Roscommon retailer Pat Towey reaches out to help vital Irish Men’s Shed project
Irish men are not renowned for reaching out and seeking support – or for looking after their health and wellbeing – particularly in their later years. After retirement, or living isolated rural lives, many men become disconnected from their communities – or families become fragmented.
The Irish Men’s Shed Association was set up in 2011, with around 450 Men’s Sheds now established across Ireland. And one community-spirited Spar retailer in Roscommon has taken the project to heart – as a volunteer for his local Men’s Shed – in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.
Pat Towey owns and runs the Spar Express & top on the Dublin Road, Ballaghaderreen – and as the saying goes – ‘He’s some man for one man.’ With tireless energy, not only does he run a full time, successful Spar Express, off-licence and forecourt – he also commits as much spare time as he can to the local Men’s Shed project, as he explains to IF&CR.
Pat is the chair of the Ballaghaderreen Men’s Shed. He’s been in business over 20 years and would be well known locally.
“The shed concept originated in Australia and has found its way around the world. With over 450 in Ireland alone. They are places for men to connect – we have all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds – retired teachers, farmers, factory workers – and we run all sorts of workshops,” said Pat.
“Finding a place was difficult. Property is so expensive – you’ll find Men’s Sheds in containers as they can’t afford to rent a space. When I was involved with the local Chamber of Commerce, I was asked did I know anyone who could give them a shed. We were lucky – we were able to find a 3000square foot shed from a local man.”
As Pat was born and bred in Ballaghaderreen, he knew plenty of local people who were willing to help get the shed up and running – it was a true community effort.
‘Good for the soul’
“It’s good for the soul. It’s mainly the older generation but anyone over 45 to 95 can come along and just join in. Quite often men get disconnected or lonely if the family becomes fragmented in later years – there’s just simple kindness, joy and camaraderie. It has literally been a life saver for some who were bereaved or alone. One man in his 90s said if someone had told him when he was in his 70s that he had a whole life still ahead of him he wouldn’t have believed it.”
There has been cross-border co-operation and groups north and south of the border meeting up and making connections – from men’s sheds in Newry and Portadown coming to the south and finding they have more in common than they thought.
“The Sheds for Life programme helps men to look after their own health and wellbeing, which if they are feeling isolated or alone, is often neglected. The workshops help them to look after their diet, lifestyle, exercise – and to think about how their mind space is,” Pat says.
“In large urban areas there’s parks, cinemas and things to do – but in rural areas, like counties in Connacht Leitrim, Sligo and Roscommon – there’s not a lot to do when you retire. Many men find that when they retire, they have no structure anymore – they’re too old for the GAA, and if they’re not in to golf they might be lost for something to do – or for company.
“There’s great characters and we have lots of activities – like copper making, or wood turning, or film making. During the first Lockdown we decided to make a film all recorded on a phone and edited by my good friend David O Gara. The film was called Reaching Out. Have a look on You Tube. This short film was shared with sheds in the US, Canada, & Australia.
“Men don’t like to talk about their emotional health. There might be talks on health and wellbeing, heart checks, diabetes checks – we bring in medical professionals and nurses to talk to members and do health checks.
“We’ve had talks from Professor Paul O’Grady, a specialist in orthopaedics, about looking after your joints. Molly’s Chemists did a talk about lumps and bumps and what to look for when doing your own checks.
“Sporting icons like Mayo’s Andy Moran & Roscommon’s Sean McDermott have come along and talked about mental health and the challenges they face as footballers when they retire from the game – the emotional turmoil of losing the structure of training and playing and been in the public eye – then stopping felt like falling off a cliff! That’s how they felt, but they talk about how they coped, how they got back on the right path.
“Listening to men they can relate to – sportsmen – making no secret of their struggles with emotional health and wellbeing, helps our men realise, that it’s ok to feel that way – just seek help and talk about it.
During lockdown it was hard for many local men who were isolated and alone.
“We weren’t able to meet up during lockdown, but wanted to stay connected, so we started to walk and talk – it meant we could meet up and just go walking around different routes. These were organised walks, whereby each member hosted a walk and talk about their memories, places they knew growing up. A lot of the guys are quite shy and reserved in the shed, but during the townland walks they felt included and were proud of their achievements,” Pat says.
“There’s no agenda, no egos, just men making things better for other men. There’s also a support worker for every three or four counties – with Men’s Sheds all over Ireland.
“Coming from a family business where my dad was a pig dealer and my mother had a café and shop, the youngest of 9, I had a good work ethic when I started my own business. I have good people skills. I have had my crosses with cancer, and that journey alone will affect your outlook on life. You make your own luck and if you have good health, you don’t need much more. Being in a position to offer my leadership to a willing team is very fulfilling.
“We are ambassadors for what we do – telling others to come along to the Men’s Shed – just come as you are, there’s no judgement. That’s important – I think it’s just incredible, and I feel lucky to be able to give the Men’s Shed my time.
“I wish to see this government putting aside some money for the Men’s Shed programmes – they exist everywhere across Ireland, doing simple and small things, but making a huge difference helping older men to feel connected and to take more care of their health and wellbeing.”
As they say in Ireland, between running a busy Spar Express, giving his time and energies freely to the Men’s Shed – Pat Towey is quite clearly ‘some man for one man.’
Click HERE for the full story in Ireland’s Forecourt & Convenience Retailer magazine.