by Jerome Hughes
IT was a book launch with a difference as dozens of men from across Donegal gathered in Fintown to celebrate the publication of ‘Stories from the Sheds’.
The book provides details on 24 Men’s Sheds in the county that are supported by the Donegal Local Development Company (DLDC).
The event included an aerobics session. Initially, the men were reluctant to strut their stuff but it wasn’t long before they got into the swing of things.
Within ten minutes, arms and legs were projecting in all directions and laughter filled Fintown Community Centre.
Donegal News caught up with Martin McGee and Jim Ward who regularly gather with other men at Fintown Men’s Shed.
In 2021, Martin fell from a height at his home which resulted in a debilitating back injury.
His doctor informed him he’ll never work again. Martin says the Men’s Shed has provided a solid outlet following a period of great emotional and mental difficulty.
“Personally, it’s been a big benefit to me. I’ve gotten a lot out of it. It’s very social. You don’t have to come here and do anything. We just sit around the fire and chat. We chat about random things. It’s just about bringing people together. People come and go as they like. There’s no pressure on it.
“It’s an alternative to a pub. You’re not going to have a hangover the next day. Everyone can drive away in their cars without worrying how they’re going to get home,” shared Martin.
Jim Ward told us that Fintown Men’s Shed helps him remember when things were less complicated.
“We don’t have to watch television or be on mobile phones. It’s more like the old times when we were young. The night is long sitting at home so a couple of hours here are great.
“You hear all the local news, like what’s going on in council, politics, road works.”
The idea for the book first emerged earlier this year, according to Brian Carr from DLDC.
“We went around all 24 Sheds and videoed them, sat down and figured out what stories to put into the book. Certainly, there was no shortage of brilliant stories.”
Brian hopes the publication will help to promote Men’s Sheds in Donegal.
“Since Covid, the biggest challenge for the Sheds is to get the numbers back. Out of our 24 Sheds in Donegal there are probably eight that are back to near full capacity. The rest are struggling on 50 per cent attendance and even less. Some Sheds haven’t even reopened properly.
“We’re hoping that in 2024 the network will get stronger. We want to get new Sheds open in Donegal in different areas where there may be a gap. It’s looking good for next year,” Brian told Donegal News.
The Men’s Sheds movement originally started in Australia. The Irish Men’s Sheds Association was formed in 2011 after the country’s first Shed was launched in Tipperary. There are currently 435 Men’s Sheds nationwide.
The aim of the Sheds is to help tackle isolation and provide a safe, comfortable and welcoming environment where men of all ages can come together to socialise, share skills and work on meaningful projects.
It’s suggested that during winter months, the supports that Men’s Sheds provide are more important than ever.
The Sheds in Donegal are located on Aranmore Island and Tory Island, and in Ardara, Ards, Ballybofey & Stranorlar, Ballyshannon, Castlefinn, Cloughaneely, Donegal Town, Doochary, Dunfanaghy, Fintown, Gweedore, Glenties, Killybegs, Kilmacrennan, Letterkenny, Lifford, Manor, Meenaneary, Mevagh, Raphoe, Rosbeg & Portnoo and Rosses.
On behalf of the Irish Men’s Shed’s Association, Eva Beirne recruits volunteers all around the country to support Sheds at a local level. Eva attended the book launch in Fintown and made an impassioned plea for every Shed in Donegal to apply for a €3,000 grant from a €1m fund, recently announced by Minister for Rural Development, Heather Humphreys.
“These guys have to help themselves. They’ve just got to apply for this grant as soon as it comes onstream. It’s a grant to offset the ‘cost of living crisis’ in their Sheds. They’ve electricity to pay for along with gas, oil, phone lines, broadband, insurance bills etc. All these costs can be claimed back as soon as possible, I hope within the next couple of weeks,” said Eva.
Echoing concerns expressed by Brian from DLDC, Eva highlighted how the Covid pandemic adversely impacted Men’s Sheds across the country, and the situation here in Donegal is no better.
“Numbers are down in Sheds and we need men to come back. There’s a nervousness about coming back and being active in their Sheds again. It’s been said to us that during Covid men found new ways to spend their time, new routines.
“They need to come back. I know that Covid is probably there in the background but there’s always going to be that now.
“I’m just encouraging them to return and beat the isolation that some of them might be feeling,” Eva said.
Advocates for the movement insist that, in the past decade, Men’s Sheds have become a vital part of Donegal’s community infrastructure.
They offer men an opportunity to meet in a supportive, collaborative space, improve their health and wellbeing, and contribute to their communities.
You can pick up a copy of ‘Stories from the Sheds’ at your nearest Men’s Shed or by requesting a copy via email: email@example.com