One hundred and seventy five years of Mercy education in Galway

The Sisters of Mercy came to Galway on May 1 1840. They started, in extremely difficult circumstances, in Lombard Street with three postulants. The need for uncloistered sisters who would be free to go about the streets and visit the poor in home, hospital, and jail was very great at the time. They were out and about the day after their arrival. An epidemic of cholera had broken out and they helped to nurse the ill and alleviate distress. They quickly prospered to become “Reputedly the best institution that ever was in Galway”.

In 1841, Messrs James and Patrick Joyce offered their distillery and mill malt-house and stores on St Stephen’s Island for sale. Also for sale were the ‘excellent dwelling house and offices in which Mrs Joyce resides which might profitably be converted into an hotel or boarding house’. The sisters, acting through Fr Peter Daly, acquired the property. Charity sermons were preached and the resulting finances helped to make the existing buildings habitable. A primary school was opened in 1842 and was placed under the Commissioners of Education. St Vincent’s Academy was built and gave valuable education to young girls.

During the Great Famine, the sisters opened three soup kitchens, one in St Vincent’s, one in Bohermore, and one in Albano Park in Bushy Park. In 1849 fever was rampant in Galway and the nuns were asked to nurse the patients in the workhouse hospital, which they did. A house of mercy was opened in the grounds of St Vincent’s for the training of young women and helping them to secure employment.

By 1875, it was obvious a new primary school was needed and a school of beautiful Gothic design was built on a vacant plot across the road from the convent, and the sisters had engineers design and construct a tunnel under the road to connect this school and the convent. In more recent times, that school building was demolished and replaced by the current structure.

In the 1950s they photographed the boy pupils separately from the girls. Our photograph today is of the girls of babies and high babies classes taken in 1953. Included in the picture are Ita O’Healy, Annette O’Healy, Peggy Walsh, Marcella Small, Theresa Morgan, Anna Farrell, Mary Theresa Duggan, Ann Francis, Maugie Francis, Emily O’Connor, Anita O’Connell, Mary Rose Heaney, Nora Naughton, Theresa Cummins, Fionnuala Sheehan, Fáinche Powell, Anne Marie Quinn, Frances Conboy, Mary Gilroy, Mary Molloy, and Mary Rabbitte.

To mark this notable anniversary of 175 years of Mercy teaching, the Papal Nuncio will celebrate Mass at 12.30pm this Sunday in the Abbey Church, and afterwards all past pupils, past teachers, current staff, etc, are invited to the Radisson for refreshments. There will be a lot of memorabilia on display. I am sure it will be very nostalgic for all ex-Salis as the pupils of Scoil an Linbh Íosa are called.

The Old Galway Society will host a conversation with Olga Madden titled “Down Memory Lane” this evening in the Victoria Hotel at 8pm. It will be facilitated by Brendan Geoghegan and all are welcome.

The Galway Archaeological and Historical Society lecture takes place next Monday, February 13, in the Harbour Hotel at 8pm. The title is “Monastic Ireland, A Gift of the Nile?” the speaker is Alf Monaghan, and all are welcome.

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