There are few neighbourhoods that can boast a Titanic survivor, a best-selling author, a released captive, and an Irish International soccer player among its former residents – but then, nobody could say ‘The West’ in Galway is a typical suburb.
One hundred years ago this year, the first families moved into new houses built along St Joseph’s Avenue and St John’s Avenue.
Their predecessors – labourers who worked in the nearby mills or at the docks – were living in squalor, in dwellings that were not fit for human inhabitation, for the very reason that there was a chronic shortage of houses to meet the growing need in the city.
The Connacht Tribune of April 8, 1911, reported from a sworn enquiry carried out by the Urban Council, at which medical officer, Dr Michael McDonogh, was asked if he was given a free hand, how many of the structures would he condemn. “120,” he answered.
“They have no sanitary accommodation, are old and dilapidated, have small windows, are damp and without ventilation,” he said.
The meeting was told that there were cases in which as many as nine or ten people lived in one little room – a kitchen.
“There were people even living in houses where one would not allow pigs,” the meeting was told.
“About a fortnight ago, one of these houses tumbled down, and a family of seven or eight escaped with their lives. In some houses there were two families, owing to the want of houses, as they had no other houses to go to.”
Patrick Curran, UC, and chairman of the Board of Guardians, told members that that five or six years previously, typhus fever had broken out in nearby Munster Lane, which had taken about 12 months to eradicate.
“There were five or six of them (dwellings) in which people were living, and one would be afraid to go near them … The marvel was that there was not fever now,” he said.
“These tenants had not any sanitary accommodation, and all the slops were thrown out on the front door… those houses would be vacated long ago, but they had no place to send the tenants.”
The Urban Council acquired two acres of land at Kelly’s Lane, and made plans to build two-storey cottages, consisting of a kitchen, and bedroom at the back, and two bedrooms overhead.
These would have a porch and shelter to the back door, a wc, a small yard, and there was provision for a water supply through a three-inch main at the back yard.
Michael Hession and his family were one of the first to occupy the new houses on St Joseph’s Avenue in July 1914.
The very rent book presented to him at the time is treasured by his grandson, Christy, who grew up there, raised his own children in the same house, and lives there to this very day.
His story is not unique, though – many of the current residents are the children or grandchildren of the original 1914 occupants.
Michael O’Connor’s parents lived in their house on St John’s Avenue since they were married, and he has lived there himself for 70 years.
The family ran a general grocery shop, which was an integral part of the community until it closed 26 years ago.
It was the only shop for families living on the two streets – nearby Henry Street was considered a world away – and they all made purchases ‘on the book’, which had to be cleared at the end of every week.
“When we hit 13 or 14, very few of us stayed on at school – a lot of lads ahead of me went to England, and only came home for the Races and at Christmas,” Michael says.
“When we had the shop, at Christmas the population of the street would go up by 20 or 30 – everyone had someone home, there was a buzz, there was loads of money for a week.
“After Christmas, the wise ones would have return fares, but the others would have to hang around until they could pay for it. Now, at Christmas time about one-fifth of the houses are empty, as a lot of them are rented, and the population goes down.”
Sally O’Shaughnessy’s (née King) parents were living in Parkavera before moving to live in a room in the area, where they had one child. Finally, they obtained to a house on St John’s Avenue in 1917 – where her mother produced another 10 babies.
The family of 13 were not the only ones sharing the three-bed house though, her uncle also lived with them. She recalls that her parents slept in the bedroom downstairs, the four girls were in a room together upstairs, and her uncle and her seven brothers top-and-tailed between three beds in the front bedroom.
Big families were the norm though, Barbara Bailey and her husband, commercial fisherman, Johnny, moved from Sea Road to St Joseph’s Avenue in December 1969 with three children. Over the years, that grew to 10 – nine sons and one daughter.
Fifty eight years ago, Mary Murphy moved from a thatched cottage on St Brendan’s Avenue – which she describes as being “like the Great Southern” when they moved in – to St Joseph’s Avenue. She had her husband had six children.
The large families came in handy when fielding a football team to play against strong teams formed in some of the bigger suburbs.
Don Deacy was one of 10 children – one girl and nine boys – and mealtimes in that house were legendary. His mother had to put on two sittings, but the first one was the more desirable, as food was only available on a first come-first served basis.
