A South Galway GAA club has begun a mental health initiative which proponents hope will spread nationwide. Kilbeacanty GAA Club recently launched its Be Well programme, dedicated to maintaining and improving the mental and physical well-being of members of the club and the wider community.
“Two years ago, Niall Donoghue passed away. As a follow-up, we have done a few small things but this is an initiative we came up with and it might be a way of getting information to everyone in the parish. The county board is hoping to roll it out in other areas,” explained club secretary Alan O’Grady.
The death of the outstanding young hurler was a devastating blow to the club and community.
“It has woken up a lot of communities. It put a lot of alarm bells ringing in clubs across the county and country. Every parish should be aware that this could happen, people are depressed and we don’t want it happening in our own parish, so if this project saves even one life, we are happy,” he said.
Kilbeacanty GAA Club formed a Be Well committee and their first action was to compose flyers, which have now been distributed to every house in the parish. It was a simple and cheap project, which Alan hopes will help communities in South Galway and across the country.
“The flyers, which are intended to be placed within easy reach, contain the names and phone numbers of support organisations like Aware, Pieta House, Console, Samaritans, Age Action Ireland, Jigsaw, Childline, Amacht LGBT, Rape Crisis Network and the Garda Confidential Line. The reverse side has a list of emergency numbers including local doctors, priests and gardaí, along with a comprehensive list of all trained first aiders and first responders trained in defibrillation. We have similar available at the clubhouse and pitch,” Alan explained.
“This isn’t just about the club. Every household in Kilbeacanty has got one to hang on the fridge or keep in their wallet,” he added.
This is part of an effort being made by Kilbeacanty GAA Club to prioritise mental health in the community through pioneering projects.
“We set up a wellness or welfare officer in the parish after Niall passed away. Last year it was passed in Congress that every club should have one but we were the first in Ireland to do this,” Alan outlined.
“We are very mental health aware now. The wellness officer has proven to be a real asset to the club and community. He is getting briefings all the time. He is not a trained counsellor or anything like that but sometimes a counsellor is not what is needed, sometimes you need someone to listen,” he continued.
“The Be Well programme is our next step. We are a small parish and a lot of things that happen in the parish are driven by the GAA club. This is not just about the GAA players; it is for everyone in the community. We want to help anyone, they could be a girl or an older person, anyone who is depressed,” he added.
“It is not just about the GAA players. The club is driving it but it is for the community. It is the community that we want to protect,” Alan O’Grady stressed, pointing out, “the wellness officer is for the club and community”.
While the programme falls under the club umbrella, the committee behind it is keen to point out its unique identity and mission statement. The programme’s logo was designed through a competition in local schools.
The Be Well programme involves awareness, education and health promotion. According to the committee, it aims to enable each individual “to adequately fulfil their roles in relation to themselves, their families and their communities”.
It was launched by Jim Breen of Cycle Against Suicide.
“When Niall passed away, there were about 100 people from the parish who did the Ennis to Cork leg of the cycle and Jim was very helpful at the time and did a lot of work with us. Iggy Clarke was very good to us too,” Alan recalled.
At the launch, Jim Breen was fulsome in his praise for the programme, saying he hoped it would set a standard for other clubs to follow. Iggy Clarke also spoke on the importance of other clubs following the lead shown by Kilbeacanty and congratulated the club on its foresight.
Kilbeacanty GAA Club started the flyer for the local community but, according to Alan, is more than willing to share information.
“Galway County Board has set up a wellness group and I think they are going to copy this and bring it to other parishes. If there are people in other clubs or counties that want to do this, they can get in touch with us. We’ll tell them how we did this and send them on the brochure, no problem,” Alan said, adding, “It is a really simple initiative. It doesn’t cost much. I think the overall cost of printing the brochure came to about €300”.
Despite being run by a small committee, the Be Well programme is expanding to include an annual tour, this year to Croke Park, and a series of seminars.
“Every year we will do a talk about sexuality or mental illness or drugs or alcohol and try to go away on a trip to try to bring the community together and you never know what comes out of,” Alan concluded.
By Nicola Corless