Allihies Men’s Shed: ‘A lot are shy about taking that first step’
Shyness is stopping many from getting involved in Allihies Men’s Shed, according to its chairman, suckler farmer, David Dudley.
Set up in 2014 to combat rural isolation, the group meets two evenings a week and on Friday afternoons in its purpose-built shed that was constructed from scratch after a big fundraising effort.
In this strikingly scenic area near the tip of the Beara Peninsula in west Cork, rural isolation is a problem for many.
We are the furthest parish on the mainland from Dublin, with a cable car to Dursey island. Farms are small here. The average herd size is about 10 suckler cows, and there are a lot of bachelor farmers.
“We have a lack of basic infrastructure with very poor broadband and mobile phone coverage,” said David, a former AI technician.
The men’s shed was backed by West Cork Partnership from its inception.
It funded David’s appointment as a rural social scheme worker at the shed. It is located at the presbytery, with the site provided by St. Brendan’s Trust and the Diocese of Kerry. Local business man Noel Kelly provided a temporary shed as a base while the project got off the ground.
Allihies Community Allotments was established as a separate entity; it is administered by the men’s shed. There was an enthusiastic response to the call for tenants from the local community who didn’t have access to suitable ground for growing food. The 11 plots were quickly snapped up.
Next on the agenda was fundraising for the new shed.
“We came up with the plan of a scrap metal collection. Then one of our members, who farms on Dursey Island, told us that scrap metal had never been collected on the island,” said David.
Sundays, bank holidays and any hours the lads could spare were spent on Dursey, gathering everything from horse ploughs to abandoned tractors and cars. It was all piled together at the island pier; awaiting a specially chartered boat.
“The difficulty of the task was compounded by the fact that we had no lifting equipment; anything too heavy to lift by hand had to be broken down and piece by piece rolled into transport boxes. In total 15t was gathered on the island and another five to six tonnes on the mainland.
“We then sold it to a metal recycling company. Not only did this have a huge positive impact on the local environment; but, the fruits of our toil enabled us to purchase materials for the structure of a purpose built men’s shed,” David said.
A range of other fundraisers were held and the shed – which comprises a workshop, social room, kitchen, office and bathroom – with lawns overlooking the award-winning allotments was constructed.
The group started by opening on Friday afternoons for what it calls ‘The Sciocht’ where men drop in for tea and a chat. It then went on to host evening meetings two nights a week.
“We try to get people out of the house; but it can be a challenge,” said David.
“There are loads of men who are living alone who have never set foot in here. We had a list of about 40 people and we wrote out to them; encouraging them to join but just a small number joined as a result.
A lot are shy about taking that first step; but they find the long winter nights hard.
“We have a very active core membership of about 12 and another eight to 10 members who attend less frequently.
“We are quite a busy shed; but we would really love to get more men in and it does get disappointing when some of the most isolated and vulnerable members of our community don’t set foot in the place.
One member said he used to dread wet days. The change in him has been unbelievable since he joined.
“While local farmers congregated around the creamery in the past, there are few options to meet socially now. Taxis are very difficult to get locally,” David said.
Woodwork is the focus at the shed which is wheelchair accessible.
“Last year we won the Free Trade Ireland Upcycle Challenge for an upcycled cable spool that we turned into a six-seater garden table set.
“We are now restoring a donkey’s cart which has made a lot of people nostalgic. One of the many jobs this cart would have done was to carry milk churns to the local creamery stop.
“Now in its ornamental state, it is on public display at this same creamery stop. This ties in nicely to our ethos of social gathering.
In days gone by, long after the milk lorry had left, the men were still gathered around the churn stand, chatting, gossiping, bartering and interacting with their neighbours.
With modern day needs in mind, the men’s shed has also worked with Cork Education and Training Board (ETB) in hosting computer classes last winter.
There is also an emphasis on the sharing of skills.
“We have a fishing community here who have a lot of skills with ropes that they pass on,” said David.
“We would like to see more people joining. We make everyone feel welcome. They can just come in and make tea – they are treated as part of the family, rather than a guest.”