Arts groups and politicians in Galway have given a mixed reaction to a decision by the Sisters of Mercy to hand a former orphanage and industrial school over to the city for use as a children’s “creative and cultural hub”.
The Sisters of Mercy building at Lenaboy Castle, acquired by the order in 1925, is to be transferred to Galway City Council ownership, along with a payment by the nuns of €750,000 for renovation and development.
The protected structure on Taylor’s Hill was run by the religious order as an orphanage, a children’s home and industrial school, and latterly a HSE West social care centre for children and adolescents, known as St Anne’s.
Council chief executive Brendan McGrath told city councillors early this week that a “heads of agreement” was being finalised with the order.
He said he had already been in preliminary talks with arts groups, including the Baboró international children’s festival, Branar Téatar do Pháistí and Galway Community Circus, to develop it as an arts centre and creative hub for children.
Former Galway mayor, Fine Gael councillor Pádraig Conneely, who welcomed the move, said he understood that EU funding of some €1.7 million may also be drawn down for the centre, which could be an integral part of Galway’s European city of culture in 2020.
However, Galway West Independent TD Catherine Connolly, who is also a former mayor, questioned whether survivors of the orphanage and industrial school had been consulted.
She also said it was “misleading” to state that the Sisters of Mercy were donating the property to the local authority, when the property had been identified as far back as 2009 as one of a series of properties to be handed over in part-compensation for the abuse suffered by so many children.
Ms Connolly said she was “very disappointed” that the verbal and written statements by Mr McGrath failed to recognise and acknowledge the sensitive history of the building, and the importance of consultation with survivors and families who had engaged in a “long and difficult campaign” for the building to be handed over.
Mr McGrath has described the acquisition as a “significant, positive development” which “advances Galway’s ambition as a sustainable, cultural force”.
Labour councillor Niall McNelis welcomed the acquisition, noting that “the sad history of this site will now be filled with children’s laughter, song and dance and will be full with dreams of colourful ideas”.
Baboró executive artistic director Aislinn Ó hEocha described it as a “very positive acknowledgement of the transformative power of the creative arts during a child’s formative years”.
Branar children’s theatre artistic director Marc MacLochlainn congratulated the city council and noted it was a “fantastic opportunity to create a space in Galway that will celebrate children and place them at the centre of the cultural life of the region”.