Our Lady’s Boys’ Club was founded in 1940 by Fr Leonard Shiel SJ. The main object of the club was “To provide for the relief of poverty by helping kids in need, by promoting human services which would meet long term means, and by those means to encourage their development and give their lives a dignity which is their birthright.”
It was hardly envisaged that it would last into the following century and contribute so much to the development of young people in Galway. At the time there were scarcely a dozen youth clubs in the country and there was a great need for social and recreational facilities. In Galway, such activity was virtually non-existent in the working class areas of Bohermore, Shantalla, the Claddagh, and the ‘West’.
So the generic youth club which was (and still is ) based at the back of the Columban Hall on Sea Road, became very significant in the lives of these young people. There were several meetings a week with activities such as table tennis, snooker, Irish dancing, boxing, rings, and darts. A soccer section was formed, later a rugby section and members learned swimming and lifesaving. The primary aim was to show the boys ways and means of securing their own destiny. The Jesuit Order were great supporters and provided spiritual guidance. The club is now run entirely by people who have come up through the ranks, so there is no better qualified committee.
From the beginning an annual camp was organised. The very first one took place in a disused farmhouse in Maree, Oranmore, when 20 boys were accompanied by two committee members, Gerry Dillon and Des Kenny. The budget was £28. The next camp was in Kilcornan House in Clarinbridge, and then, thanks to the generosity of Lord Gort, the annual event was held in Lough Cutra Castle for about 20 years. For some years in the 1960s, they moved around to Clifden, Roundstone, Mungret College Limerick, the Agricultural College in Mountbellew, but their nomadic lifestyle ended when they went to St Colman’s College in Claremorris where they have been for a number of years.
The camp is a holiday for boys who might otherwise never have a holiday. They are always well fed, often clothed better and made much healthier. The sporting and recreational elements of the week are the central benefit. Competition and achievement are important but not to the exclusion of those less adept. Participation and cooperation are also important, so the boys are involved in cleaning, tidying, washing up, etc, jobs that reinforce and imitate the values of family life.
This year, about 100 club members will travel on the 74th annual camp. They are able to do so thanks to the generosity of the people of Galway and past members, and so they have just launched their annual appeal for funds or support in kind. This remarkable Galway institution deserves all the help it can get, so if you would like to help, please do so by contacting club president, Jim Cunningham, Unit 2, Liosbán Estate, Tuam Road, or any committee member.
Our photograph shows a prizegiving in the Columban Hall in the early 1950s. Back row; Michael Cunningham, Peter Devlin, Tommy McDonagh, PJ Murray, Martin Crowley, and Jimmy Dodd. In the middle row are Gerry Glynn, Martin Madden, Fr John Hughes SJ, Peter Greene, Mayor of Galway, Henry St John Blake, William McDonagh, Michael Darcy, and Fr Michael McGrath. Seated are Eamonn Naughton and Tony Conboy.