Eimear Ferguson is a Sinn Féin Councillor on Meath County Council. She represents East Meath which is part of the Louth constituency. Her father, Dessie, is a former inter county Gaelic footballer with Dublin. He played his club football with St Vincents. He won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship with Dublin in 1958 and 1963. He moved to Meath and began playing with Gaeil Colmcille winning senior titles with them in 1966 and 1968. So the GAA is in Eimear’s blood.
A few weeks ago she and I and MEP Matt Carthy visited St. Colmcilles GAA club in East Meath. It was my second visit. It’s an amazing place. St. Colmcilles run many voluntary and community based activities, including mental health projects and it has opened up its sporting facilities for local citizens. The club members provide essential and positive support for hundreds of citizens.
St. Colmcilles is a leading proponent of the GAAs Health Club Initiative which seeks to connect the GAA with communities through health and wellbeing projects. The GAA initiative is a partnership effort involving Healthy Ireland, the Health Service Executive and the National Office for Suicide Prevention. It is funded by the HSE and in February it received a three year – one million euro – investment from Irish Life.
The project is rooted in the volunteer spirit of the GAA. It is about health promotion. It involves a wide range of specific initiatives including mental health, health screening, bullying, diet and nutrition, inclusion and community outreach, drug and alcohol awareness, life skill and personal development, anti-smoking, facilities development and engagement with older community members.
The focus is not only on helping GAA members and their families but is about reaching into the wider community and making available the skills within the GAA that can help citizens. It’s about plugging some of the gaps that occur in the existing community and family supports provided by state agencies.
The Healthy Club project commenced in March 2013. 18 clubs initially took part in the two year pilot phase. It is intended to roll it out across the state. The success of the Healthy Club Project is evident in the decision to select it to participate in a European wide research venture aimed at promoting its implementation as part of the Sports Club for Health (SCforH) programme in EU members states.
Early evaluations of its activities have been very positive.
St. Colmcilles is a first class model of a project which provides advice and support for neighbours.
Even before the Health Clubs project was launched in 2013 the East Meath Club was already involved in its own home grown extensive community outreach programme around mental health. Its ‘How are you feeling today’ programme which has been running for several years, has proven very successful.
Over 100 local people packed into the single storey club house for the first public meeting in 2012 and the project has grown in strength since then. More than 250 citizens, many of whom have no connection to the Club, are now involved in its various programmes, all of which are free but which cost the club over €20,000 to run each year.
The St. Colmcilles initiative is a remarkable example of how a community based organisation like the GAA can strengthen its roots into the community while opening up its facilities and encouraging the development of mental health, youth and other important initiatives. All of these make a significant contribution to society and in some instances are lifesaving.”
The GAA is an outstanding organisation of very dedicated men and women, boys and girls. It exists in every part of this island. Because of our diaspora it is also strong in many other countries. I have watched GAA matches in Chicago and San Francisco and met GAA activists in different parts Europe.
GAA players are role models for our children and as an organisation it contributes significantly to the well being of our citizens and of our society.
The GAA and clubs like St. Colmcilles are making a real and positive difference in peoples’ lives. They contribute freely of their time and talent and they deserve our thanks, our solidarity, our support and our encouragement to continue to do what they do.