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Bob’s big birthday in the Abbeyglen – seven decades on from orphanage life

It was a homecoming with a difference, over seven decades in the making, when Bob Maxwell returned to Clifden for a birthday celebration at the Abbeyglen last weekend.

Because the last time he stayed there, this luxury hotel was an orphanage – and he was a frightened little boy, heading out those big wooden doors for a life unknown.

Now Bob was returning with his daughter Marie and son-in-law Paul to celebrate his 83rd birthday, spending a night in very different surrounds to the ones he left as a scared ten-year-old.

This time, he was treated like royalty – welcomed by the owner Brian Hughes who made him ‘feel like a celebrity’, telling him it was an honour to have him back.

Earlier in the day, sipping coffee in the bar, he gazed out the big windows and tried to get his bearings.

“The outside is somewhat familiar but nothing about the inside remains. I do remember the ivy-clad walls and I can see out this window to what were fields of potatoes – certainly not landscaped lawns,” he says.

But there isn’t a hint of bitterness in his voice; he has embraced life – a happy marriage to an Irish nurse from Co Monaghan; three children, and good friends.

Yet for so much of his life, when it came to his roots, he was all on his own.

Born in Dublin, he knows little of his early years other than that he was four or five years old when came to what was then Glenowen orphanage, run by the Church of Ireland and catering for around 15 orphaned or abandoned boys of non-Catholic faiths.

For almost six decades of his life, he still knew nothing of his background until his own daughters dug deep – to discover that Bob had two brothers and two sisters.

Read the full amazing story of Bob’s life in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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