Strange Boat - Organ Donation Awareness


Circle of Life formally opened

Circle of Life, organ donor commemorative garden was formally opened in Salthill, Galway on Tuesday, 6th May, a ceremony attended by people from across the country, and from abroad.

Located in the scenic, seafront Quincentennial Park in Salthill, Galway, Circle of Life, Commemorative Garden, covering an area of approximately 1 acre,  is a place of calm, beauty, inspiration and of special meaning and welcome for all.


The opening event was attended by approximately 400 people including members of the organ donation community from across the country, north and south,  donor families, recipients, and the medical profession. Circle of Life is a truly national and inclusive project, and received the support, encouragement and contributions of time, talent and passion of many individuals, groups and organizations, many of whom were in attendance. The garden’s main sponsor is Galway/Chicago Sister Cities International, and many of its members travelled to Galway for the event, as did Nancy and Bill Gilbane from Rhode Island who have been loyal and active supporters of the project since the beginning.

The Special Guests at the ceremony included:

The former Mayor of Galway, Cllr. Padraig Conneely; Dr. David Hickey, Director of Transplantation at Beaumont Hospital; Broadcaster Mary Kennedy and this year’s ambassador for organ donor awareness;  Billy Lawless of Galway/Chicago Sister Cities International;  Brendan McGrath, Galway City Manager; Kelvin Troy, former American/Milwaukee basketball player and kidney recipient. Music was provided by Galway group, Dordán, and singer Eleanor Shanley performed the song “Strange Boat” which gave the Foundation its name. The ceremony also included a symbolic gesture of remembrance, and Keith Finnegan of Galway Bay FM introduced the speakers.

Some of the guests in attendance

Mayor Padraig Conneely with Billy Lawless of Galway/Chicago Sister Cities International

Denis & Martina Goggin with a photo of their son, Éamonn, whose life and memory are the inspiration for the creation of the garden.

Kidney Recipients, Angeline Cooke, Trish Glynn and Maura O'Sullivan. 

Dr. David Hickey, Transplant Surgeon with kidney recipients, Ruth McGann and Nóirín Ní Chuláin



Eleanor Shanley singing Strange Boat          Placing stones in the Remembrance Trough


                                                            Martina, Eleanor, Kelvin, David and Mary

Sagt. James Hayles and Capt. Brendan O'Dowd, representatives of the Irish Air Corps standing to attention during the ceremony


David, Martina and Kelvin

(The images above from the opening ceremony are courtesy of Joe Shaughnessy and the Connacht Tribune Newspaper)

(The following photos courtesy of Peter Harkin Studios)

Members of the Galway/Chicago Sisters International Committee with Mayor Conneely, representatives of the Irish Corps, David Hicky and Martina & Denis

Billy Lawless and (former) Mayor Conneely with (from left) Mayor Donal Lyons, Brian Walsh, TD, Joan Finnegan, Rose McGrath and Brendan McGrath, Galway City Manager

Joe & Rosie Dolan from Carrick on Shannon,                                                                                 parents of Andrew whose organs were donated.         Martina with Keith Finnegan, Galway Bay FM           

Bill Gainer, Chairman of Galway/Chicago Sister Cities International (second from right) with (former) Mayor Conneely, Kelvin, Billy and Martina

Billy, Denis and Joe Brolly taking part in the symbolic gesture of placing a stone in the Remembrance Trough

(photos by Declan Harte)

Denis, Eleanor, Kelvin, Mary and Martina following the opening ceremony

 Gaelic Football star and football pundit, Joe Brolly, meeting with Kelvin and David. Joe is an altruistic kidney donor.


Details and Images during construction of Circle of Life Garden

The main structural work on the garden commenced in September, 2013 and was completed before Christmas, but due to the flooding of the garden in early January and the very wet and windy weather of the first two months of the year, progress was curtailed. With the brighter weather and longer evenings the final phase of the development began in earnest in March and this work was concluded at the end of April.

(To view images of the flooded garden and work undertaken in the two days following the storm see link at the bottom of this page).

The garden looking good in the early Spring sunshine

Carved Images of the Journey of Life on the Centre Standing Stones, & other stone features




One of the two Heritage Walls surrounding the central sculptural area

April 16th

Mary Kennedy and cameraman Pascal Brooks visited Quincentennial Park just before Easter and filmed the garden for broadcast on "Nationwide" on May 12th. Thankfully it was a lovely day and the garden was looking its best.