“At 1pm we’d have to run home from St Pat’s, or there’d be nothing left,” he says.
His grandparents had taken the eldest child to live with them on High Street, as was the practice at the time, and Don was about seven or eight years of age before they met.
He recalls a three-wheeled bubble car driving down the street and stopping outside his door – all he was interested in was getting a spin in it, as Matt Glynn had the only car on the street at the time.
Behind the wheel was his eldest brother, who was about 20 at the time. He had moved to England, where he had done well, got married, and then came back to visit.
Another of his brothers, the late Eamonn ‘Chick’ Deacy, went on to enjoy a great career with Aston Villa, and played for Ireland – no doubt his love of soccer was cultivated by the creation of West United in 1945, a team made up of children from the two streets.
“If you were from Henry Street, you thought you were big shots… Bohermore had the Hibs – that was a much bigger area, but there were about 10 or 12 in every family here, so there was no problem getting a team together!” Don says.
Mike Geary considers himself ‘a blow in’ – 60 years after the family swopped their home in Fairhill for one on St Joseph’s Avenue.
His two uncles, who looked after the gardens of Eyre Square and Salthill Park, used to live in ‘The West’, which gave his mother notions about moving.
Mike then got married and raised his children in the same house.
Growing up then was very different to how things are now though, says Michael O’Connor.
“It was a fantastic place to grow up in – now you have to get crèches for kids, but we were out on the street all day,” he says.
The children were largely oblivious to what was going on behind closed doors, though.
Christy Hession grew up living with his two uncles, Thomas and John Joe, who both fought in the First World War. The latter was just 14 when he signed up, having given a false name.
“There was nothing in Galway for them at the time, so they went to war to get money, and then they were called traitors [when they came home],” he says.
“They didn’t want to talk about the war, they were terrified of the telegram boy. They would come into the house and go upstairs with a bottle, and lock the door.”
Thomas joined the Franciscans some years after returning home, living with his war memories for another 50 years after fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Another resident who was not inclined to speak about his experiences was Eugene Daly, a survivor of the Titanic.
A prominent member of the Clan Uisneach War Pipers’ Band , he was one of 11 people from Athlone on the ill-fated liner, heading to a new life in America.
The Connacht Tribune reported on May 4, 1912 that after the Titanic sank, Daly wrote to his mother from America: “Got here safe. Had a narrow escape… Haven’t much news at present, as I have not been out much since I came here.”
He returned to Ireland though, settled in St John’s Avenue, got married, and had one daughter.
Sally O’Shaughnessy’s parents knew him well, as they used to mind his daughter when his wife was sick. She says he spoke to them about the sinking of the Titanic, but was reluctant to openly discuss it with others.
Neighbouring children grew up hearing that he had successfully sued the White Star Line for the loss of his bagpipes, along with murky details about his eventual escape from the sinking ship.
“We used to taunt him: did he get a white feather (symbol of cowardice) from the Queen for dressing up as a woman?” says Don Deacy.
But the truth was that while he had managed to get into one of the lifeboats, he was told at gunpoint to get out. Eventually, he was pulled to safety from the icy waters.
In 1958, he became somewhat of a minor celebrity in the city, when the Titanic movie, ‘A Night To Remember’ came to town.
“It was being shown in the Estoria – ‘Baldy’ Raftery was the manager, and he gave Eugene a free pass for the week that it was on,” Don adds.
“He went every night, and said that the actor playing the captain was very like the real one.”
Eugene Daly went back to the US on a visit in 1967, planning to come home to Galway again, but died over there.
Another occupant who valued his privacy was Brian Keenan, who rented a house for six months after his release from four years of captivity in Beirut.
And, a plaque marks the birthplace of another well known resident, the late author, Walter Macken.
The two streets will celebrate 100 years since the first residents moved onto St Joseph’s Avenue, with a festival on September 20.
St Patrick’s Brass Band is set to open it, and there will be entertainment for children and families on the day.
Jane Talbot’s 2006 photographic exhibition, ‘Knock Knock’, which featured her neighbours at their front doors, will be on display again on the day.
