Galway 1941 was a far cry from the thriving city that we see before us today. Food rationing was in force due to the Second World War, work was hard to find, the prospect of Third level education was a long way of for the vast majority going through the schools and it would be another twenty years before the arrival the large internationals in Galway would signal the start of the industrialisation of modern Ireland.
With parents rearing large families in the housing estates on the fringes of the city there was a great need for recreational facilities and family support and the Jesuit Community responded to this need when Fr. Leonard Shiel S.J. founded Our Lady’s Boys’ Club in 1941.
It must have been a great relief to many parents that their sons could go to the Club at least two evenings a week, enjoy a range of activities and after The Rosary, enjoy a supper of bread and jam before returning home.
Soccer teams were soon set up and also Rugby teams later on. Other activities have included a Boxing section, Irish Dancing, Swimming and Lifesaving and later a Golfing Society.
A weeks holiday in summertime always referred to as “The Camp” has taken place without a break since the founding of the Club.
Many of the older members of the Club will remember the Annual Retreat. It was held before Christmas and ran from Wednesday or Thursday to Sunday. Mass was held each morning in the Boy’s Chapel at The Jesuits and Rosary, sermon and Benediction each evening. The Retreat finished after Sunday morning Mass with a fried breakfast prepared and served by the Committee in the Club.
The members of the Committee of the Club in 1942 were:
Fr. Leonard Shiel S.J. (First Spiritual Director)
Peter O’Donoghue (President 1941-45)
Lorcan Kennan (President 1947-48)
Ambrose Roche (President 1948-51)
Michael Lohan and
Willie Silke, Gerry Glynn, Paul O’Dea and Tommy Nevin all served as Club Presidents, giving great service.
Des Kenny stands out as the person serving for many years as Club Manager and later President, together with Fr. Michael McGrath S.J., who were to have the greatest influence on the development of the Club.
Fr. Michael; McGrath S.J., born near Cappoquin, Co. Waterford, came to Galway in 1948 and was to spend the rest of his life working with Our Lady’s Boys’ Club. I knew him for over 30 years and it would be impossible to overstate the amount of help I saw him give to people, both inside and outside the Club, during that time.
I will take this opportunity to say a word of thanks to the Jesuit Community for providing the facilities so that Fr. Michael could stay on in the House during the last couple of years when he was sick.
It was great that Des Kenny and Jim Cunningham could be with him in his room so many days to share in the Mass.
I joined the Club in 1958 and was goalkeeper on a very good Under 15 soccer team. John Carr was captain and scored the winning Cup Final goal to give us the League and Cup. Michael Brennan was also in the team and would go on with John and Jimmy Carr and brothers Tommy and Billy to win many trophies with one of the best Junior teams the Club or the City has ever seen. Stephen Griffin and Martin Folan would be part of some of those successes.
The Club had very good Minor soccer at this time and later Micky Folan and Willie Connell were in those teams.
Stephen Griffin played rugby as well and Martin Naughton played soccer for the Club and rugby with Club and also with The Dockers team (Roves). Martin was on that Rovers team when the Boys’ Club beat them to win their first major rugby trophy
Des O’Shaughnessy and his brothers John and Michael were in that team, coached by Sean Malone. They would remain a major force in Connacht rugby for years to come. Other lads to play with the Club were John King, Willie Connell and his brother Tom, Des Crowley, The O’Briens (Donal and Brothers) and I am sure others I can not recall. Pat Elwood and Dave Hughes and brothers from both families have given great service in recent years.
After playing Under 15 soccer I concentrated on the running of the Club nights. The main games in the Club at the time were Table Tennis, Snooker/Billiards, Ground Ball/Volley Ball, Draughts and Rings. The Club started at 7.30 p.m. and we had free time for an hour and then an hour of team games for the Club League. The Club finished with Rosary and supper.
Rory Keane had all the right moves on the Billiard Table, “The Hustler of the Billiard Table”.
The Boxing Section, run by Eamon Hosty until the 1960’s or early 70’s. Willie Golden was a good boxer. Clem Bowen had some brothers boxing as well. I can’t recall Clem boxing but he probably did.