Also in April at the Chartered Accountants Leinster Society's annual chairity ball, €10,315 was raised for the Commemorative Garden. Photographed presenting the cheque to Martina are: Gillian Duffy, Gillian Barrett members of the Society and Orla Fisher, Chairperson.

During April work continued on the heritage walls and on the continental stones.

Daithí preparing the heritage stones for inscribing

Mike and Paddy putting one of the continental stones in place

Paddy O'Toole, Fergus and Ferdia working on the names of the heritage stones

Ray putting the finishing touches to the title stone at the new entrance to the garden

Keith Finnegan of Galway Bay FM and Billy Lawless with Denis following a visit to the garden

Mid March

Now that the weather has improved work is continuing on the final elements of the garden; the main entrance from the prom, finishing off of pathways and planting, inscriptions and the installation of the five Continental stones in the upper section of the park.

Recently we welcomed some new, and some long standing supporters of the project:  

Joe Brolly, who had been to the Park before the construction work began in  September, paid a visit to the garden and while there met Mark Flynn who donated part of his liver to his baby daughter, Moya

Our good friends and Trustees of the Foundation, Judy Murphy and Eleanor Shanley

Nancy Gilbane from Rhode Island, a very good friend of the project, planting an oak tree. Nancy and her friend, Mo also from the US, and cousin Charlotte with Denis during their recent visit to the garden.

Phyllis Cunningham, Senior Transplant Coordinator at Beaumont Hospital paid another visit to the garden with David Hickey, Director of Transplantation at Beaumont, and were shown the various features by Denis. 

Both Phyllis and Dave planted a tree, although Phyllis had already planted one during the special planting event on February 1st.  Due to the heavy winds, Phyllis' tree needed a little more help to take root. Also in the photos, Patrick, Ray and Denis.


Friday, 7th March

Today, during National Tree Week, Frank Flanagan, Forest Manger (right) and Christopher Loughrey (centre) from Coillte visited the garden where they planted some of the trees very generously donated by Coillte to the project.

Also, this week, work commenced on building the pillars and the new entrance to the garden from the Prom. Ray and Sean hard at work.

Friday, 21st February

During January and February little physical work was done in the garden due to the stormy weather and heavy rain but, thankfully and most importantly, the garden survived the elements well.

During this time we were delighted with the opportunity to welcome some good friends and supporters of the garden.  Musician, Steve Cooney who would have seen the project  at its infancy and drawings stage:

and Éamonn's very good friend, Patrick, who was just home for a short break from his work with the Irish Defence Forces/UN in Jerusalem.

Ann Lawless (left) who was home from Chicago for a brief holiday paid a visit to the garden with her friend Ann Dowling. Ann's husband, Billy, is the Vice Chairman of Galway/Chicago Sister Cities International, one of the major sponsors of Circle of Life garden.

Saturday, 1st February

On Saturday, 1st February a very special event was held at the Commemorative Garden when representatives of the organ donation/transplantation community, North and South, participated in a tree planting ceremony in an unprecedented gesture of support for the garden and the cause of organ donation. 

To view images of the day's ceremony click on this link:

Saturday, 25th January

Thanks to all our friends/volunteers who helped with the big clean up of the Park for the Tree Planting Day on February 1st

                  Mike and Tony                                                                    Dave


                                                  Mary, Angela and Ray


                                 Sue                                                               Catherine


               Catherine, Paddy and Sue                                               Blake


                 Mike and Denis                                                                   Hugh


On Friday, 24th January, Lorraine Costello of the Irish Kidney Association paid a visit to the garden with her husband Frank and met with Denis of Strange Boat.

2nd/3rd Weeks of January

Work continued on construction of heritage walls

Kevin preparing the ground for planting around the candle

Some friends visiting the garden:  Paddy, Garry, Mark;  and Denis with Pearl and Pat


Mark, Gary and Paddy presenting to Denis and Martina, the bricks from the Melbourne Football Stadium which will represent Australia in the commemorative garden.  Mark and Gary, from Spiddal, now live and work in Sydney and with Paddy received the bricks from the Stynes family some months ago on behalf of Strange Boat.

1st week of January

Mike and Ray back at work after the flooding

The following images show the huge progress made during the first phase of the development.  Commencing in mid September, emphasis for the first 8 weeks was on clearing of the site, groundwork and initial laying out of the garden design. Week 8 saw the garden beginning to take shape, week 9 & 10  focussed on grading & levelling, pathway construction and commencement of turfing. During week 11, the turfing was completed, further clearing and preparation for planting began, and this work continued during week 12. Also during the weeks leading up to Christmas  visitors were invited to see the progress on the ground. 

