Let imagination run free where it was once stymied

Lenaboy Castle

Lenaboy Castle

The news this week that Lenaboy Castle has been handed over to the city by the Sisters of Mercy, along with a €750,000 stipend to kickstart its refurbishment, is to be welcomed.

It is a building with a chequered history, a place where children would have existed in fear; of things outside their control. It was never a place that could have been envisaged as one that would bring hope. Throughout its many incarnations, Lenaboy Castle was a severe place to which not one child was driven up to with optimism.

But now, there is a chance to change all that; where there was fear, let there be light; where footsteps represented a torment, now let they mean opportunity;in floors where many were denied an imagination, let the unused creative juices of decades past spring forth and fill their minds.

Let the jumbled up elements of young brains learn to create many things there that will shape the cultural state of this city and county for generations to come. Let their freedom mock the dourness of the walls built to keep in, rather than keep out. Let it place good mental health at the forefront of modern education.

So much of childhood in this country has been affected by Church and State, it is time for us all to ensure that this is something that is not replicated in the century ahead, although I fear that sometimes we are not learning from the mistakes of the past at all.

Fresh from clapping ourselves on the backs for our feel good abhorrence at the sins that were committed in the name of Church and State in institutions, now we stand idly by as we create new institutions, except these ones have room service that cannot be afforded, and have keys made of plastic rather than steel.

Now, we feel it is OK to allow children to flounder in direct provision centres, in hotel rooms and hostels which are not built to allow the dignity and wild abandon of childhood. We have 3,000 children whose home is Room 446 in a Celtic Tiger hotel that rents rooms to a market they had not planned for.

Catherine Connolly is right this week, saying that in developing Lenaboy Castle into the creative hub that will throw light and colour into the next Galway generation, we not forget all those silent voices that remain unheard in the corridors of that building; that we do not allow history conveniently forget all that went on in the Ireland of the 20th century, a bleak time to be a child in a bleak country.

With this development, we applaud all who have been involved, the Galway City Council, its CEO, the councillors and the various arts groups who will take on with relish the challenge of making a great building into a place of hope. Along with great art and writing and performance, it will create the young men and women who will drive Galway's arts scene in the 50 years after 2020.

In 2070, let Galway look back with pride on a decision made this week, and be grateful for creating an environment that will guide the pen and the brush of the next tranche of West of Ireland cultural ambassadors.

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