The Club year started in September and finished in early June. The preparation for the Summer Camp would start in May with the Camp taking place usually in the first week of July. A Camp committee is set up to run the Camp and an appeal for funds is sent to the business community and friends of the Club. I will say a word of thanks here to everyone who has supported the Camp Appeal over the years.
The Appeal plus the Boys’ and Committee’s subscriptions and also some funding from our soccer, rugby and golfing sections pay for the Camp.
Again, the older Club members would have had their first Camp in Lough Cutra Castle, just outside Gort, a beautiful setting with its castle and lake surrounded by woodland. I recall Miko Connor telling me he was on a Camp in Lough Inagh, Connemara and I se here before me as I write a note from the late Des Kenny saying Noel Huggard made Inagh Lodge available at very short notice.
The Camp has had many more locations over the years before we started over 10 years ago going to St. Colman’s College, Claremorris thanks to the hospitality of Fr. John O’Boyle and his staff.
I have a lovely photograph before me of Martin and Micky Folan and five of their brothers taken during the Camp held at the then Jesuit College, Mungret College, County Limerick during the 1960s. Seven brothers on the Camp. Is it a record?
The boys are divided into teams for the week of Camp, each team has a team captain. They play team games during the week and the Camp Cup goes to the winning team at the end of the week.
A round of games takes place after breakfast, dinner and tea. Side by side with those games points are awarded to teams for fatigues, i.e. wash-up and sweep-up is done by 2 teams after each meal and a good job can be rewarded with up to 5 points. The boys also make up their beds after breakfast, points again and also for quietness at night. So its not just the good soccer and baseball teams who can win the Camp Cup.
Micky Folan was telling me he won it with a team not great on games but picking up points elsewhere. Willie Connell is also a Camp winning captain.
The Committee all have jobs for the week. Manager, Games Master, Fatigues, Kitchen Staff, etc.
In recent years outings have become popular during Camp. Horse riding, Go Karting (a great favourite), Trip to Leisure Centre (Donegal), daily Swim and a Trip to Knock for Club Mass at Our Lady’s Shrine.
Mass is celebrated every day on the Camp and Michael Carrick and Mike Cunningham put a great deal of effort into the music for the Mass.
Mattie Naughton, R.I.P., loved the Camp and worked each year in the kitchen. You knew it was time for the Knock Mass when Mattie dressed up in his Blazer.
I hope to attend my fortieth Camp this July, it should be forty-six Camps plus for Jimmy Cunningham. Jimmy is the main worker on the Camp Appeal and continues to give great service to the Club as President.
Its nice to see the past Club members who continue to work after moving away from the Club in their own community. Martin Folan started the Table Tennis in the Club and is one of the main people involved in the development of the game in Galway, especially in the Commercial Club. Martin and his Committee brought many young people to the game over the last few years and also with his involvement in the T.T. Social League.
Billy Carr and Martin Crowley (Soccer and G.A.A.) have given great service in Mervue, Michael Corbett, Westside (Soccer), Michael and Patsy O’Connor, Paddy Grant and others, West Utd. (Soccer)
Former Boys’ Club members are very prominent in the running of the Commercial Sports and Social Club. Willie Connell has just taken over the Presidency from another Boys’ Club man John Cleary.
Before I finish a word of thanks to those who run the Club today, too many to name but I will try and cover it under Pat Giles and Frank Costello and their team of workers. To our older committee members still involved in the Club and Camp. A special word of thanks to a good friend, Peter Joyce who was very good to me at a difficult time in my own young life and a person 1 spent many happy years working with in the Club.
What now as we prepare for the New Millennium in the Club. The Club should remain a place where boys can come and spend an enjoyable evening. Our activities or part of them should contain an educational content. I know some of the young committee have been attempting to move in this direction as they realise the importance of a good technical/academic education for a good future. I wish them well.
I wish continued success to all our soccer and rugby players and to the Golfing Society and if I offended anyone by not including them here, all I can say is that I appreciate everybody’s involvement in any way in our Club.