Historian, Peadar O’Dowd, is putting together a booklet on the history of the area. Also, there will be a display of old photographs and memorabilia of residents from the past 100 years.
Outpatients’ concerns over reduced services at Merlin Park
Patients who use ‘Hospital 1’ at Merlin Park face uncertainty over services after nurses were re-deployed to University Hospital Galway.
The hospital unit carries out infusion and transfusion services, as well as oncology and haematology.
Saolta University Hospital Group – which operates the public hospitals –has transferred nurses from Hospital 1 in recent weeks, so that it had sufficient staff available to reopen St Anthony’s Ward at UHG.
St Anthony’s is a 28-bed ward that had been closed all during Covid-19. It has now been re-opened, using redeployed nurses from Hospital 1, to cater for the return of essential procedures at UHG.
Saolta has argued that it is trying to maintain core services at UHG and it is re-deploying staff from elective areas in Merlin Park.
Merlin Park and UHG combined is Galway University Hospital – essentially the same workplace for industrial relations purposes – and is part of the same umbrella of hospitals in the West and North West run by Saolta.
A number of outpatients who have used Hospital 1 have told the Galway City Tribune they are concerned with the change, and the implications it might have on the services they receive.
Hospital 1 is a medical ward that offers a Monday to Friday service on the first floor of the main building on Merlin Park grounds.
They do infusions and transfusions and treat patients with MS, those who are anaemic, as well as oncology and haematology.
Those impacted by the reduced service at Hospital 1 also include people with blood disorders; people with blood cancers or leukaemia; and people with conditions such as myelodysplasia.
“Neurologists use it to observe patients who’ve had seizures. There’s a multitude of consultants who would’ve used Hospital 1 for various investigative procedures. Rather than going into hospital in UHG, occupying a bed, Hospital 1 is used for infusions, and you could be in and out in a day, or stay a couple of nights,” a source said.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has called on Saolta to put in place a contingency plan.
Anne Burke, INMO, Industrial Relations Officer, Western Region, confirmed to the Galway City Tribune that some of her members have been re-deployed from Merlin Park to UHG, because of a massive shortage of nurses at the Newcastle site.
“If they pulled the Hospital 1 nursing staff out of UHG today, St Anthony’s would have to close and that’s the nub of it. They simply do not have the staff to do it,” explained Ms Burke.
“The staff have redeployed. They were initially told it would be for two weeks. But clearly, that won’t be sustainable in the context of massive vacancies at the UHG site.
“There’s bound to be a very definitive impact on the service. We have members already working overtime, and part-time workers who have upped their hours. But you are only flogging a dead horse if you’re asking people to work over and above. There’s only so much overtime you can do – no matter what money is offered – in the context of the conditions on the wards,” she said.
Asked when Hospital 1 might return to ‘normal’ staffing levels, Ms Burke said: “When is it likely to revert? There’s a big question mark over it, and our position is that it’s an unanswered question in the context of the deficit of nurses at UHG site and the attempt by management to maintain core services.
“That might be of cold comfort to those who depend on transfusions in Hospital 1. But they are going to have to put in a contingency plan about all of this and how it’s going to be managed and how Joe and Mary Bloggs who is looking for an infusion or transfusion, how are they going to get that. They cannot just be left in abeyance. They have to receive some element of treatment. Whether that is done through engagement with the private hospitals again, we don’t know.”
The recent cyber attack on the HSE has hampered INMO’s ability to communicate with hospital management.
Hundreds of new apartments in Galway will not be available to buy
The backer of the Crown Square scheme in Mervue is planning a massive ‘build to rent’ housing scheme as part of the development, with 345 apartments.
Padraic Rhatigan was previously granted permission for 288 apartments on the site but has now applied for a modified and higher-density development, with blocks ranging from four to nine storeys in height.
There will also be a neighbourhood facility with a gym, a primary care medical centre with pharmacy, a ‘working from home’ lounge, games room and a creche.
There will be 240 two-bed apartments, 86 one-beds and 19 three-beds, all of which will be specifically for the rental market and not available to purchase.
The plans include three blocks ranging from five to nine storeys in height, with garden courtyards.
To meet social housing requirements, the developer plans to transfer 35 of the apartments (20 two-bed, 10 one-bed and 5 three-bed) to Galway City Council.
