The Order of Malta in Galway

The Order of Malta was founded in the 12th century in Jerusalem to care for Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land and along pilgrimage routes through Christian Europe. Subsequently they were known as the Knights Hospitallers and when they came to Ireland they maintained hospitals for the sick, the poor, and the needy, and hostels for the use of travellers. The order is involved in many charitable activities, the most important being the administration of the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps.

The ambulance corps was founded in Galway in 1938 with the objective of providing a first aid ambulance and casualty service in those locations where organised services of this nature were virtually non-existent. The first meeting took place in the old Central Hospital, when Dr Conor O’Malley started a series of first aid lectures to a class consisting of Michael Burke, Fintan Coogan, Maxi Dooley, Michael J Healy, Patrick F Heneghan, William McCullough, Seán Minahan, Jimmy Lydon, Timothy Murphy, Bernie Raftery, Bernard Shapiro, Maurice Staunton, and Gerry Glynn.

Some time later, on May 12 1938, the first class of the Order of Malta in the country received their certificates of competency at a function attended by the bishop and the mayor. This enthusiastic band of volunteers had their first assignment the following Sunday when they travelled to Knock to take care of the sick. As Dr O’Malley, the chief medical officer of the order, set about expanding the ambulance service to other centres throughout the country, so did the Galway unit expand its activities by servicing every major sporting activity in Galway and surrounds.

The first women’s auxiliary unit in the country was established in Galway, drawing its members from the Presentation Convent School. The unit consisted of Maureen McMeniman, Nellie Cosgrove, Lily McDonald, Kit Ryan, Nora Maloney, Sheila Lohan, Pauline Forde, Bridie Kelly, Eileen Daly, Nellie O’Reilly, Bridie Powell, Maureen Thornton, and Mrs Curran. Dr Mary Costelloe took charge of the ladies’ unit, and Dr Bill McHugh took over the men’s unit from Dr O’Malley.

Our photograph shows Wilson Lynch KM inspecting the newly formed Galway Corps in front of the archway at UCG.

In the intervening years, the order has given unbroken service to the Galway community, but it was two major disasters that brought that service forcibly into the public mind. They cared for the casualties of the ship Athenia, who were the first victims of German submarine warfare in World War II. In 1958, when the KLM plane crashed off the coast, some 90 dismembered bodies were offloaded at the docks and the order was commissioned to receive them and bring them to the morgue.

Some of the stalwarts of the corps down through the years were Matthew Clarke, Cornelius Lawless, Martin and William Fahy, James Kenny, Bridget and Mary Colohan, Christina and Nora Elwood, Maud Gilligan, Teresa Lee, Seamus Kavanagh, Tom and Mary O’Connor, Cyril Doyle, Frank Colohan, Austin Conneely, Paddy Clune, and Paddy Hennigan. In 1979 a unit was formed in Mervue, and the corps operate from there and from their headquarters in Henry Street today.

Past members of the order, particularly from the early decades, are holding a reunion on Wednesday October 27 in the Salthill Hotel… an ideal opportunity to meet old friends, share a meal and reminiscences, so if you are interested contact Frank Colohan at (091 ) 521 459 or Tom O’Connor at (091 ) 523 846. Tickets are only €25, and you are invited to bring along any old photographs, stories, or memorabilia with you.

On Wednesday October 20 An Taisce will host a lecture in the Bridge Club, St Mary’s Road, at 8pm. It will be given by Walter Raftery on the subject “George Wilkinson, Builder of Irish Workhouses”… a fascinating subject. All are welcome.

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