Galway city council has decided to push ahead with taking ownership of Lenaboy Castle in Salthill from the Sisters of Mercy despite concerns about a lack of funding to renovate it.
The Sisters of Mercy are giving Lenaboy Castle to the city council as part of the redress scheme agreed by the religious orders and the government after the findings of the Ryan Report into child abuse.
On top of handing over the castle at Taylor’s Hill the sisters also agreed to make a voluntary donation of €750,000 to help turn it into a Children and Young People’s Creative Hub for young people.
The city council had previously secured a grant of €1.7 million from the European Regional Development Fund to renovate the castle and make it fit for use.
However the council was unable to take ownership of Lenaboy Castle within the timeframe required to draw down that money.
Chief Executive Brendan McGrath said he didn’t think it likely Galway would secure funds from there soon, as it has already awarded €3.5 million for the Salmon Weir pedestrian bridge from the fund.
The council announced in September 2017 that it would be taking ownership of the castle, but the transfer has been held up while geophysical and archaeological reports were completed on the site.
Fears had been expressed that the former St. Anne’s orphanage could have human remains buried on site, drawing comparisons to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home.
Brendan McGrath firmly quashed that speculation this week, telling the council that it “couldn’t be further from Tuam.”
An exhaustive archaeological dig was carried out after a geophysical survey, and found no trace of any human remains.
Support for the project was strong among councillors, with the common feeling that it was good that a place associated with so much misery in the past would be used to create positive experiences for children.
There were concerns expressed that without the European funding to get Lenaboy Castle into shape it would be sitting unused for several years, while the city council would rack up bills guarding and maintaining the site.
The €750,000 given by the sisters will be used to help bring the site into a state of “reasonable repair” and waterproof it while the council searches for additional funding.
The upkeep of the site after that will be handled through the city’s revenue account.
Despite any misgivings Chief Executive McGrath said that the site has incredible potential for the city with 80 rooms between the main building and the annexes.
He added that the council will consider all possible sources of revenue including going to the Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, applying for different EU funds, and looking for philanthropic help.
It would also be beneficial if the Sisters would consider amending the agreement to allow the site to be used for related educational purposes as that would open up more funding according to the Chief Executive.
Brendan McGrath said that the contracts to transfer ownership are with the solicitors and could be signed in a matter of weeks.
The council unanimously voted to proceed with acquiring the castle on behalf of the city.