When OLBC was founded in 1940, the Government provided no out of school education for young people. There was a great need for social and recreational facilities. Such activity was virtually non-existent in the working class areas of Bohermore, Shantalla, The Claddagh, and ‘The West’. The critical core of the club was (and is ) its generic youth club which met (and still meets ) several evenings a week. The primary aim in those days was to show the boys ways and means of securing their own destiny.
Activities included soccer, rugby, Irish dancing, boxing, swimming, lifesaving, table tennis, rings... all for a nightly fee of one penny. The Rosary was recited, and tea with bread and butter and jam was served to the members, an important supplement to their diet for many boys.
From the beginning an annual camp was organised, a week-long holiday for boys who might never have had a holiday. They were always well fed, often clothed better, and made much healthier by this week. The recreational element of the holiday was its central benefit.
Competition and achievement were important, but so also were participation and cooperation, so the boys all assisted with the cleaning, tidying, and washing up duties, in the hope that these chores would imitate and reinforce values associated with family life.
The club is probably best known for its soccer teams or rugby teams, but it is the behind the scenes work it does that is truly invaluable, rehabilitating boys, keeping them out of trouble, finding them jobs, encouraging them, and giving them a sense of loyalty.
If the 1940s were about relieving poverty, the 1950s were about preparing boys for emigration, teaching them how to drive, how to cope with homesickness, etc. In the 1960s the emphasis changed again as they began to understand the concept and beneficial role of a social educational process... as well as acknowledging the positive function of leadership in the lives of young people which the club could provide, OLBC began to appreciate that youth work had to extend beyond mere recreational games and activities. In the 1970s OLBC’s response to an ever-increasing employment problem was the establishment of an employment committee which acted as a contact network where news of any employment vacancies were quickly passed on. During this period, they began to realise the need for professional training of club leaders if they were to be successful in meeting the social needs of young people.
The problems of the 1980s were largely a continuation of the previous decade. One notable development was the visits it paid to, and received from, a youth club in Portadown. In the 1990s it was felt that the club’s traditional organisational structure was acting as an inhibiting factor and change was required. The club’s history reflects the changing society in which it operated, and illustrates its willingness to change with the times. Today, OLBC is entirely run on a voluntary basis by ex-members who among them have vast experience.
One aspect that has not changed in the club is the annual camp. It is going on as I write, and it still costs the club a lot of money. If you would like to support this extraordinary Galway charity, the club would love to hear from you. Donations can be sent to Our Lady’s Boys Club, Unit 1, Liosbán Industrial Estate, Tuam Road, Galway.
Our photograph today shows a group of the senior helpers on camp in Lough Cutra in 1960. They are, front row, left to right: Paddy McDonagh, Jim Cunningham, Fr Michael McGrath SJ, Michael Darcy, and Williameen McDonagh. Second row: Michael Burke, Leo Crean, Des Fitzpatrick, Seánie Flaherty, Peter Griffin, Michael Carrick, and Patsy Burke. At the back are Tommy Cunningham and Joe Geoghegan.