My name is Dennis Connolly. I was born on Fursey Road in Shantalla, in 1953. A lot has changed since then. About Galway. About Ireland. And about me. I’ve been through a lot.
I’ve had some rough times, made some mistakes and spent many years sleeping rough on the streets of Galway City. But the thing that’s made all the difference to me, through it all, is that Galway Simon has always been there. They didn’t give up on me, even when almost everyone else did. They cared for me when I was at my lowest. They’re the reason I’m still here.
I had an awful childhood. There was poverty all around. My mother died when I was six after a long illness and my father wasn’t able to cope. One time, when my mother was in hospital, I robbed a box of chocolates to give to her. I was caught and I ended up being sent to St Joseph’s Industrial School in Galway. I don’t have good memories from that time. I was beaten with belts, with rulers, even the occasional uppercut to the chin. I saw worse things, even.
I just wasn’t right after that. When I left that school at 15 I was on my own. I was on the streets for years and I started drinking cheap wine and spirits that you could get in the chemist that time, awful stuff. I was in and out of jail for causing trouble and robbing. I spent years sleeping in an old shed at the back of The Claddagh Palace in Salthill, walking around with cardboard in my shoes. It makes me sad when I think about it.
In 1979, a group of volunteers founded Galway Simon and they brought me soup and sandwiches to keep me warm and fed. They were my only friends at that time. I’ll never forget how it felt to be treated like a human being, like I was worth something. It meant the world to know they were looking out for me and sticking by me, even when I wasn’t the easiest person to get on with.
I was in and out of the homeless hostel. I knew I had to stop drinking. I’d seen the drink do way too much damage to other lads I knew. Some of them died from it. I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I started going to AA. Galway Simon supported me through all that, giving me a room in a high support house in 1990.
My battle with drink continued for many years. I had periods of sobriety and I was off the drink when I moved to a new high support house in 2008. The Simon houses provide real home comforts with regular meals and a sense of security. The houses are staffed 24/7 and the men can access all kinds of support including healthcare and counselling.
It felt so good to be moving in a better direction. I was in this house for about four years when Galway Simon gave me a flat of my own next to the house. A lovely fella called Noel, who’s been working with me since the 80s, handed me a key and said ‘This is the key to your apartment. It’s your home now, as long as you want it.’ That was a big step for me and I can hardly begin to describe how good it felt.
When I was ready to move on from high support and when a small council flat became available, Galway Simon helped me move and settle in. I’m in my own little paradise now. I still have regular contact with Galway Simon and they’re there for me whenever I need them.
Galway Simon has given me a second chance in life – they know there’s no such thing as a hopeless case. I feel very proud of how far I’ve come, and I think my mother would be proud of me too, may God be with her.
Today, Galway Simon Community has three high support houses that are home to 19 men who would otherwise be on the streets and in and out of homeless hostels.
My life has certainly had its ups and downs, but most of the ups seem to have been with Galway Simon. They could have given up on me so many times, but instead they stood by me. I don’t know where I would have ended up if they hadn’t.
There are others out there like me. I know they’re out there now. I see them when I’m walking in town. Maybe you see them too? Men and women who’ve nowhere to live. Just sleeping in front of shops or in abandoned buildings. But some types of homelessness aren’t as obvious. Because they aren’t sleeping in the streets, you don’t know they’re struggling.