Sara Cullen (back row, in centre) and the Girls Club at Dublin Zoo in 1966. Also, in photo are Sadie McCann, Kathleen O’Donnell, Peg Moore, Carmel Carroll, Madeline McPhillips, Marie Manning, Eileen Moore, Patricia Masterson, Frances Storey, Rosaleen O’Donnell, Mary Murray, Betty Woods, Patsy Clail, Eileen Morgan, Nellie Smith, Mrs Hand and Mrs Flynn.

Fond memories of the Catholic Girls’ Club in Cavan Town

In his popular historical column, Jonathan Smyth this week looks back on the Cavan Girls Club founded for Catholic girls in the town in 1949...

In 1971, Cavan Girls’ Club celebrated the 21st anniversary of its founding as a Catholic girls’ club at the request of Sara Cullen and others of the Legion of Mary, for the purpose of offering an outlet to the young girls who lived in Cavan Town. Sara Cullen, who was a Librarian with Cavan County Council, was the club’s director from 1950 to 1971. I would like to thank Fr Eddie Brady for sending me some very interesting information on the history of the Girls’ Club.

In the Autumn of 1949, the question of what junior members might do in their spare time was raised at a meeting of the Legion of Mary, Cavan Town. Sara and some of the adult Legionaries began to make plans for a youth group for girls. The St Vincent Society provided £10 towards the club’s establishment and the Rev J.J. O’Reilly, as administrator, reminded organisers that ‘you better not let this fall through’.

The Knights of Columbanus kindly allowed the use of a room for the newly formed Girls’ Club to meet. Some of its first members included Bernadette Kinsella, Sue Higgins, Patsy Maloney, Celine Donohoe, Bridie Donohoe, Essie Donohoe, Pauline Clerkin, Nancy O’Neill, Peggy Weir, Lizzie Clarke, Phyllis McNamara, A. Brady, R. Farrelly, Rose Allen, Rita Fay, Teresa Duffy, F. Murphy, Eileen Smith, Eileen Farrell, Eilish O’Neill, Mary Higgins, Sue Donohoe, Maureen Lally and Margaret McCarville. Sara Cullen and Lily O’Dowd were in charge of the group in 1950.

Sara Cullen pointed out by that, as an organisation, ‘everything was planned in the awareness that we would be dealing with the children of other people’ who would be moving away from the ‘protective’ place of home and she hoped that they could give them a start ‘at community level, developing the girl’s social and cultural character’ and ‘to supplement the home and school training they received’.

21st anniversary

A publication was produced to mark the society’s 21st anniversary and it was titled, Cavan Girls’ Club: Commemorative Magazine, 1950-1971. In the magazine, Sara said that a 21st birthday was an important occasion and ‘for the Girls’ Club it is a time to pull out the stops and celebrate’. She believed that working with the youth had, in her words, become another science and saw the efforts of the club as a ‘pioneer effort’ run on what she called common sense, gimmicks, ‘some bluff’, and ‘a pinch of faith, hope and charity’.

Having a good-natured sense of humour, Sara tells the reader: ‘Be it 1951 or 1971, girls will be girls, mysterious people to whom the world is a place that is eager and loving, shiny and bright – most of the time, that is; for the rest of the time the little wretches would have you believe that youth is wasted on the young.’

By the 1970s, there were 45 senior members and 40 junior girls.

And, while the offer of a room by the Knights of Columbanus on the grounds of the Augustine Hall was gratefully accepted in the beginning, it soon became apparent that in the long term, it was not going to be large enough to hold a capacity crowd. In a straight-spoken manner, Sara spelled out the club’s need for space as follows: ‘Girls tend to get bigger and ofttimes fatter and so we moved to the more spacious CYMS hall on the same grounds for a night a week.’

They were ‘squatters’ there with a ‘thousand and one’ things to get done and she recalled that rehearsals for the club’s first play took place in McMullin’s drawing room and under ‘an archway in Church Street’.

Thankfully, Miss Gannon was on hand to permit use of her ballroom from 1952 onwards and, while she may have been the ‘landlady’, she was also a terrific teacher who trained the girls in the ‘expertise’ of drill and dancing. Sara Cullen recalled, that in her 60s, Miss Gannon could still ‘demonstrate’ the pas de Basque and perfectly pirouette.

Then in 1961, the Girls’ Club were again in search of new a premises and this time they found themselves in Tower Hamlet House which had been purchased by Fr Dolan. Tower Hamlet was a luxury to the girls who now had access to a lawn where they could play games like netball and had the space to practise gymnastics. In 1970, with rubble falling from the walls and landing around the members’ feet, they were told that Tower Hamlet was beyond salvage and would be demolished.

Cumann Seanchais Bhreifne

However, Fr Leaden of Cumann Seanchais Bhreifne came to the rescue and offered the girls a room in St Clare’s Convent, which the historical society had planned to develop as a museum. However, in the interim, both the Historical Society and the Mother Abbess agreed that the Girls’ Club could have use the facility until they could find themselves a new home. To raise much-needed funds, the girls held ‘sales of work’ to sell handcrafts and on one particular occasion they helped supplement the parochial coffers with £100 that they had raised for a grateful Fr Dolan.

To mark the Girls’ Clubs 21st anniversary, Mickey Breslin, a Librarian with Cavan County Library and CYMS member, congratulated the club on behalf of Cavan CYMS, telling them ‘well done’ and ‘we congratulate the Girls’ Club on this twenty-first anniversary’.

The Girls’ Club publication, when surmising what the future might be like in 30 years, meaning the year 2000, it was suggested by Ann Smith that when the Augustine Hall, Farnham Street, was demolished that it would be replaced by a helicopter pad for the Bishop to land. Although, there have been many changes in Cavan Town since the 1971, the Bishop still awaits his helicopter space. The Girls’ Club greatly benefited the youth of Cavan and talk about it will hopefully bring back many fond memories of yesteryear for some of its former members.

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