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Leader of the pack

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MOVING ON UP Des Ryan is now in line to become head of District 133 in the Lions Organisation, overseeing and working with over 100 Lions clubs across Ireland. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Islandeady native Des Ryan is hoping to get more people involved in the Westport Lions Club

Ger Flanangan

IT was 1993 when Des Ryan first became aware of the Westport Lions Club. However, he had ulterior reasons for getting involved back then.
The club at the time began an initiative to increase youth involvement, and an invitation was sent around to 200 young people in the area inviting them to become members of the Westport Leo Club.
“Funnily enough, they didn’t write to me,” the Islandeady native smiled as he recalled the situation to The Mayo News. “I was in The West [bar] at the time, and my friend, Martin Halpin, got the invite and asked me to come along.
“I declined, but he said to me, ‘You know that girl you met last weekend? I think she will be there’. So I decided to bum along.
“It was an information night about the Leos and I didn’t particularly want to go into the room. But I did and was so taken by what I heard that I ended up being the founding President of the Westport Leo Club, since married that girl, Sara, and have four kids!”
Fast forward 25 years and Des Ryan (47) is now in line to become head of District 133 in the Lions Organisation, overseeing and working with over 100 clubs across Ireland.
He was the youngest ever member of the Westport Lions Club in the past, and coincidently it was at the recent Lions convention in Westport where he was elected as Second Vice District Governor – the first step on his three-year journey into the top position.
“When I accepted the office of Second Vice District Governor I did genuinely understand that it was quite a big moment in my life,” he said. “I mentioned my parents and my wonderful wife, Sara, and the Westport Lions Club for helping me get to that point.
“I understand the gravity of the role and I don’t want to let people down, so it’s a bit scary but very exciting.”

Beginnings
EVEN if you haven’t heard of the Westport Lions Club, it’s highly probable you have felt or seen the effect of what they do in the community.
They operate under the Lions Clubs International, the world’s largest service club organisation boosting a membership of over 1.4 million people that operate voluntarily on a local, national and global level. ‘We Serve’ is their motto, applicable to their main focus of charity work and bettering the lives of the people in their local community.
Established in Chicago in 1916 by a group of businessmen wanting to give back to society, Des Ryan now wants to modernise the image of Lions to being an ‘all inclusive’ and vibrant group, accepting of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.
“Back in the 90’s I remember going into the Lions Club meetings in Westport where all the men were in the blue blazers with greying hair, they loved the craic and a few drinks after the meetings,” he laughed. “They were great men; teachers, lawyers and doctors from around the town, and I learned so much from them.
“But back then, it had a reputation of being a bit of an ‘Old Man’s Club’, as did most of the clubs in Ireland, but this has changed so much. It’s such a unique organisation now that targets multiple different groups of people in need and as such I want to help make it strong and vibrant so more people will get involved.”
Last Tuesday week, Westport Lions Club held their monthly meeting in the Clew Bay Hotel. From it they decided to donate €700 for a swing than can cater for wheelchair users being built in Westport; €250 to the Westport Family Resource Centre to finish the development of a mosaic; and €1000 to Westport Mens’ Shed on the restoration of a tractor bound for a village in Kenya.
Much of their work is low-key and goes without notice. This year, the Westport Lions Club is unique in that all members of their executive board are female and spearheaded by recently elected Club President, Ms Tanya White.
Events are held and organised throughout the year to collect money for those donations, while the membership of each person (€65-€100) goes directly to the administration costs of running the global organisation.
“No money of what we raise is used to run the organisation, that all comes from the global membership fee,” he said. “On a national level we do things like the food appeal and diabetes screening, while on a global level examples of the work we have done is creating safe zones for Syrian children and assisting disaster relief, such as the 2018 South Asian floods.”

No time to rest
DESPITE balancing a hectic work schedule as Managing Director of Ryan Structural Steel Services, Des Ryan is looking forward to what he hopes will be a busy, but productive few years.
“I’m going to be flat out,” he noted. “But what we’re trying to highlight is that even with a busy job, getting involved with the Lions Club is the best way of offering your skills to the community and getting the best results in the minimum amount of time.
“There are better Lions than me. I’m not great at shaking buckets or going to old folks’ homes, but I’m good at organising and seeing how something could be done two or three years down the road.
“Our other motto is ‘Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things’. There’s a great amount of people between the 30 and 60 age bracket with a wealth of knowledge and skills to offer that is not being used in the community.”

Self fulfillment
SO why, we wondered, does an individual like Des Ryan get involved in an organisation like this?
“There’s a massive sense of self-fulfillment out of it,” he said. “I’d like to think that if I knock on the pearly gates I can say that I did my bit.
“In Westport there’s a lot of other things that people can be doing … life has become so fast and intense, sometimes we forget to stop and think that there might be people out there not as lucky as us.
“I don’t want a medal or anything out of it and there’s no pressure on anyone when you’re in it, only one hour a month, and it’s amazing what you get out of it.”

For more information visit westportlionsclub.com