A SPECIAL anniversary mass will be celebrated in Ss John and Paul Church on Saturday at 3pm to celebrate 40 years of the Order of Malta in Shannon.
Over its four decades in operation the Order have provided services at a huge number of events in Shannon, the rest of Clare and beyond.
Ian Gallagher is one of the long-standing members of the Order, having been with the unit for the last 21 years and he has held the position of Officer in Charge for the last four.
Commenting on the unit’s history, he says it has changed its purpose since the early days. “When it was set up in 1972 it was to provide an ambulance service for the local residents because the other bases were quite far away. It provided that successfully for about ten years but due to conditions and funding and competition with the statutory authorities it was discontinued. The unit became a voluntary community based ambulance group, where we offer first aid cover for state training and community cover for local events.”
Nowadays there is a varied list of events that the unit has a presence at. “We would help out at major things like Knock, we provide first aid cover for Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday. We have been to major events like the Special Olympics World Games and this year we have a crew going to Dublin for the week of the Eucharistic Congress. In Clare we provide first aid for a lot of Point to Points in place like Belharbour and Quakerstown. We provide cover for hunter trials, we were at the Pieta House Darkness into Light Walk last weekend, a crew were up at three in the morning to go to that. We’d do a lot of fun runs and community events.
“Last year, I think we had 153 duties throughout the year. I’m just back from the Lourdes pilgrimage which was a week long.”
The Shannon unit of the Order of Malta is entirely voluntary and there are very few paid staff in the whole country. “We are completely voluntary funded in that we get donations for providing first aid courses and occupational first aid courses for companies and industry. That pays for the insurance, the equipment, uniforms, things like that.
“In Dublin there are two or three people who look after some administration, but throughout the country it’s run by volunteers.”
All over the country there are voluntary organisations struggling to raise funds to keep the show on the road and the Order of Malta is no exception. “It’s definitely a challenge. We find that a lot of our expenses have gone up, things like petrol and insurance and we’re still getting a similar amount of donations. One area that is a lot harder is that the amount of first aid courses and occupational first aid courses has decreased drastically,” Ian says.
Shannon is the only operating unit in Clare at the moment and Ian says that new volunteers are very welcome. “We have meetings ever Wednesday evening, the cadets meet from seven o’clock to eight and the seniors after that, from eight to half past nine at St Tola’s. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can turn up to the school on a Wednesday evening, I’m there most evenings and I’m happy to welcome anyone.”
At the moment there are 30 people in the senior unit, which is for those aged over 16 while there are 14 in the Cadet unit, for young people aged 10-16.
As well as the mass, there will also be a presentation of certificates to volunteers and a dinner dance, which will be held in Bunratty.