VSI Memories 1960's - Phelim Boyle

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VSI Memories 1960's - Phelim Boyle

06 February 2015

VSI  Memories  1960's - Phelim Boyle

I  moved to Dublin in the early 1960’s.  To many people   Dublin must have seemed a grim place at that time. The leaders of Church and State set a rigid, puritanical tone.     Archbishop John Charles McQuaid  and  President Eamon   de Valera   were austere  serious individuals.   However  I found  Dublin  an exhilarating   and even liberating place to live,  and my fondest memories of that time are bound up with joining VSI. It has had a deep impact on my life. 

 All of us  early volunteers were  inspired by Dorothea  and Conrad  Leser.  The Lesers  were a refreshingly cosmopolitan couple who  founded the  Irish branch of SCI.  They  described the history  of the organization  and  explained its goals, and they  led by example.  The Leser station wagon, with all four children on board, was usually the first to arrive at our various jobs.   They showed the importance of reaching  out to the disadvantaged  and the  downtrodden in society.

I   remember clearly one of our early projects at Stewart’s Institution in Palmerston.  This was a long term facility for people with mental disabilities. It was founded in 1869 as Stewart’s Institution for Idiotic and Imbecile Children and Middle Class Lunatics.   Although the name had been updated,  the approach in the 1960’s was still to keep the patients locked up as much as possible and away from society.   VSI managed to get an initial engagement to do gardening work on their grounds and this provided a toehold to reach the patients themselves.    Dorothea   worked tenaciously   to persuade the senior administrator, a former military man, to allow some of the patients work alongside the VSI volunteers.  I think the Colonel was terrified at the thought of the  patients having access to dangerous gardening tools, and I suspect he also had concerns about them hobnobbing with the volunteers.

During this period I met some wonderful people.  One of the volunteers,   Gerry Brady,  worked at the Land Commission. Gerry felt strongly that political change was required to achieve social justice.  I recall canvassing for Gerry in the Liberties in 1969 when he ran as an independent in Dublin Central.   Other  notable  volunteers  at that time included  Janet Barcroft,  Mary Cannon,   Elizabeth Neuman,  Anna Talbot and  Geraldine  O’Brien.

Working with VSI was a highlight of my stay in Dublin.  It helped make me more open minded.    My work camp experiences in West Cork and in Deal in the UK taught me about working in groups and reconciling differences.   These   experiences have helped shape my values.

Service has continued to play an important role in my family.  My first wife Clare was a member of  VSI, and our two sons Feidhlim and Lochlann have volunteered in  charitable foundations around the world.   Lochlann’s middle name  is Conrad in honour of Conrad Leser.   My brother Pearse  spent a significant part of his life working with NGO’s in Africa.  My wife Mary and I continue to work for social justice causes at home and abroad.

I am thankful to VSI for enriching my life,  and providing  some great memories.  I hope it flourishes during the   next 50 years.

Phelim Boyle -Ontario, Canada


Phelim Boyle