years. The most memorable event I attended there was Liam Óg Ó’Floinn and the Concert Orchestra playing Shaun Davey’s ‘Brendan Voyage’. Then, there was the exuberant Els Commediants stage show which helped to put the Galway Arts Festival on a decent financial footing. The GAF needed to sell about 600 seats every night just to break even. Then our mayor, Bridie O’Flaherty made a public statement that there “would be no nudity or nude shows in my constituency”. It made national and international headlines and the GAF sold over 900 tickets every night.
The opening day was a great day for Galway. A large crowd turned out to watch the excitement and ceremonial as President Childers inspected a military guard of honour. There was a formal dinner for a big number of dignitaries in the main hall where the President made a speech which everyone there remembered as being one of the longest they ever heard.
It was not always plain sailing for Leisureland. In 1974, a violent storm blew a section of the roof off, it sailed over Park Avenue and ended up in Mrs. Stenson’s garden on Dalysfort Road. In an attempt to develop the facility as a conference centre, they applied for a liquor licence but there were too many objections. In the seventies, the complex was losing £44,000 per year. There was a long tradition of flooding in the area with Rockbarton Road often being impassable, the flood waters rising 2-3 feet over the side of the pool on one occasion. In the early days there were occasional disputes between Bórd Fáilte and the Corporation and it was necessary to do remedial work a few times through the years. Today the complex is run by Galway Salthill Fáilte.
In the year 2019, some 250,000 people availed of the facilities between the pool, the hall, the train, the amusements, the golf and the ice rinks. It has always been a very good employer and this year the staff are busier than ever with ‘Trad on the Prom’ doing 52 shows during the summer.
Our photographs show the complex in the course of construction in 1972, and President Childers, accompanied by Paddy Ryan, arriving to formally open Leisureland on June 29th, 1973. Our thanks to Ian Brennan and Tom Kavanagh for their help with the above.