Sons, fathers, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, grandads or uncles – no matter where you live or who you live with or what you do, most of us have men under some of these titles in our lives who, to be fair, we would be utterly lost without – people who are the heart and soul of our family. They are also often the rock on which a strong relationship is built and the men and the lads who generally speak to their best friends or partners on almost every topic every day of the week. But when it comes to men’s health, I’m afraid it’s a different story.
All too often we men keep very quiet about troublesome health problems and feelings relating to stress or anxiety for fear of losing face, being labelled as ‘weak’ or of being accused of being unable to cope with the many difficult stresses and strains of life.
I am big enough to admit I have seen it myself and have probably been guilty of the very same thing over the years. As part of the male ‘herd’, I have gone along to umpteen football matches and social events and sat down afterwards in the inevitable post-mortem among the males in the pub or the club and talked for hours about possibly EVERYTHING else under the sun in this world EXCEPT our own men’s health issues. We can talk about Ronaldo or Mo Salah for hours and hours on end, text and slag each other on Facebook or Twitter for days, but just try and mention men’s prostate problems or the big ‘C’ – and listen to the silence.
Change is happening
I’m glad to report that in the last 18 months since I began a new job with Roscommon LEADER Partnership where I work with men’s groups and men’s shed members all over the county on a daily and weekly basis, I have seen the first signs that this historic weakness of our gender may well be changing.
In case you didn’t already know it, the ‘men’s shed’ is a worldwide, community-based project where men can come together on a regular basis to learn, share skills, have a laugh and make long-lasting friendships. The men’s shed movement was first founded down under in Australia in the 1980s, and has since expanded to other countries including Ireland, the UK, America, Canada, Iceland and Estonia, to name but a few.
In recent years we have all seen that Ireland has become one of the leading nations for men’s sheds, with this island having the most sheds per head of population. Currently, there are over 450 sheds in Ireland, with at least 10,000 men visiting a shed for a mug of tea or an activity once a week. Here in Roscommon we are lucky to have quite a few of them around the county. These include a brand new one just kicking into gear in Roscommon town at the moment – meeting every Friday morning at 11 am and on another weekday evening at their new meeting point in the Roscommon LEADER Partnership offices on the Lanesborough Road (the building formerly known as the HSE primary care centre).
Even though the men’s shed movement has a national structure, all sheds are independent and self-autonomous, and the range of activities carried out by sheds differs from one to the next. Many sheds engage in activities such as woodwork, metalwork, gardening, carpentry and community work, but there is really a blank canvas there for most involved. If they decide they want to go on a history tour or a day’s outing somewhere instead, they generally do that – depending on what the members decide. In some parts of the country there are more ‘special interests’ sheds that focus on activities like music, fishing and restoration work too, so every need can be catered for. The new Roscommon group has one man with a keen interest in restoring old tractors, for instance, and also a great chess player who can teach you how to play. So, like I say, all interests can be catered for.
Having started in 2009, the Irish men’s sheds movement had its birth in Tipperary where the first shed was formed. Following the formation of the first shed, the movement began to grow rapidly. There are now over 400 sheds registered with the Irish Men’s Sheds Association, and at least 12,000 men visiting a shed every week. Following the formation of the Irish Men’s Sheds Association in 2011, the movement began to receive national recognition of their value to Irish society. In 2013, the Irish men’s sheds movement received recognition at the very highest level when President Michael D. Higgins became patron to the Irish Men’s Sheds Association.
The Association has also received governmental and European recognition of their contribution to Ireland. In 2018, the Association received the European Citizens’ Prize after being nominated by Irish MEPs. Most recently, the organisation was named as one of the twelve Sustainable Development Goals Champions by the Irish Government for 2019/2020.
I have had the pleasure of visiting some of the most successful sheds around the country in the last 12 months and I have to say that no matter where you go, it is hard to beat the efforts of the Ballaghaderreen group! The lads down there have a fantastic workshop on the ground floor of a building they did up (right in behind Durkin’s). On the first floor they have huge social space for a large TV, pool table, kitchen and much more. It really is a terrific set-up and a credit to them all.
New group in Roscommon
Here in Roscommon town, the men’s group is still in an early stage of their development and chairman Tom Harrison has steered them quietly out of the Covid pandemic into a place where up to ten members now meet on a weekly basis for a cup of tea, a chat and often something much more engaging. In the last 12 months this group has conducted day trips to a range of fascinating venues around the county – including Gerry Browne’s fantastic organic garden centre, the Drum Heritage Centre, the Roscommon Museum, the Lough Ree Access for all boat and the famine workhouse at the back of the Sacred Heart Hospital. The group has already shown they are not afraid of tackling the big issues such as mental health, and I strongly recommend them to you.
Guides such as Marie Gillooly, Marian Harlow and Gerry Browne have escorted the group along their journeys and I know they are now keen to welcome up to another ten members for the autumn and winter season of activities. If you would like to join the men’s group please contact Tom Harrison on 086 8278111 or email: email@example.com and they will come back to you with details of their meeting times.