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  • Shed bangers – Geraldine joins the Irish Men’s Sheds Association for some hands-on fun

    With Special Thanks to the Sunday World. Original Article can be viewed here.

    WHEN Beyonce sang ‘If I Were a Boy’, she spoke for a lot of us gals. We all secretly envy men because they get to do a lot of fun stuff which we can’t get the hang of – such as carpentry, welding and anything to do with engines.

    OK, some sisters may be DIY-ing it for themselves, but most of us are ‘girly girls’ who would need a sex change before doing anything tougher than changing a lightbulb.

    Of course, it’s handy to have lots of men around to do the heavy work, but when men vanish into their sheds, their better halves get jealous – and nosey.

    So imagine how curious we get when we hear that men all over the country are banding together to set up super-sheds – with up to 30 men in each!

    With 120 groups in Ireland, and one new shed opening ever week for the past 18 months, the Irish Men’s Sheds Association is Ireland’s fastest-growing club – and one of its most prestigious, since President Michael D Higgins was made patron last month.

    “We’re the ICA for men,” the lads of Clane Men’s Shed in Co. Kildare told me when I dropped down to their workshop in Clane Business Park. With pubs, golf clubs and even ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ now open to ladies, our boys are always on the lookout for hideaways. But they can’t hide from a Sunday World gal.

    So I unleashed my inner tomboy and infiltrated this all-male enclave. Nagged Wielding a hammer and chisel was child’s play – but I nearly fainted when they handed me a plank and asked me to saw it in half using an electric radial-arm saw.

    After Liverpool bloke Sam Leigh gave me a crash course, though, I was chopping planks like a pro. The former factory packer, who moved to Ireland in 2000, joined his local Men’s Shed after his girlfriend “nagged” him.

    “She told me that chatting online doesn’t count as social interaction,” says Sam. “I was out of work and she was fed up with me hanging around. Now this is my home away from home!

    “I get a lot of calls from women asking us to take their husbands out from under their feet,” Clane Men’s Shed Facilitator Ted Murray says.

    “Some men say they are no good at making things or fixing things, so I ask them if they can make the tea. “There’s a myth that Men’s Sheds are only for unemployed or depressed men, and that puts off some men.

    “But you don’t have to be depressed or out of work, we’re here for any man with time on his hands.”

    However, the recession has certainly boosted their membership, as more men find themselves out of work, broke and miserable.

    It’s no wonder that they are drawn to an organisation whose motto is: ‘Men don’t talk face-to-face – they talk shoulder-to-shoulder’.

    “We don’t ask men why they’re joining or what they do for a living. If they want to tell us, they’ll tell us,” says Ted. Former Detective Superintendent Michael Kelleher joined after he retired from the Gardai because he wanted to continue helping his community.

    Thanks to the Men’s Shed, he’s discovered a latent talent for woodturning. He is also the group’s treasurer – though usually that just means looking after the teaand-biscuits kitty and the voluntary annual membership fee of €10. Former fitter Jim Craughwell is the Clane group’s chairman and regularly holds meetings.

    “We solve the problems of the world around this table,” Jim says. Restored When he set up the shed in 2011, Ted brought in a dartboard and cards, “but they were never used, as the men would rather be doing something practical.

    “The first thing we made was a load of St Brigid’s crosses because we didn’t know what we’d be good at making.”

    They’ve come a long way since then, I realised as I sat in a wooden canoe they made, and checked out their current project – a currach. They recently restored an old golf buggy and a set of archery butts for the Barrettstown Children’s Camp, and their float won first prize at the Clane St Patrick’s Day Parade.

    Other items they’ve made include horse-jumps and a clock which was originally part of an old mantelpiece. They sell them at car-boot sales and their Christmas fair.

    Starting with just 10 members, they now have 30, who turn up whenever they want.While they all live locally and come from all walks of life – from musicians to office workers.

    Their tools were mostly donated by sponsors Age Action or ordinary folk. The Arthur Guinness Fund recently donated €50,000 to the Irish Men’s Shed Association and will also provide business mentoring services to all the groups around the country.

    But these men could teach some professional mentors a thing or two about workethic, team-building and how to turn a recession into an opportunity.

    Ted points out: “Some men have even got jobs out of it because we pick up new skills off each other and we do courses in health and safety. But it’s not like work, that’s why we don’t wear overalls like you!”