One of Galway’s true characters has become an ambassador for the homeless charity which helped him turn his life around.
Dennis Connolly spent more than three decades on the streets of Galway battling alcoholism, which led to countless spells behind bars.
He was a regular in Judge John Garavan’s court, often for abusing passersby and breaking into shops. He previously told the Galway City Tribune he must have smashed the window at McCambridge’s around 10 times.
“There were times there that I used to have to break it to get locked up, because it was too cold. I would go in, and get the winter over.”
Dennis had known very little comfort in his younger life. Originally from Fursey Road, Shantalla, his mother died in 1959, when he was six.
Two weeks after he made his First Holy Communion, Dennis was sent to St Joseph’s Industrial School in Salthill because his father could not care for him. He remained there for nine years.
He then went to live with his aunt in the city in 1966 but was unable to settle. Despite short spells in work, he ran away to England where he first slept on the streets while still only a teenager.
He was returned home when UK authorities realised he had been reported missing. At one point he ended up being sent to St Brigid’s Psychiatric Hospital in Ballinasloe because there was nowhere else for him to go.
A brief spell with his brother Gerald in Dublin was soon followed by a pattern that would haunt his life – living rough on park benches and in doorways, in and out of hostels, while drinking himself to oblivion.
It was only after near death that he got to grips with his addiction.
On January 5, 1991, he was one of five homeless men sleeping in an abandoned van on Merchant’s Road near the Spanish Arch when a nearby 10ft wall collapsed during a storm. Minutes before he had scrambled out, pulling two of the men out behind him.
He was unable to arouse two others, Patrick “Pa” Dodd (27) and John Mongan (20), and they were crushed to death by the falling stone.
During the tragedy he had sustained broken toes which were left untreated. Eventually he was unable to get out of bed with threatened gangrene. Doctors told Dennis he would need several operations to save his legs and they would not operate unless he quit alcohol.
Faced with the prospect of losing both legs, Dennis gave up drinking on the anniversary of his mother’s death in 2004. He moved into supported accommodation run by the Galway Simon Community. Apart from some brief lapses, he has stayed sober since.
He first came into contact with Galway Simon in 1979 when some of the charity’s original volunteers visited him on their soup run.
“They were my only friends at that time. I’ll never forget how it felt to be treated like a human being, like I was worth something. At the beginning they used to come three nights a week to talk to us and bring us soup and sandwiches. Only for them I would be dead a long time ago,” he reflects.
“Back then people ignored you if you were homeless, you were kept down, you had nothing at all. I never had any possessions, only what I wore. If the shoes went, sometimes I would put cardboard in them. Christmas was the loneliest part of the year. You had nothing. You had no Christmas dinner. You never mix with anyone when you’re homeless. You’re a lonely person.”
In 2015 Dennis moved into a Council flat while still receiving support from Galway Simon.
“I’m in my own little paradise now,” he exclaims.
Dennis, who is fronting Galway Simon’s Christmas appeal, insists there are no hopeless cases.
“Look at me years ago, I changed my life and I don’t drink today. I’m years off the drink and I did it for myself. I can’t stop thinking about the people, including friends of mine, who weren’t as lucky as me. Galway Simon didn’t give up on me.”
■ Visit galwaysimon.ie to make a donation.
Titans return to the national league for coming season
TITANS BC is returning to the national league for the upcoming 2020/21 season, one of four new teams that will compete in the Men’s Division 1 this year.
The city side will play in the Northern Conference of the league alongside fellow new sides, Drogheda Wolves and Malahide, along with Ulster University from Belfast; LYIT from Donegal; Sligo All-Stars; and Dublin Lions and Tolka Rovers from Dublin.
That looks to be the easier of the two conferences: Dublin Lions were relegated from the Super League at the end of last season, LYIT finished 5th in Division 1, Sligo finished 8th, Ulster University finished 9th, and Tolka Rovers finished 10th in a 12-team league competition that ran as a single league, rather than split into two conferences.
With four new teams for the coming season – Team Kerry are the 4th new side – Division 1 is returning to a split conference format, and all the heavy-hitters would appear to be in the Southern Conference.
Team Kerry will be joined by fellow Killarney side, St Paul’s, which finished second in the league last season, as well as Cork’s Fr Mathews and IT Carlow, who finished 3rd and 4th respectively.
Limerick Celtics and Limerick Eagles, who finished 6th and 7th, are also in the Southern Conference, as well as last season’s bottom two, WIT Waterford and Portlaoise Panthers.
Titans took a one-year hiatus from the league last season, having endured a torrid 2018/19 campaign when it finished with the worst record in the league, winning just two of its 23 league games to finish bottom of the Northern Conference.
Maree and Moycullen will once again represent Galway in the Men’s Super League, which is also being split into a two-conference format, with six teams in each conference. However, while Titans will be looking north for their main opposition, Maree and Moycullen will be looking in the opposite direction as both have been placed in the South Conference.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
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Group hurling ties to be restricted to supporters of participating teams
NO neutrals will be allowed to attend the opening round of the revamped Galway senior hurling championship which is scheduled to start in little more than a fortnight’s time.
A gathering of 500 – likely to also include the rival players and mentors – will be restricted to each group game, with the participating clubs set to be allocated around 200 tickets each for sale/distribution ahead of the fixture.
A mechanism has still to be sorted for this process, but matches will be restricted to Galway’s three county grounds: Pearse Stadium, Kenny Park, Athenry and Duggan Park, Ballinasloe, along with Loughrea. Killimor was the fifth venue in consideration for hosting senior games, but redevelopment work at the ground has ruled out that prospect.
The full round of 12 group ties will go ahead on the weekend ending July 26, but there will be no double headers. Instead, games at the same venues will be staged four hours apart to allow sanitisation of the various grounds.
Only people with tickets will gain entry to the games and there will be no cash taken at the turnstiles.
Street fight thugs from viral video outside Garda HQ avoid jail
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Two men and a woman who were involved in a ‘staged’ fistfight outside the new Garda HQ in Renmore were warned they will serve prison sentences if they don’t stay off social media for two years.
Suspended sentences were imposed on all three over the incident which was recorded on mobile phone and footage went viral on social media.
The altercation between John Maughan (27), formerly of Rinville Park, Oranmore, who now lives in Dublin, and Patrick Maughan (31), of 122 Laurel Park, Newcastle, was filmed on Patrick Maughan’s phone by his wife, Ellen Maughan (31), who is John Maughan’s sister.
The footage was uploaded that evening to YouTube, where it gained a lot of traction.
Galway District Court heard this week the trio were sitting in their cars when Gardaí arrived at the scene within a matter of minutes.
They were subsequently charged with affray at Dublin Road, Murrough, Renmore, on November 2, 2018, in that all three used or threatened to use violence towards each other, thereby putting other people present in fear for their own safety and the safety of others.
Both men were also charged with breaching the peace.
Garda Pat Casey told the sentence hearing the incident occurred at 2.30pm on the main road between GMIT and the Garda HQ.
He said the men’s cars met, whether by accident or design, at that location where they got out and had a fist fight in the middle of the road.
Judge Mary Fahy asked if the location chosen for the fight, right outside the new Garda HQ, was deliberate.
Garda Casey said the men claimed they met by accident, “but that was where they met”, he added.
“The inference is they did it deliberately outside the Station to make it even better on social media. They are an absolute disgrace to do that in public and to do it in front of their children,” Judge Fahy said.
This is a shortened preview version of this court report. To read the article in full, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.