A total of 138 car-parking spaces have been allocated on the lower basement levels of Crown Square for residents, and there will be 1,200 secure bicycle parking spaces across the development.
The planning application was made directly to An Bord Pleanála under ‘Strategic Housing Development’ legislation, which allows for the Board to decide on applications residential developments of more than 100 units following initial consultations with the local authority.
According to Rhatigans, the property market has changed since it was granted permission in November 2019 for 288 apartments in three blocks ranging from five to eight storeys in height.
“The rationale behind this proposal stems from the changes to market modelling and the demand for residential accommodation which have arisen since the previously approved application.
“These amendments … are being proposed following a review of the economic viability of the overall scheme,” the applicant previously said.
According to the new application, the scheme is intended to create a “distinctive new city quarter”.
“Important pedestrian and cyclist connections are also incorporated into the design by creating links between Monivea Road and Joyces Road providing an accessible street network for walkers and cyclists. It is considered that the proposed development would bring significant socio-economic benefits to the community,” the application reads.
The apartments constitute Phase 2 of the Crown Square development. The first phase is already under construction and includes a 180-bed hotel with bar, restaurant and conference facilities and five office blocks with space for up to 3,500 workers.
Mr Rhatigan recently told An Bord Pleanála that despite uncertainty in the market with hotels at the moment due to Covid-19, there is still a plan to proceed with the hotel in Phase 1 “and broadly with the masterplan for the overall scheme”.
He explained that the substructure of the hotel was currently being put in and that Rhatigans are in discussions with a few potential operators, but are not as far along in the discussions due to the delays brought about by Covid-19, however, it is believed to be still viable.
It remains the intention to be a high-quality hotel with a good-branded operator on board, he told the Board.
Two of the buildings in Phase 1 are expected to be completed with landscaping and occupiers moving in at the end of this year.
City Council ‘does not outbid’ private buyers in housing market
Charities that buy houses in Galway for homeless people are not distorting the property market, a senior official at City Hall has said.
Dermot Mahon, Acting Director of Services for Housing at Galway City Council, insisted that Approved Housing Bodies (AHB), which provide and manage rented social houses, do not outbid private buyers in the housing market.
He was responding to queries from elected members before they approved a loan of almost €1 million to facilitate three AHBs to buy four city homes.
“We don’t engage in a bidding process,” Mr Mahon said. “We take a value, and we will not exceed that value. If there are other purchasers we will not engage, and we will not exceed it [valuation].”
He said that there is a cap in all local authority areas set by Government regarding the maximum amount that can be paid to purchase houses for use as social housing rental properties.
Councillors agreed to approve loans of €930,000 for the purchase of four homes.
The agreement included €202,355 to Galway Simon for a two-bed house off the Western Distributor Road in Knocknacarra; some €189,264 to Cope Galway for a one-bed apartment on Dominick Street; and €246,528 and €292,279 respectively to Peter McVerry Trust for two-bed and four-bed houses in Doughiska.
Funding is provided by way of a grant from the Department of the Housing to the local authority who provides the funding to the relevant AHB in the form of a 30-year mortgage. Loan charges are waived provided the terms of the scheme are complied with.
“All properties have been supported by an independent valuation and represent good value for money,” said Mr Mahon.
He said that Simon and Cope were two organisations that had “excellent records” in Galway.
Mr Mahon said that Peter McVerry Trust is “in the market for more property” in Galway.
The Trust already operates the Modular Family Hub in Westside on behalf of the Council, which is a temporary facility to house people who are homeless in accommodation other than hotels and B&Bs.
Two families from the Westside Hub will be relocated to the two new properties bought in Doughiska.
In response to several questions from councillors, Mr Mahon insisted that the method of allocating housing was “transparent”.
“There is no queue skipping – it is done in consultation with us,” he said. It is based on need and length of time on the housing waiting list.
Cllr Alan Cheevers (FF) called on the Council to carry-out full surveys of houses before they are allocated to tenants.
He pointed to a recent situation in Doughiska where homes were allocated to tenants but the properties were ‘faulty from the get-go’, which was not acceptable. The issue was decided on in the courts, he said.
Mr Mahon said the four new properties being discussed were compliant with planning permission and had been assessed by engineers.