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Out West – Galway City’s most close-knit community



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.

Long-time residents Sally O'Shaughnessy, Mary Murphy, Barbara Bailey, Christy Hession, Mike Geary and Michael Gorman, with some of the memories that will be on display for the celebration to mark 100 years since their homes were first occupied

Long-time residents Sally O’Shaughnessy, Mary Murphy, Barbara Bailey, Christy Hession, Mike Geary and Michael Gorman, with some of the memories that will be on display for the celebration to mark 100 years since their homes were first occupied

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.

Michael Trayers of Barna leads a donkey and cart carrying Maeve and Valerie Hession, watched by their grandaunt, Molly

Michael Trayers of Barna leads a donkey and cart carrying Maeve and Valerie Hession, watched by their grandaunt, Molly

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.”

Bridget 'Baby' O'Connor with her granddaughter Catherine, pictured in the mid-1970s on a donkey and cart belonging to the child's maternal grandfather, Gerry Condon, from Knocknacarra

Bridget ‘Baby’ O’Connor with her granddaughter Catherine, pictured in the mid-1970s on a donkey and cart belonging to the child’s maternal grandfather, Gerry Condon, from Knocknacarra

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.

Mary and Andy King, pictured in the late 1940s outside their home, on a motorbike belonging to visiting relations

Mary and Andy King, pictured in the late 1940s outside their home, on a motorbike belonging to visiting relations

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's granduncle

Christy Hession’s granduncle, Tom Davis, fought for the Connaught Rangers in India

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.”

Titanic survivor, Eugene Daly, came to live in Galway after being rescued from the ill-fated ship. He dressed up as a Pope for this photograph, but was actually married with one child.

Titanic survivor, Eugene Daly, came to live in Galway after being rescued from the ill-fated ship. He dressed up as a Pope for this photograph, but was actually married with one child.

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.

Connacht Tribune

American visitors’ emotional trip to grave of their long-gone Galway ancestors



The group outside The Village Inn at Kilchreest after visiting Killinane Graveyard.

To find a place in the world where you belong outside the place where you grew up is how Cameo Wood describes returning to the home of her three-times great-grandparents in Kilchreest.

Cameo, who first landed on Irish soil eleven years ago, shortly after discovering her roots, returned this week with 30 members of her extended family to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors who left Galway in the early 1900s.

Discovering that connection, over a century after her relatives set foot on a ship bound for the USA, has led her family to discover a past they never knew they had.

“In 2011, someone associated with Ireland Reaching Out [Ireland XO] contacted me and said they had been clearing out Killinane Graveyard and said ‘we found your ancestors and if you come, we’ll show you where they lived, what they did and how they spent their time’,” says Cameo of the discovery.

“That sounded pretty good,” she laughs. “You hear that you might be Irish but what are you going to do – go to Dublin and look at a harp and then go home? That wouldn’t be very interesting.”

What was interesting was finding a long-forgotten connection with a place that extended her roots from Pittsfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, across the Atlantic to Kilchreest where her three-times great-grandparents, Pat Ball and Margaret Donohue, are buried.

It was their daughter, Jane Agnes Ball who married Kilkenny man George Daniels and moved to the US, beginning the journey that led 30 of their descendants back to Galway this summer.

Cameo’s awareness of her Irish roots only came about after hearing from Ireland XO – an organisation founded by Galway man Mike Feerick – while there had been rumours of a connection with the ‘old sod’, they’re not uncommon in America, she laughs.

“No one ever mentioned we were Irish. I sort of happened on a tiny link, but I was 90% sure it wasn’t true because all Americans like to think they’re Irish and Native American – and they never are!”

Now San Francisco-based, Cameo is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker but was working in tech in 2011 and it was while she was selling her company to Google that she was contacted by Mike Feerick of Ireland XO.

Standing in Woodville Gardens just outside Kilchreest, she says since that first trip to Galway in 2011, the connection has been re-established, and it’s thriving.

“We’re here in Woodville and Margarita [Donohue] who runs it remembers me. And we were just in the Village Inn in Kilchreest which I was referred to – I already had a connection.

“I can go to a bar in Loughrea and embarrassingly order my Guinness with blackcurrant syrup, because they know how I like it – and I can take 30 members of my family with me because we already know people, and that’s exciting,” says Cameo.

The complexities of Irish history at the turn of the 20th Century may have complicated matters, she says of their lost heritage, because her ancestors were Protestants and left Ireland as the push for independence intensified.

“After I made the first trip, I came back and was talking to my cousins and I was saying, ‘I think we’re definitely Irish, but it’s a weird kind of Irish because we’re Protestants’, and there were questions about if Protestants could even be Irish,” she laughs.

While many here would associate Massachusetts with the Irish-American community, Pittsfield where her family is from is a long way from the Boston-Irish, as Cameo explains.

“It’s far away from Boston and we don’t have a lot of ideas of culture there because, for whatever reason, once you’re in the Berkshires, you’re ‘Berkshires’ and wherever you came from, it doesn’t matter. And that’s true for a lot of America where there’s this funny uneasiness with heritage.

“Everyone’s American, but you forget where you came from. It may also have been the case that being an Irish person in the early 1900s wasn’t a plus, so it’s possible it fell away for that reason,” she continues.

It was as Cameo filled her relatives in on their Irish connection that the idea of a family trip grew legs.

“There’s these people at who have a really big team here and they did a ton of research, and they used the research that I got from Ireland XO as part of a book they were putting together.

“I’d been involving my family and getting pictures and quotes and suddenly, everyone was like, ‘wait, we are Irish – this is amazing’!”

