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Former Lenaboy orphanage resident offers thanks to the people of Galway
Paschal Spelman: entertaining the residents.

The writer of this letter, who wants to remain anonymous, contacted the Survivors Integrated Service at the London Irish Centre to seek their help with getting it published in Galway. This letter is only meant to reflect one person’s experience of their time at St Anne’s and their memories of how the community of Galway came together to give them a magical Christmas experience every year.

The former orphanage in Taylor’s Hill was donated to the city by Sisters of Mercy as part of the clerical sex abuse redress scheme. The design of a creative campus at Lenaboy Castle is now underway with €22 million the estimated cost of the project.

Christmas is approaching fast and it’s that time of year, that brings me right back to my childhood growing up in St Anne’s Orphanage, Lenaboy, Taylors Hill, Galway in the 1950s/1960s. I am not sure if the people of Galway realize without their kindness, Christmas would not have been so magical for us children in the Institution.

I use the word magical with great care, as I am only too aware there is nothing magical about growing up in an Institution, quite the opposite as a matter of fact. So much has been written and well documented, about the horrors that were afflicted on the children in the Institutions in Ireland, by people who were entrusted to look after us, I won’t dwell on that now, or paint a rosy picture either.

It is only fair I should bring to your attention, the wonderful organizations and the extraordinary people, who gave up their time so we in the Orphanage could experience the magic of Christmas. Galway should be proud you made a difference and brought light and happiness into our dull environment.

This is a thank you letter to the businesspeople of Galway, the Chamber of Commerce, the Galway Godparents Association, the Wheelchair Association, the Students at UCG, Maddens Nurseries, the local cinemas, the Odeon Café, Woolworths, and lots more – not forgetting the individual families who never forgot us, who would visit our school and sprinkle a little bit of magic at Christmas time.

The Survivors of St Anne’s owe you all a huge debt of gratitude, I want to put on record the immense difference, your act of kindness made to my life, your loving care and support made me as a child feel loved, and I believed the people outside our big grey walls were watching out for us.

The Galway Godparents Association were a wonderful organization, a committee of women, i.e. Mrs B. Whoriskey, F Lavelle, J Burke, F Mahony, M Doyle, L McDermott, S Kennedy. (sorry I can’t remember all the names) who tried to improve our lives for the better, but met obstacles and challenges along the way, they did not give up.

The Godparents would take us children out into their homes for a day, a weekend, a week’s holiday, and treat us like a member of their family. That was the first time, any of us children experienced family life, we were very shy and frightened at first, and scared of the family’s pet cat/dog.

Molly Browne, here stepping it out at the Presentation Secondary School Past Pupils dinner in the Warwick Hotel, Salthill, in 1976.
Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy

When we got back to St Anne’s, we would re-enact the family scene we had witnessed in the Godparents’ homes and play for hours calling each other Mammy and Daddy. This introduction to family life has shaped my life and helped me cope with the outside world. The Godparents stood by us all year round.

At Christmas time, the Godparents would put on a big party and bring us lots of presents, such as sweets, story books, dolls, tea sets, knitting and sewing kits, colouring in books, pens, pencils. Things we could only dream of.

I name this list of gifts, because to this day each one of us Survivors has an attachment to that gift, and happy memories of the hours of pleasure we got playing with our presents.

Maddens Nurseries of Taylors Hill would deliver and put in place a huge Christmas tree, that would reach the ceiling, I longed to touch and smell the freshness of its green branches, year on year we would sit, and watch the nuns decorate the tree, with the same six little robins, six candles, six balloons, tinsel, and six little handkerchiefs with a nursery rhyme printed on them.

The Galway Chamber of Commerce came up to our school with Santa, some of us were petrified of him, the magic of Christmas would come alive with a fabulous party, lots of lovely food, singing, dancing, opening of presents, and the wonderful Molly Browne and Pascal Spelman would entertain us with jokes and laughter, we all loved them they were so kind to us.

On Christmas Day in the afternoon, a group of volunteers would call up to St Anne’s to collect us in their cars and drive us down the town to the Odeon Café for Christmas dinner, Mrs Doyle would invite about fifteen to twenty of us children into her dining room upstairs over the Café.

Our fairy Godmother Mrs Doyle was pure joy she is still very special to us. She would lead us children into a beautifully decorated room, which had a big open fire in the fireplace, a long dining table set out in Christmas colours, each one of us sat down and admired the silver cutlery, napkins, crackers, party hats, and lemonade, that was laid before us, best of all was the Christmas dinner, served up to us as if we were royalty, we ate everything that was put before us It tasted heavenly, Bing Crosby was always singing in the background.

In the evening the volunteers would return to the Café and drive us back to St Anne’s, they knew we were in no hurry, and sad to leave Mrs Doyle.

Sometimes the drivers would take us the long way back to Taylors Hill. As we left the Café on our way out to the cars, Mrs Doyle handed each one of us a big ice cream cone, we never cared how cold the weather or the ice cream was.

It still amazes us me how the people of Galway gave up their time on Christmas Day, so we could have a magical Christmas.

I think of Mrs Doyle every time we as survivors get together and go out for a meal, be it in the USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, England, Scotland, London and Ireland, we always chat about our memories of our lovely Christmas dinner in the Odeon Café.

All these wonderful people of Galway have given me such happy Christmas memories, I will never forget your kindness.

Survivors of the institutions deal with child abuse in our own way, some of us are still hurting and can never forgive or forget, on the other hand some of us have buried the miseries at the back of our minds, and determent it won’t destroy us, we have moved on from those awful places. But as it’s the season of goodwill, I thought it would be a fitting tribute to say Thank You – let’s say a belated Christmas present to you all.

Thank you once again, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


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