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Mary Halligan's link to children

Mary Halligan founded and has been heavily involved in running Children’s Group link, one of the main children’s charities operating in Waterford, for the past 30 years. Providing events, programmes and trips for disadvantaged kids, the organisation is at the forefront of helping young people. This month My Waterford had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Mary.

Mary was somewhat involved in youth work back in 1979 which was the International Year of the Child and was asked to accompany children from disadvantaged areas on a holiday to Wexford. Some of the children were from Belfast and had been deeply affected by the troubles. Some had witnessed violence, had family members who had been killed or who were in prison. She learned that the children from the north weren’t the only ones with problems and wanted to see if she could help those in Waterford who were also suffering difficulties in their day to day life. There was little around the city at the time and she and Mary Healy wanted to set up something on a permanent basis for the children.

In 1980 The Legion of Mary allowed them to set up in the basement of their hostel on Lady Lane where they established the St. Mary’s Junior Centre. In 1982 a decision was made to change the name of the organisation to Children’s Group Link as they felt this better expressed what work was being done. But it wasn’t just the effort of the two Mary’s that got the group going. “Young people came to help us out. They were great, a lot were in school and came afterwards to clean and paint because there was very little funding. They were wonderful.”

They got their first grant in July 1980, a mere £60 to take the children on a holiday to Tramore. “Even though it was small, it was great,” says Mary, “The children loved it and it was a great way for everyone to bond and to get to know one another. We still go out to Tramore for a camping holiday every year and it’s my favourite thing of the year.”

The group “ploughed along” during the eighties getting bigger and bigger. A setback occurred in 1989 when they had to move out of the premises in Lady Lane because the building had become structurally unstable. “They were challenging times for everyone involved, especially for the children. We had to take 6

time out and evaluate what we were doing and how we were doing it.”

The Mount Sion Christian Brothers stepped in and let them use the Manor School for their activities. Children’s Group Link ended up staying there for two years. Meanwhile Justice Patrick Keenan Johnson led the charge for funding for a new centre and a whole host of local businesses willingly helped out during the appeal. It was a major success and in 1991 they were able to buy Oak Villa, Military Road as a permanent headquarters. After renovations it was officially opened by Minister for Education, Noel Davern on February 3rd, 1992.

The group has gone on helping youngsters ever since and has recently acquired Unit 25 of the Tramore Road Business Park from builder David Flynn free for a whole year and with very reasonable rates thereafter. Mary says she and the group are, “very grateful to David.” She hopes the new building will become an event centre and the first exciting thing to take place there will be the House of Horrors over Halloween. Mary says the whole charity will sit down after this to discuss what the centre will be used for and what are the best things they can do with it so the children will benefit as much as possible.

When asked if she thought the charity would grow to be as big as it is Mary says, “No, I suppose when you start out, you just want to help people, to help families, because people were suffering. You were always thinking of ways that you could include more children. To get big buildings is great but the most important thing is the quality of the work. Success is in the individual, seeing people overcome difficulties. Some you succeed with, others you don’t. No matter how big you get the focus must always be on the young people.”

Brendan Halligan, Mary’s brother is current manager of the organisation and she says that working with family is good because they work well together. “He has things he’s good at, like promotion and the business side and I’m more involved with the children on a hands-on basis. There’s the board, volunteers and everyone who works with us. It can never be about personal interests. The whole organisation is always sitting down together and evaluating what went well, what didn’t, how can things be better and what new things we can do.”

Mary pictured with her brother John Halligan, TD and Mayor of Waterford, Cllr Pat Hayes. Photo: John Power

Mary believes work like she and others like her are doing is vital more than ever in the current circumstances, “People are suffering. The focus is gone off asking, ‘How can we help one another?’ We have to reach out to other people and to help them and we’ll be better for it.”

After so long doing the job Mary struggles when asked what her favourite moment of all is. Eventually she says she can’t pick one but, “It’s good to see people growing and doing okay for themselves, maybe not in big jobs or with loads of money or anything but just seeing them become good people. Most of the leaders of the group were members when they were children. I love to see people you’ve helped helping people in turn.”

She says the lowest moments are when she tries to help people but can’t. When she regrets some decisions she’s made. When she wishes she could have done better. “Those things are always hard,” she says.

When she’s not doing more than her fair share to help others, Mary loves to go swimming with her niece or hill walking. She loves the fresh air and anything to do with the outdoor and believes, “Nature gives insight into life itself.”

When asked has she got any words of wisdom she says, “The only thing that influences me is life itself. Instead of complaining if all of us just reach out to help someone in need, not just in groups or charities, but on an individual basis we’d be better for it. We may have to go to hell but we’ll come back better people.”

by Colm Quinn

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