Survivors of St Anne’s Industrial School for Girls and Junior Boys at Lenaboy Castle in Taylor’s Hill are calling for it to be transformed into a memorial healing centre for all survivors of abuse in religious institutions.
Phyllis Morgan, vice chair of the UK-based Women’s Survivor Group, said the survivors would like to see the disused building reopened, which would aid the healing process for those who were neglected under the care of the religious orders.
The historic Lenaboy Castle, which dates back to the 19th century, is falling into disrepair. The Sisters of Mercy are building a nursing home on adjacent land, but as Lenaboy Castle is a listed building, options for its development are limited. The building was given to the HSE in 2010, but is now back in the hands of the order.
“We are asking can it be preserved as a living memorial to all survivors, that we could set it up as a healing centre,” Ms Morgan said.
“It would help a lot of the survivors [get] over their past traumas. It’s a lovely spot. It’s a perfect building that could be set out into a healing centre and then we could preserve the grotto.”
The Women’s Survivor Group members are concerned about what may happen to the site, especially its grotto, if it is sold by the order.
A former resident of St Anne’s, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that the grotto held a special place in the hearts of the girls who were placed in the industrial school. A group from the UK recently visited Galway in order to pay their respects at the grotto.
“Any time you ask any of the girls from St Anne’s what was their favourite time there, it was always the month of May because they went to the grotto. It was the place where they got their first Holy Communion pictures taken, and their confirmation, and it represented peace and happiness,” she told The Galway Advertiser.
She said a memorial centre would help survivors move on with their lives.
“It means so much to the survivors and [the people of] Galway, I don’t think, realise that place is even there. I think we would all be shocked and saddened if it was to be built on,” she said.
“We’re talking about a formal garden, a place of sanctuary, where you could sit and contemplate, because a lot of the survivors now don’t bother with church. But they would sit in front of the grotto. That would give them a lot of help in moving on with their lives.”
The survivor added that the people of Galway always showed the children kindness. Despite the harsh regime they endured at St Anne’s, there were good memories too.
“The people of Galway were very nice,”she said, recalling that members of the Galway Godparents’ Association would take girls from St Anne’s into their home to show them what normal family life was like, and that Lydon’s Restaurant (now Lynch’s) would give them Christmas dinner.
“They gave up their time on Christmas Day,” she said. “A lot of the Galway people who had a car would come up to the school, collect the children on Christmas day, and bring them down here for Christmas dinner.
“Because there was a horrible old orphanage, that doesn’t mean to say the people were horrible,” she added.
What is Galway doing about survivors?
The Women’s Survivors Group is headed by UK Labour councillor and member of President Michael D Higgin’s Council of State, Sally Mulready. The organisation receives funding from the Ireland Fund of Great Britain to help Irish survivors move past the trauma inflicted on them in Irish institutions. Vice chair Phyllis Morgan, the daughter of a single mother, grew up in industrial schools from the age of three. She was heavily involved with survivors’ issues at the Irish Centre in Camden Town before co-founding the Women’s Survivor Group. She recognises the importance of support for survivors of abuse.
“It’s so important that we keep together as much as we can,” she said.
“Some of us are stronger than others and we’ve got to be there to support the ones who aren’t as strong.”
Reflecting on the many Irish emigrants who have found themselves in great personal difficulty in the UK, she suggested that Lenaboy Castle could be converted into accommodation for holidaying Irish emigrants. This would be similar to the work carried out by the Aisling Project, which sends deprived emigrants to Ireland for visits.
“If there were self-contained units for people to visit for a short period, like a weekend or a week, so they could visit Ireland, visit Galway that they loved. They would never be able to afford a place here,” Ms Morgan said.
She added that it was not necessary for the Sisters of Mercy to sell the land to the group, but an arrangement could be made with the order.
“Give us say a 10 year lease, and let’s see what we can do with it in 10 years, and if it’s not working, fine, we tried. But I feel it would work,” Ms Morgan said.
The Women’s Survivor Group pointed to The Lámh Healing Foundation in West Cork, which provides services and retreats for survivors.
The group had a meeting with Sr Elizabeth Manning, provincial of the Western Province, which they described as helpful.
The anonymous survivor told The Galway Advertiser that it was vital something was done with Lenaboy Castle.
“You don’t know the joy it would bring to survivors to know there is a place they can go to and they’re not forgotten,” she said.
“Dublin is trying to do something, Cork is doing something, what is Galway doing about survivors?” she said.
“There’s a big black cloud hanging over that building over there, and if this was turned into a place of beauty, everything would be forgiven and forgotten.”