The differences between men and women are many and well documented – and one of the most clichéd is men’s reticence to talk about emotions or feelings. But behind the cliché is a real problem and it is for this reason that the international organisation known as the Men’s Sheds movement has spread to Ireland.
Up and down the country groups of men are congregating together in warehouses and sheds to make and repair items. They are using their creativity and, more importantly, discovering a space where they can forge new friendships.
Galway is to the forefront of the Men’s Shed movement, with groups in all around the county from Headford to Roundstone. One of the longest established in the county is Cumann na bhFear in the city suburbs of Tirellan, Ballybane and Ballinfoile, while a relative newcomer is An Seid, based in Carraroe.
“We are the first Men’s Shed in the world to operate in Irish,” observes Máirtín Breathnach of an Seid, which opened last year.
Máirtín, a local primary school teacher in the local Scoil Náisiúnta Mhic Dara was concerned about the number of unemployed men locally and also realised that there was another group that was in danger of being overlooked, namely retired men.
“I thought it would be nice to have a place where we could bring people together,” he says, “to get people to socialise somewhere other than going to the pub.”
“It’s a slippery slope,” observers Máirtín of the pub. “You are socialising alright but it’s not benefiting you in the long run.”
He approached the Údarás last year about leasing a premises for meetings and events and they agreed on a building that had formerly housed a fire engine for an industrial estate. The details haven’t been finalised yet but he’s hoping it won’t be more than €500 a year.
“We have to do it up, but a lot of tradesmen are helping us out,” he says. They have about 50 members, although they don’t all attend together.
“There are some people who want to be part of it, but not full-time and others like to work on their own.”
The group has drawn up a programme of events for the coming year. This includes rebuilding two traditional canvas currachs – one of which will be sold to raise money for the shed.
The community group Muintearas, based in Leitir Mór, has also given them the use of polytunnels and they “have loads of stuff growing there”, according to Michael. They have also started building raised beds, and will grow vegetables in these, which will either be sold to shops or given to local charities.
They are currently making flower boxes for the local Tidy Towns and, down the road, they have an old Jeep and Honda 50 that they are planning on doing up.
“We have a high population in Carraroe and the surrounding area – there would be a couple of thousand people and unemployment is dire. There are also a lot of retired people and they need a place to go. A lot of people didn’t have a retirement plan and their talent is in danger of going untapped.