Ancestry help families organise this type of trip, says Cameo, and once word spread that she was planning a return, the numbers kept growing.

“At first, it was only going to be five or six people and . . . word of mouth spread that if you were a family member to Cameo, you could go to Ireland. Now we’re finally here.”

As part of their eight-day tour of the country, they took in Dublin, Galway and Clare, but their trip to Kilkenny was special. There, they met direct descendants of their two-times great-grandfather.

“We’re all very wary about claiming to be Irish because we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but now some of my cousins got tattoos saying they’re Irish, so we’re fully in,” she jokes.

“Thirty members of my family are going through this together and it is an experience we can communicate through the generations. We were just reading how my third-great-grandfather went to Salamanca and Rochester, New York, and then came back to Kilchreest, so we’ve always been travellers across the Atlantic and now we can continue to come back.

“I’m the organiser of the trip and my goal is to leave people feeling that this is the place they belong in the world, other than their hometown – this is their second hometown. I want them to feel like they have a local pub to go to and that they feel like they could take their children and their friends in 10 or 20 years and feel like they know the area and are comfortable here,” says Cameo.


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Connacht Tribune

Minister rebuffs calls to lower air fares for islanders



Efforts to extend reduced public transport fares to Galway’s offshore islands have been rebuffed again.

Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív (FF) has been campaigning for months to have reduced passenger fares that apply to public transport on the mainland, introduced to the islands.

The former Gaeltacht Minister had lobbied Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys on several occasions to extend the reduced fares to the Aran Islands and Inishbofin.

In the latest response to a Parliamentary Question tabled by Deputy Ó Cuív, Minister Humphreys has again resisted calls to extend the discounted fares to islanders.

In the reply she said that residents of Ireland’s 19 offshore islands already enjoy ferry fares that are at least 20% cheaper than visitors.

Minister Humphreys said, “any unilateral action to alter the terms of the existing contracts could represent a breach of contract and bring the entire procurement process into disrepute”. This, she argued, “could have a detrimental impact on the ongoing operation of these vital services”.

Minister Humphreys said that her Department, “will continue to examine ways of ensuring affordability and sustainability of island transport, both within existing contracts and in future”.

Deputy Ó Cuív suggested he had been led on a merry dance over the past few months and said the Minister never intended to reduce fares for islanders.

“It is now clear from this reply that the Minister, on advice from the Department, never intended reducing the passenger fares to the islands in line with the reduction in the rest of the country and that all the replies I got were just a push off without basis.  One of the things mentioned in previous replies was that subsidised services could not be in direct competition with non-subsidised services.  It is clear from the reply that the Department do not even know if such a situation exists,” Deputy Ó Cuív added.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway must ‘sort itself out on the tourism front’



Galway risks losing its reputation as a go-to destination for Irish tourists unless the city’s ‘overall package’ is revitalised.

That’s according to a local councillor who says sky-high hotel prices and anti-social behaviour problems in the city were serving as a deterrent for would-be visitors.

Cllr Mike Crowe (FF) said as people became more prudent with their spending amid a cost-of-living crisis, few would be willing to fork out €500 for a weekend in Galway.

“People want to feel that they are getting some value and they’re certainly not feeling it this year.

“While it’s not only Galway where this is an issue, the prices are too high and people are more concerned with what they’re spending at the moment,” said Cllr Crowe.

A survey of available hotel rooms carried out by the Connacht Tribune this week showed that for two adults to share a double room in Galway City for the weekend of August 26 to 28, the average cost was €560.

The cheapest room available was at a hotel 7km outside the city centre, at a cost of €409 for the same two nights.

By comparison, the average room cost for the same weekend in Limerick was €450 – including a stay at a five-star hotel.

Dublin prices remain way above any of the regional cities, with punters expected to come up with more than €700 for even the most basic property for the last weekend in August.

However, Cllr Crowe said Galway had to stop the rot before the good work done to attract tourists prior to the pandemic was lost for good.

“The vast majority of people are not going to stay in any city where an ordinary weekend in August will cost them more than €300, not to mind €400 and €500.

“Put simply, people want to get a fair product for a fair price,” he said.

A proportion of hotel rooms were facilitating refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere, he said, which was reducing the overall number available and this was having an impact on supply, said Cllr Crowe.

In addition, the city had struggled to compete with the on-course entertainment provided for racegoers in July, with city centre businesses struggling as a result, he continued.

“What we’re offering here at the moment is not at the level it needs to be at. Ultimately, the rooms are too dear but that is just one factor – the city is too dirty as well.

“From an experience point of view, if you’re walking from Bohermore or College Road down through the spine of the city as far as Salmon Weir Bridge, the city is dirty. There are neglected buildings, gangs are drinking at various corners, there are issues with begging and all of that is acting as a deterrent,” said the Fianna Fáil councillor.

Galway was fortunate that representatives had worked for years to protect the business element in the city centre core, said Cllr Crowe, avoiding the problems faced by cities like Limerick and Cork where their shopping core was now located outside the city at suburban shopping centres.

“We have been lobbied for decades to ensure that the shopping experience was kept in town and we have done, but now all business owners need to step up and do their bit to keep the areas around their premises.

“The Environment Section in Galway City Council also needs to get the finger out and make sure the city is clean,” he said.

Cllr Crowe called for a joined-up approach, to include city councillors and the Council Executive, Gardaí, the tourism industry and local businesses.

“We all need to come together and look at what we’re offering as a city and I think if everyone was honest, they would say what we’re offering at the moment is not up to standard.

“We need to do it because if we don’t, the great progress that was made in the past will be lost,” he said.

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