Meditating on men’s questions
Westport’s Men’s Shed is a busy hive of activity but urgently needs a new home
WHEN this Mayo News writer was served up homemade soup, pumpkin-seeded brown bread, followed by a fresh raspberry and cream sponge cake shortly after noon last Wednesday, I was blessed amongst men.
Bakers, bikers, engravers, business owners, teachers, chess players, crossword solvers, Buddhists, musicians, husbands, partners, bachelors, friends aged from their thirties to eighties. Chatting in huddles, the group had just held their weekly Westport Men’s Shed meeting in the old Christian Brothers primary school on the Newport Road.
It’s been their home-from-home since January 2014 but now they are urgently looking for a new premises since work is due to begin soon on the site to build a new school for the amalgamated primary schools, now housed at Scoil Phádraig.
The Australian academic Professor Barry Golding’s now famous aphorism that: “Men don’t talk face to face; they talk shoulder to shoulder”, clearly encapsulates something fundamental about how men communicate. At Westport’s Men’s Shed, whether restoring an impressive antique snooker table, once part of the furniture in the Town Hall, repairing bicycles to be sent to Ghana, or getting out on the streets to help the Lion’s Club fundraise, it is obvious that these men – through the wonderful camaraderie that has developed – now stand and talk shoulder to shoulder and, as a result of their practical communality, face to face.
“The Men’s Shed movement was established in Australia in the 1990s because of social isolation. Groups began to be established in Ireland a few years ago and now there are over 300. A lot of men who had been gainfully employed found they had time on their hands when the recession and the camaraderie of the workplace was gone. So the ground was fertile for this organisation to develop,” says Brendan Duffy.
He explains that the Westport branch was founded in 2013 and held its first meeting in the Cove Café at The Fairgreen.
“We were then lucky enough to acquire use of the old CBS from the board of management but now with work due to start on the amalgamated schools we urgently need a new premises which will accommodate up to 25 men for workshops and social gatherings,” he explains.
Addressing the weekly meeting afterwards Brendan Duffy observes: “We all know ourselves the benefits we have from the Men’s Shed and how it has helped us contribute to the community. If we no longer have a premises, we know it will hurt the cohesion of the group.”
This view is echoed by the group’s secretary, Paddy Geraghty, who, after reading the minutes of the last meeting, updates members about plans to go to Dublin the following day to resolve a problem with kits to convert second-hand bicycles into thoroughly modern electric bikes. He also updates members about the group’s fundraising collection of €1,600 for the Lion’s Club.
Formalities completed, it was time to chew the fat, have the craic, check if chef du jour, Richard Bermingham was ready to serve lunch, giving Bendy (John Benedict) Flynn a well-earned break.
“The baking and cooking evolved from a baking class into an eating class,” says Pat Keenan.
“I remember when I came I here first, I thought it was about people who had nothing to do but everybody has busy lives also,” says Martin Vahey.
For Martin Mortimer, from Carrakennedy, the company has been important since his retirement and the death of his wife just a year ago.
“I have plenty to do at home, with the family coming and going, but you miss the interaction between people which you had when working. It could be lonely,” he says.
As Dubliner, Richard Bermingham, insists on The Mayo News tasting his chocolate ganache cake, ‘just a sliver’, he explains that the group has ‘a pool of knowledge which it shares’. From Geoff Smith and Paul Kerins’ skills at fixing bicycles to Pat Friel’s musical talent, Westport’s Men’s Shed is a rather skilled one-stop-shop.
Add in Guy Carelton’s classes – early each Monday morning at Cloona Health Centre – in mindful meditation and Noreen Eade’s yoga classes and the progressiveness and openness of this band of brothers is confirmed.