TG4 documentary tells of how Men’s Sheds ‘saved our lives’
TG4 Documentary series “Men’s Sheds” is airing again next Tuesday Oct 3rd at 7.30pm and for the following two weeks. The series is also available to view now on the playerHERE
Article by Eugene Masterson from the Sunday World Cover Image courtesy Macha Media & TG4
Men’s Sheds members have opened up about how the organisation has rescued them from depression and some even confiding it saved their lives. There are over 400 Men’s Sheds groups across the island of island, giving mostly middle aged and elderly men a place to bond and also perform tasks in a move to prevent loneliness.
A new documentary series on TG4 lifts the lid on the organisation in Ireland, which was first inspired by the setting up of the group in Australia in the 1980s. Among sheds focussed for the TV programme are ones in counties Donegal, Kerry, Galway, Louth, Armagh and Dublin.
Ballybrack in south Dublin is unusual in that its members are generally younger than elsewhere nationwide.
“The whole idea of this was we were going to focus on men and their mental health and it just so happened the type of lad we were having here were maybe isolated socially, no confidence in themselves,” explains Mark Larkin.
“Somehow they come in here, they realise, they understand that they’re the same as everyone else, they are treated the same. They are getting that confidence to be out maybe to talking to people that they’d walk by all the time, gradually getting to know their community and then by going out and doing the bits of work, suddenly they are part of your community.
“We all love it. We are here every day, Monday to Friday we are here, and that means every day the lads know they can get out of bed and there’s somewhere to go.”
Brian Connolly admits joining up changed his life.
“It was hard to make the decision to come over because I was suffering from depression, and still am,” he confides.
“It took me a year to make that decision and eventually I made that decision and I came over and never looked back since. If I hadn’t had, I can guarantee I wouldn’t be here. I can only guess where I could be. It saved my life basically to come here, that’s being honest.”
Joe Traynor faced similar challenges.
“I moved out here five and a half years ago after my wife passed away,” he recalls. “I live just above here, and I wouldn’t move out of the room, from depression and everything.
“So I decided, I went to the DSPCA and I rescued him (dog) and he started to get me out walking. I often noticed this place was here, so I popped in one day. I haven’t looked back since.
“The great thing about this is the understanding that everybody has, and nobody turns you away. You’re never turned away from the door, you’ll always stand by each other and support each other.”
John Wildes experience similar difficulties.
“About five years ago I was going through a bad depression. I lost my mother to suicide,” he sighs. “I had a bad accident, I wasn’t able to work anymore and I was kind of a bit lost. I used to walk by the club every day and wasn’t sure what it was about.
“I built up the courage one day and came in. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It more or less saved my life. I don’t know what I’d be doing. I was in a really bad place with depression and anxiety and stuff, so it’s really helped with that.”
The group at Min na Manrach, not far from An Clochán Liath in Co Donegal meet in an old national school which closed 10 years ago.
“We got this place from the parish priest. It is important that this school is being used again. It was closed for 10 years, maybe more than 10 years,” reveals Aodh Mac Fhloinn.
“It was also fitting as it was educating young people, and now it is educating old lads!
“The people in the area help us. We got a defibrillator and it’s hanging on the wall out there, because out here there are no mobile phones and no internet.
“It’s important for people to have things like that. We were thinking of doing something for a competition and we came up with Thomas (the tank engine) because everyone could do something with Thomas.
“They could pull a nail or hammer a nail or clean a piece of wood, or cut it or whatever suited.”
They have now built a large Thomas the tank engine model, which stands on where the old Donegal to Derry railway line once was.
“I think they may have stopped the train in the 50s. I think it’s nice that it’s down there and it’s visible. Young people are interested in it, as are the old people because it reminds them of the time the train ran on that line,” he reflects.
“People working together, that’s what the shed is about, men coming together and men helping each other to help themselves.”
Aodh has a daughter with Down Syndrome and gave up work to look after her.
“The Shed invited me to join them and I didn’t go in as I was probably shy and thought that maybe I was too young and I had no business going there. Then they sent me word to come in and help run the place,” he recollects.
“That encouraged me to go in and help them, So I went in and never looked back. It’s a very satisfying job and I thought I had no business being there, but after being there a few times I saw that it was doing me a lot of good.
“I was getting time out of the house away from my little girl, not that I wanted to be away but when I’m in the shed now I don’t thing of the time or what’s happened at home or bills etc. I’m there and it’s my own time.
“It’s a really good thing, it’s great for anyone to get some time away. From what they do, get a rest from it, a bit of craic. You’re always laughing and doing things, maybe telling a lot of lies and you know it’s good fun and it gives you time for yourself.”
Members of the Corr na Mona shed
The shed at Corr na Móna in north county Galway has built a polytunnel, in which locals grow vegetables.
“By chance I met the school principal here and another teacher and they said ‘we’ll be able to go there for some lettuce and opinions etc’ for lunch,” notes Seán Breathnach.
“I said ‘no, if you want some you can take a corner or this polytunnel and plant your own vegetables and show the children how to plant vegetables and take care of them etc.
“They were thrilled that we were giving them the opportunity. Many children here, unlike us, never saw vegetables being planted so it will benefit them and they can tell their parents and show them off. So hopefully it will work out well.”
The shed in Dundalk will be shown trying to surmount Covid restrictions, the one in Armagh City gets together to make crafts for a Christmas fair, those in Cahersiveen in Co Kerry meet up to exercise, while others in An Daingean play cards, music and also help the upkeep of a local burial ground.
“The shed is a big, big, part of our lives,” confirms An Daingean (Dingle) member Seán O Conchubhain.
“We have 50 to 60 members. They all get something out of it. We play cards. Thirty-one on Mondays and Wednesdays, we play poker Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“You’d swear Gamblers Anonymous would be after us but it’s all for little money. It great for people to be able to get out of their own houses and come here. The shed is a great place, I won’t say to pass your time, but to use your time in a good way.”
The next programme airs on TG4 on Tuesday Oct 3rd at 7.30pm