On Monday afternoon, I visited Modh Eile as a guest of COPE Galway. It is the perhaps one of the last times that the media will see inside it fully, because from next month it will become the temporary and private home of many families who experience domestic violence in Galway every year and who require a place to flee to, receive respite, to be cosseted. A place of great privacy and comfort.
Throughout my tour of the labyrinthine building, I was aware that those who arrive here from next month will see it much differently than I. For them, for the first few days, it will be a welcome port in a storm, a place where they and their children can rest their heads, learn to breathe again after the suffocating terror of domestic violence; where they will cling to their beds to shake free the reality that everything has changed, and to await the love and support that they will receive from the staff at Modh Eile House.
And how ideal it is for that purpose. I walk through the building, 20 metres from the traffic on Forster Street, yet I hear nothing, the sound cosseted and smothered by the trees, the walls, the grass, the sense of calm that comes from thick old blocks married with the latest in building technology — the best of modern construction with the permanence of the original building, the residence of the Sisters of Mercy until it was donated to COPE Galway seven years ago.
Yet, it is nothing like what it once was. It does not feel like an institution or a convent, although the valuable internal features are preserved, the fantastic staircase, original fireplaces in several rooms, although no longer operational. The finish by Carey Construction is exquisite, transforming this building from one of limited expression to one of openness; a pure healing location where the wounds of abuse and fear can be repaired.
I am brought from apartment to apartment, all self-contained; all warm and welcoming with space and privacy. All ideal for commencing the task of making people feel safe again; letting them know they are with people who care. It has spaces that allow young children and teenagers the freedom to express themselves and commence their healing journey.
I am accompanied on my tour by Sharon Fitzpatrick, Head of Development at COPE Galway who has overseen this project and brought it to this stage.
“It’s very exciting to have got this far. The Sisters of Mercy gifted this building to COPE Galway in 2013 and it has taken seven years to get through the planning, the grant application process, and get the funding in place, so we are thrilled to be at this point, to be within weeks of opening this service to women and children in Galway city and county.”
She tells me that it will replace Waterside House at Woodquay, and offer so much more in terms of accommodation.
“Waterside House is a very old building and COPE Galway has been providing domestic abuse services for more than 40 years, but it is limited in many ways in that the refuge accommodation comprises single bedrooms. There are shared bathrooms there, so Waterside House has very little by way of independence and privacy.
“Waterside House is owned by COPE Galway. So the entire domestic abuse service will move from there to Modh Eile House. COPE Galway has many different homeless support services and services for the older people in the community, so we will use that building for one of our other services.
“There is no cooking facility there, there is no outdoor play area for children and no space for teenagers. At Waterside, we are not able to cater for teenage boys because there are shared bathrooms and again no privacy.
“However, moving here to Modh Eile House will be a significant improvement in terms of service. There are self-contained apartments, seven one-bedroom units, a two bed unit and a three-bed unit. Each of these has living accommodation, cooking facilities, and their own private bedroom and bathroom.”
But lest we think COPEGalway’s domestic violence service is all about refuge, it is not.
“When people think of refuge and accommodation, it is only one part of what COPE Galway offers,” says Ms Fitzpatrick. “In fact about 85 per cent of our clients in any one year do not stay in refuge accommodation, so they can avail of the childcare facilities, court accompaniment, or outreach services.
“These might be women or children who are either living somewhere else or choose to stay at home but don’t ever come into refuge accommodation but still need domestic abuse support.
“About 90 per cent of the women who use our service will never stay here in refuge, but will use one of the other services and we supported more than 600 women and children in domestic abuse situations in 2019, a number that has grown every year.
“The Galway community is hugely supportive of COPE Galway generally and many people have got behind the project already. We started out just over a year ago. The project is costing just over €4 million. We received capital grant from the government of €2.4million, so we were going to the people of Galway to ask for about €1.6 million. We have almost €1.2 m of that raised through philanthropic donations and voluntary fundraising and so on.
“So we have the final €400,000 or 10 percent left to go, but we are hoping to get those funds in during the next six weeks to get the service open, so we are issuing a big shout out to the community of Galway to help us with that,” she said, as she showed me the workmanship of the new facility.
“The builders Carey Construction have been superb to work with, so supportive and you can see the quality of finish throughout and the care that has been taken. I think everyone who worked on this site really got behind the project, not just in terms of the construction but in terms of what this service wants to deliver to the community of the people of Galway.
COPE Galway’s vision is that Modh Eile will provide a safe space for women and children to rebuild their lives, free from domestic abuse and violence.
The redeveloped building has nine self-contained apartments, with bedroom, bathroom, living and kitchen facilities, with the capacity to accommodate at least nine women and 20 children. It also has a fit for purpose childcare unit with facilities and sufficient space to work with children ages 0 to 18 years.
There are one to one consultation rooms, a group meeting/training room and office space for outreach services. Office, communal spaces, and meeting rooms attached to the refuge to facilitate support work with women and children resident in the refuge.
The name Modh Eile, the Irish for ‘Another Way, was chosen by women who have experienced domestic abuse. They believe the name will give hope to other women to find a way to rebuild their lives and create a better future for their families after domestic abuse.
In Modh Eile House, women will have even better access to specialised support for themselves and their children. They will be able to cook for themselves and their children, ensure that their children continue to go to school and have a safe environment conducive to family life.
Children and teenagers will have a safe place to play, hang out, learn and grow. They will receive the specialised counselling and care they need to recover.
A facility such as this is an asset to Galway. When the Sisters of Mercy donated this premises to COPEGalway, they did so to Galway. COPEGalway, and indeed all of us, are merely custodians of the facility.
We never know when we will need this service. Or our children. Or our children’s children. It is part of the caring fabric that encapsulates Galwayness. COPE Galway has provided this service because there is a need to protect our vulnerable people. And we are always just one step away from being vulnerable ourselves.
To raise €400,000 might seem like a large amount, but it is just ten percent of the overall cost of providing this safe haven in the heart of the city. We can do it, Galway and with that we shut one door on a sad association with this building; and open another one to let in the light.
The spirits of those who worked next door in the Magdalen Laundry would wish for a caring Galway such as we have. Let us all do what we can to make sure this gets over the line.
It is our duty to help COPEGalway in any way we can. www.copegalway.ie