The Galway Carol Singers were formed in the late 1930s by members of the Junior Conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society. Benny Brennan from West House got the idea originally, and then a committee was formed from various conferences in town. It included Robert Pierce, Joe Lardner, Paddy Donoghue, Mattie Fahy, John Fahy, Pádraic Spelman, and Peter Griffin. The idea was for the singers to raise much needed funds for the society.
The first choirmaster was Tom Keogh who worked hard to make sure he had a good four-part harmony choir. The practises began towards the end of October in Ozanam House. After each practise there was an hour of dancing to the music of a hired record player. This made the rehearsals very popular and it helped to keep the group together for many years. Indeed, many members used to look forward to October when the singing would start up again.
The choir would begin to do the rounds of the city around December 12 and they would try to visit every street during the Christmas season, and sometimes they continued into the New Year. During World War II, they sang during the blackout. They would visit institutions like St Anne’s in Lenaboy, St Joseph’s Industrial School, and the Magdalene Laundry. On Christmas Day, they went from ward to ward in the Central Hospital. The Bishop always made sure they visited Mount St Mary’s on the night he entertained members of the corporation in the palace. The singers wore red cloaks which were made by a number of the women in the group. They formed a very distinctive group and gave up a lot of time to being a hugely important part of the Christmas atmosphere in Galway for many years, years when there were no fairy lights adorning the streets or ‘Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer’ being blared out of shops.
Our photograph was taken outside Ozanam House c1938 and shows, back row, left to right: Kevin Crowley, Pádraic Talbot, Tom Keenan, Joe Lawless. Next row; Pádraic Spelman, Mattie Fahy, Benny Brennan, Peter Griffin, P Monaghan, Paddy Liston, Walter Liston, Paddy Donoghue, M Brady, Michael Mannion.
Next row: Freda Kavanagh, Stan Keville, A Hynes, Joan Cantwell, Olive Finnerty, Una Cloherty, Eileen Murphy, Pat Kennedy, Freda O’Malley, Una Costelloe, Ena Kennedy, Evelyn Morris, Maisie Oliver, Peggy Cahill, Maisie White, Agnes Lally, Bridie Cassidy, Maureen Cahill, Louise O’Flaherty, and Nellie Healy.
Front row: Eileen Begley, Nancy Kavanagh, Bridie Broderick, Ena Spelman, Clare McNamara, Nancy Kennedy, and John Kennedy. Some others who were associated with the singers were Una Boyle, Gerry O’Malley, Paddy Molloy, and Nora Barrett.
The one constant from this photograph still with us today is the St Vincent de Paul Society and it is still very much in need of help, whether it be financial or in the form of volunteering, so do what you can to help the society make this Christmas a happier one for all those people it takes care of.
This evening at 7.30pm, the Old Galway Society will host a lecture given by Gerry Hanberry, author and musician, in the Claddagh Hall at Nimmo’s Pier. The title is “On Raglan Road, great Irish love songs and the women who inspired them.” All are welcome.