St Anne’s at Lenaboy Castle had none of the characteristics of an institution, says former clinical director

Clinical Director in Child Psychiatry 1975-2002

It is good to read that the Sisters of Mercy have agreed to transfer St Anne’s Children Home, Lenaboy, Taylor’s Hill to Galway City Council which intends to develop it is a Creative and Young Popele’s Creative and Cultural Hub. This is a very welcome and to an extent represents a continuation of some of its function in its last role with the Western Health Board.

It was run as St Anne’s Children’s Centre, the residential and day centre of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Service. This clinical service had started in the Regional Hospital in 1975 but there were no wards there suitable for these child patients.

The idea that children could have psychiatric illnesses surprises people and this is understandable. More recently, these services are named Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS ) which is more appropriate. The vast majority of these children have emotional, behavioural and/or relationship issues and very few have mental illnesses such as psychosis in the adult sense.

Indeed, essentially CAMHS are outpatient and community-based services delivered through Health Centres, Community Clinics and home visits. The new WHB service moved from the Regional Hospital to an ordinary house in Salthill which was appropriately modified for individual and family therapy and a large playroom was built at the rear. This house was called Lyradoon, so it became Lyradoon Family Centre.

A basic Child Guidance team consists of a Child Psychiatrist, Clinical Psychologist and Family Social Worker, and a number of such teams were established over the next few years. In addition, child psychotherapists, speech and language therapists, child care workers, and administrative and secretarial staff are required and these were recruited over subsequent years.

The service covered the three counties Galway, Mayo, and Roscommon and the teams held clinics throughout . Within a few years Lyradoon became too small to accommodate the staff numbers. In addition, it was realised that some patients would require more comprehensive assessments and others would need periods of therapy, hence a day and residential centre was needed. It was fortuitous, indeed some believed, providential, that Lenaboy Castle became vacant at this time.

The Western Health Board agreed that it could serve as a temporary treatment centre until they built a permanent unit at Merlin Park.

In the 19th and early 20th cebntury, Lenaboy had been the family home of the local landlords, the O’Hara family. After they left, it was owned short-term by a couple of families and then occupied by the British Army Auxiliaries (Black and Tans ) during the War of Independence.

The Mercy Order bought it in 1924 and, in part, it served as a national base for its sisters attending University College Galway to study Irish language teaching. They later moved their orphanage there until purpose-built houses were developed in Renmore in 1975.

So, in 1978 the Western Health Board carried out some alterations and renovations to this listed building. These included re-slating the roof of the old house with Blue Bangors and installing a modern kitchen.In addition, a special school was developed with class-rooms, a gymnasium and playgrounds.

St Anne’s Children’s centre opened in 1978, initially for primary school-aged children and within couple of years, the adolescent unit was opened.

As mentioned, it was a short-stay assessment and treatment centre. In addition to a team of the professionals listed above, it had child care workers, nurses, play-therapists, kitchen staff, mini-bus drivers and night porters.

While St Anne’s Childrens centre was a psychiatric hospital, recognised as such by the Department of Health, the Irish College of Psychiatrists, the Irish Psychology Society, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Irish Psychology Society, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other bodies, it had nothing of the atmosphere of an institution.

It was a run as a therapeutic community, the overall approach being milieu therapy with which each inidvidual treatment plans were devised with each child.

The emphasis was on normal family life with play and enjoyment being central to the children’s activities. The children had a staff member as their special person, who supported then to express themselves in the group discussion and therapy sessions, addressed their individual needs and ensured that they were happy and enjoying themselves. The aim was to promote the child’s positive features through encouragement and play while the problems faded. Family therapy continued while the child was in the centre.

Lenaboy Castle served its purpose excellently. There were few restrictions. The grounds enabled the children to play, have sport, and run about. A stable at the rear housed Princess, a pony which had been donated by the Mothers Union.

Despite its somewhat forbidding institutional appearance, the children loved the place.

It was highly-piggedly and some later called it Hogwarts.

Indeed, so much did the children enjoy their stay, that many were reluctant to go when the time came to leave.

It revived hope and restored normality. It served its purpose excellently until 2011 when the fine new CAMHS units were constructed in Merlin Park and the service moved on.

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