The Vincent de Paul Society, Galway’s oldest charity?

Today’s photograph was taken about 100 years ago and shows part of St Augustine Street. In the foreground is Hynes’ retail shop. Hynes’ were major importers and had a yard and warehouse on the docks, so they could unload imported cargo directly from the ship across the street into the yard. The shop sold all kinds of hardware and builder’s materials. The shop has gone now and is replaced by what is known as the Hynes Building which houses the County Library and various offices.

A little further down the street on the right is Ozanam House, home to the St Vincent de Paul Society in Galway since 1929. This house had been built by John Joyce, a merchant and banker, between 1810 and 1814. In 1948 VdeP purchased a yard and stables at the back of this house, and in 1960 bought the house next door, known as the National Club, or ‘Bishop’s Court’. The VdeP was formed in Galway in 1849, and the first meeting was held in the Magdalene Asylum which was located where St Patrick’s School is today. Later meetings were held in the Municipal Offices which we know today as the Town Hall. The name given to the ‘conference’ was St Nicholas’ Conference. By 1859 it had 34 members and represented the whole city until 1898, when the first major step in the development of the society happened as the conference was split into three.... St Patrick’s Conference for Fr Dooley’s Parish, St Joseph’s Conference for Fr Lally’s Parish, and St Nicholas’ Conference for Fr Creaven’s Parish. Between 1917 and 1947, 10 new conferences were established in the city, including three junior conferences and one in UCG.

It was the generosity of Galwegians that kept them going. Rugby and hurling games were organised as fundraisers; Toft’s Amusements in Eyre Square was a major source of cash; In the 1940s, the people of Maree gave of their potato crop, the potatoes were brought to Ozanam House and distributed from there; In the 1950s a delivery of loaves from Lydon’s Bakery in Shop Street was distributed; various Galway societies including a newsboys’ club, the Sea Scouts, St Ignatius’ Sewing Guild, and the Boy Scouts also helped.

The aim of VdeP is to tackle poverty in all its forms through the provision of practical assistance of those in need. Visiting the sick, the lonely, and the imprisoned forms a large proportion of the society’s work. It is the largest provider of emergency and short term accommodation and services to people out of home in Ireland, including Madeira Court in Mill Street and St Anthony’s in Market Street. It operates in small groups called ‘conferences’ based on local parishes, and its work is usually concentrated on local visits. Members are committed to respecting the dignity of those they assist, and fostering self-respect. The VdeP’s main resource is the volunteers who do this wonderful work in a quiet and dignified way.

At this time of year the VdeP puts out its annual Christmas appeal for assistance. Due to the current economic situation, it is under more pressure than ever, so today we are asking those who can, to please continue that Galway tradition of generosity and help this remarkable organisation, and through them, those members of our society who are in need.

The Old Galway Society will host a lecture this evening in the Convent of Mercy School, Newtownsmith, at 7.30pm. It will be given by Reverend Anthony Previte on the subject of ‘Lough Corrib’s Ancient Monastic Sites’, and all are welcome. On Monday next, December 12, in the harbour Hotel, Dr Christy Cunniffe will speak on ‘Medieval Clonfert, the Genesis, Development and Decline of a Gaelic Monastic Settlement’ to the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society. The talk begins at 8pm and all are welcome.

Higgins’ Garage, which now trades as Motorpark, will celebrate 100 years as agents for Ford motor cars next year. It started business in William Street, moved to Victoria Place, then to the Headford Road. The staff are compiling a history of the business, so if you have any old photographs, documents, or funny stories relating to Higgins, could you please contact Kevin Barry at [email protected] eircom.net Everything will be cared for and returned.

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