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Úna Molloy of Galway Bay Fm, who has been documenting the progress of the  commemorative garden over the past number of months, visited the garden on January 1st to talk with Denis and Martina Goggin about the work to date and what's involved over the next couple of months. This documentary will be broadcast later in the Spring.  

Dermot Divilly, Chairman of the Trustees of Strange Boat Donor Foundation and his wife, Mary, with Denis Goggin when the visited the garden on Sunday, Dec 29th. Dermot is personally very involved with the project since the beginning.

Week 12 / 13

Garden as it looked at the end of week 12  (just before Christmas)

Galway City Manager, Brendan McGrath (left) and Eithne Murphy, Project Engineer with Galway City Council who visited the garden on 23rd December, with Denis Goggin and Mike Walsh.

Greg Dooley (second from left) from Ferbane, Co. Offaly presenting a cheque for €15,000 to Martina & Denis Goggin of Strange Boat to help with the funding programme of the commemorative garden. Greg's wife, Emma, became an organ donor following a fatal road crash in June 2012 and, in her memory, Greg set up a foundation raising funds for a number of charities. Also in the photo is Greg's father, Eamon Dooley.

Stone carver, Ray O'Flaithearta and his wife Angela with one of the carvings in the garden

The hard working men looking relaxed at the end of the first phase of the construction of the garden- Danilo Monti; Patrick Harris, Landscape Contractor; Ray Kelly, Denis Goggin; Mike Walsh, Project Manager; and Dario Di-Stefano

Martina Goggin of Strange Boat showing Marion Dolan from Carrick on Shannon around the garden just before Christmas.

Some Spiddal friends, with Denis, who came to see how the work was progressing - Tony, Hank, Mick, Máire and Charlie, one of the Trustees of the Strange Boat.


Main planting of the petal beds began



Galway businessman, John Killeen, who has given amazing personal support to the project, paid a visit to the garden to view progress on the ground.

Week 11

 Turfing completed, clearing continued and planting began including over 2,000 Spring bulbs.



Bill Maher, CEO of West North West Hospitals Group (right) and Colette Cowan, Director of Nursing of the Hospitals Group with Denis Goggin when they came to see first hand the progress of the garden development. Both Bill and Colette and the WNWHG are very supportive of the project.

Week 10

Ciarán Hayes, Director of Services with Galway City Council (second from right) with Denis Goggin (right); (on left) Patrick Harris and Mike Walsh.  Ciarán has given great support to the project, and paid a visit to the garden before he takes up his new position as Sligo Co. Manager in the new year.

Work continues



Dr. Pat Morgan, Vice President for Student Experience at NUIG viewing one of the "Circle of Life" carvings with Denis Goggin

Fr. Michael Bailey,  Salthill Parish & Ray Ó        Denis talks about the Clonmacnoise stone  Flaithearta, stone carver with the project              with Pat.


Ray carving the stone surrounding the water font.

Through fundraising initiatives organised by Galway Medical Consultants, a donation of €5,000 was presented by the CEO of West North West Hospitals Group, Bill Maher, to Strange Boat Donor Foundation to help fund the commemorative garden project. The presentation was made at a Conference held at NUIG on 27th November. Photo from left: Denis Goggin, Bill Maher, Martina Goggin and Mayor of Galway City, Padraig Conneely.

Week 9

Grading & Levelling

Pathway Construction

Hard at work



Mick Tighe from Limerick visiting the garden,     &  Phyllis Cunningham, Senior Transplant Coordinator, Beaumont Hospital with one of the carvings.



Week 8

Feature stone wall and backdrop to Reflective Area

Installation of central donor dedication stone from Clonmacnoise


5 Circle of Life standing stones with carvings, surrounding centre stone, now in place


Some of the amazing workers on the project who are making it all possible



A view from the side


            5' tall stone sculpted candle                                     Standing stone with carving


On a dark and wet November evening at the Park, Nancy and Bill Gilbane from Rhode Island, huge supporters of the project, presenting Denis Goggin with the stone from Ellis Island which will represent America in the garden.


Thanks to everybody involved for getting us so far so fast.

To view images of the garden following the flooding of January 2nd, click on this link:

To see some images of work from commencement in mid September:

Read full details  on -  Circle of Life

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