Consult survivors of children’s home before it becomes creative hub, says TD

The transfer of ownership of the former St Anne’s Children’s Home in Lenaboy Castle, at Taylor’s Hill, from the Sisters of Mercy to the Galway City Council, has been agreed. However, there have been calls for an increased level of consultation with the people who resided there when it was a children’s home so that the sensitive history of the building can be recognised in its new use.

The transfer, which was announced at Monday’s meeting of the Galway City Council, will see the local authority take on Lenaboy Castle and develop it as a Children and Young People’s Creative and Cultural Hub to “support, nurture, and encourage the creation of cultural and artistic work with and for children and young people”.

City Hall has been in discussion with the Sisters of Mercy, Western Province, in recent years about the possible future use of Lenaboy Castle. The building, on lands between Taylor’s Hill and Rosary Lane, had previously been used variously as an orphanage, a children’s home, and a social care centre for children and adolescents under the name ‘St Anne’s’ by the Sisters of Mercy and latterly by the Western Health Board/HSE West.

At Monday’s meeting, councillors were informed that a ‘Heads of Agreement’ is currently being finalised between the Sisters of Mercy and City Hall to transfer the ownership of Lenaboy Castle. In addition, the sisters will transfer €750,000 to the council for the purposes of renovation and development of the property.

In a statement, City Hall said: “Considering the history of the building, particularly through most of the 20th Century, it is considered by both the Sisters of Mercy and Galway City Council more than fitting and appropriate that Lenaboy Castle will become a hub to nurture, support and involve children and young people in the expression of their imaginations and dreams.”

The chief executive, Brendan McGrath, has had preliminary discussions with a number of organisations including Baboró International Arts Festival for Children, Branar, Téatar do Pháistí, Galway Community Circus, and others working in the realm of children’s creativity, about the development. It is understood all have been “enthusiastically supportive”.

Speaking after the meeting, City Hall CEO Brendan McGrath said: “This is a significant, positive development. It advances Galway’s ambition as a sustainable, cultural force; it recognises the place of children at the heart of our development as a city and will meet the needs of children and young people to have supportive, imaginative, nurturing experiences in a creative space.”

The transfer has been welcomed by Labour Galway City West councillor, Niall McNelis. “The sad history of this site will now be filled with children’s laughter, song, and dance and will be full with dreams of colourful ideas,” he said. “This is a really good news story about the accepted offer of the site at Lenaboy but also the funding in place and available from the Convent of Mercy Trustees, North western regional assembly ERDF funds, national funding and City Council funding. This will be here for many future generations and is a great build up to Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture.”

However, Deputy Catherine Connolly has said that there must now be a meaningful consultation with the survivors of the St Anne’s Children’s Home in Taylor’s Hill, as to how it will be used in the future; and that this must become the “most important first step” as the building transfers ownership to the Galway City Council.

Dep Connolly called the transfer “a very positive development” but added it is “very important” the announcement “be placed in its historical context”. She said: “This is a decision that has come following a very long and difficult campaign by the survivors who have repeatedly called on the Sisters of Mercy to hand over the property and to let it be used as a place of ‘healing and reconciliation’.”

In response to these requests, Dep Connolly, as a city councillor, tabled a motion in 2009, passed unanimously by the council, calling on the Sisters to donate the lands and premises at Lenaboy to the local authority. Around the same time, the Sisters “had already chosen Lenaboy” as one of its properties to be given over to the State, according to Dep Connolly, “in part-compensation for the abuse suffered by so many children”.

However the building ended up not being handed over and “was allowed to remain derelict for over 10 years”, leading to “serious deterioration in the condition of the building”. Given this background, Dep Connolly said she was “very disappointed” that both the verbal and written statements from the city manager did not “recognise and acknowledge the sensitive history of the building” and the importance of consultation with survivors, especially when Baboró, Branar, Teatar do Pháistí and Galway Community Circus , had already been consulted about the use of the building.

Dep Connolly has contacted the city manager with a view to including the survivors and/or representatives of their families in the consultation process regarding any proposed uses of this building.

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