The Columban Hall

The Columban Hall is described as a bizarre high-Victorian building with a gabled facade of opus incertum with a small porch, polychrome arches to the windows, a star shaped west window, and a curious chunky top-knot. It was originally built as a Congregational Church, designed by Raffles Brown and completed in 1863. Our photograph (courtesy of the National Library ) was taken just a few years later.

This ‘kirk’ functioned as a soup kitchen for a while but it did not last too long. The numbers in the congregation began to dwindle, and eventually the chapel closed. In 1919 it was bought by Fr McArdle SJ on behalf of the Jesuit Community, and he re-named it the Columban Hall, though it is referred to by many Galwegians as the Columbian Hall.

In a sense it became a kind of soup kitchen again as it was taken over by the “Penny Dinners” group. They ran a lot of variety shows and plays as fundraisers for their charity work, which was to regularly feed more than 100 needy children.

The tower we see on top had to be removed in the 1930s as it was becoming dangerous, and when they took it down, they found it was full of dead swallows.

The hall has had many associations with Galway over the years. It was used a lot by members of Our Ladys Boys Club, its headquarters were (and still are ) just behind the building. There were boxing tournaments held there, Irish dancing, Scouts, badminton, Jes school plays, Anew McMaster played there. Above all it was associated with plays, pantomimes, and variety concerts by local groups. In the early days it was The Columban Players, people like Darby Kelleher, Andy Keogh, and Fintan Coogan. Later came the CHEC group of players (The Columban Hall Entertainment Committee ), Sonny McLoughlin, Jimmy Walshe, and Charlie O’Donoghue who were directed in many productions by Pat Margetts. They were also known as ‘The Crazy Gang’. They wrote most of their own material, and most of their shows were done for local charities.

They in turn encouraged two young locals, Pascal Spelman (known for some reason as “Foggy” ) and Mossy Murphy. Mossy was 6’5” and Foggy was 5’6” and together they were an outstanding comedy duo, writing and producing their own shows like Irish Stew and Foggy’s Follies. They played to packed houses and gave a platform to entertainers such as sopranos Marie Geraghty and Mary Angela Coyne, Vinny Lyons the illusionist, and Ned Joyce the tenor. Other drama groups also used the hall, the Pioneers Drama Group, the D & I, the Variettes, and occasional visiting troupes

In the distance on the left of our photograph you can see some of the thatch cottages on Shell Lane, now known as Raleigh Row. The large archway on the building on the right probably led into a stable in at the back.

“Sowing a Seed, Archives to Art” is the title of an imaginative exhibition currently on show in Tuam Library. County council archivist Patria McWalter invited six county based female artists to explore, re-imagine, and interpret some of the archives in her care. Their personal and highly original responses are shown together with the original documents and the result is a unique exhibition which should not be missed.

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