Some memories of a Galwegian

Michael Gillen was born in a house on a corner at Galway Docks in 1933. His family soon moved to Cooke’s Terrace in Bohermore, which he describes as “the best place I have ever lived in... you could not find a bad neighbour”. He had a “massive childhood”, much of it revolving around sport. Two of his great mentors were Tom Fleming and Martin King, both from Bohermore and both All-Ireland winners with the Galway hurling team in 1923. Michael’s dad grew vegetables and potatoes in ‘The Plots’ on the Headford Road, and his mother kept chickens in the back garden. Michael was always chasing them around, which is probably the reason why everyone called him Chick. This nickname stuck to him to the extent that one day, when a gang of his pals called to the door and said, “Is Michael in?” his mother had to think before she finally replied, “Do you mean Chick?”

Chick used to deliver the milk for Mary Long. He learned to swim in the Sandy River. He joined the Boy Scouts in Ozanam House, and it was here he learned to box as a light welterweight. He was an army junior and senior boxing champion and also became Connacht champion. He boxed until he was 37. He was a founder of the Holy Family Boxing Club in the 1960s, and helped form the Olympic Boxing Club in 1988. He trained members of the latter club under street lights because they had no training facilities. In his career he trained more than 50 national champions, both senior and junior, and many internationals, the best known of them being Francis Barrett who represented us in the Olympics.

Chick was a barber for more than 45 years. His shop in Dominick Street was a favourite Galway haunt. He had the honour of cutting the hair of Bishops Browne, Casey, and McLoughlin, and “they showed me great respect, they all took off their hats to me”. Chick also worked as a bouncer in Seapoint Ballroom for many years. He always had an interest in horses and ponies. The great love of his life is his wife Maureen and their children and grandchildren, of whom he is intensely proud.

Chick has been one of Galway’s most colourful characters for a long time now. Over the years he has finely tuned the art of telling stories (including some tall ones ) in his barber shop, so it is wonderful to hear he has recorded many reminiscences on a CD which will be launched in Ballybane Library on Saturday December 12 at 3pm. This is a most entertaining CD in which he talks about growing up in Galway, the various aspects of his life, and some of the characters he met along the way. All of this is done with humour and respect in a wonderful soft Galway accent, and is interspersed with pieces of music he has specially chosen. Just listen to his description of Eddie Taaffe’s boxing comeback against Willie Douglas in the Union Hall.

This week’s image shows a young Chick with some of his many prizes, trophies, and medals.

Congratulations to Seán Garvey who has produced the CD, which is available for €10 in a number of outlets around the city. All the proceeds will go to Notre Dame de Lourdes, Galway. If you cannot lay your hands on a copy, contact Michael Duignan at (091 ) 523206.

The Old Galway Society will host a talk and slide show entitled These Have I Loved in the Mercy school this evening at 7.30pm. It will be given by Donal Taheny so entertainment is guaranteed. All are welcome.

Birdwatch Galway will host a presentation entitled Birds of Galway seen in 2009, a video collection by local bird photographer Tom Cuffe. It will take place in the Anno Santo Hotel tomorrow night at 8pm. Cuffe’s photography is of a very high quality and all are welcome.

On Monday next at 8pm in the Harbour Hotel, the Galway Archaeological & Historical Society lecture will be given by Paul Duffy on the subject of The Shannon Scheme, the Galway Connection. Duffy is a local engineer who has written and lectured widely, and once again, all are welcome.

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