The Fáilte Club of Thurles welcomed Archbishop Dermot Clifford when he came to share an evening with them recently. The Fáilte Club members sang with him as they went through some old songs, with His Grace leading the singing.
Earlier in the evening he had watched the activities of stone being carved, jewellery being made and even joined in a game of scrabble.
His Grace spoke of the value of the club as a much needed social outlet in Thurles. He said that he had always had a keen interest in mental health issues. He recalled that in the past, the common treatment for those presenting with mental health difficulties was long term incarceration in institutions, often instigated by members of their own families who did not wish to be associated with the stigma of mental illness.
In 2011 there were 525 reported deaths by suicide in Ireland. Depression and undiagnosed depression can often be associated with suicide. Statistics tell us that one in four people will suffer from mental health problems at some stage in their lifetime.
The arrival of the Community Care Act a generation ago changed the focus to Care in the Community. “…but are people really cared for in the community?” Dr. Clifford asked, adding that the Fáilte Club is an outstanding example of how the community can care for its own.
“We are delighted that His Grace came to visit us” said co-ordinator Kathleen Phillips. “His support means such a lot to us, and affirms what we have been doing for the last eight years”.
The need for a social outlet for users of the local mental health services were identified by Thurles and District Mental Health Association in 2004.
Facilitators were recruited from the mature student body in Tipperary Institute who received training to operate the Fáilte Club which is run on a voluntary basis throughout the year.
Volunteers Kathleen Phillips, Ita Felle, Mary Larkin, Josie Barrett and Michael Shanahan make sure there is always a warm welcome for its 20 members, where a friendly home-from-home atmosphere prevails.
Increases in suicide and attempted suicides have made the presence of the Fáilte Club more valuable in recent years in terms of helping to address social isolation and building friendships.
The main aims of the club are to promote positive mental health and assist participants with socialisation and integration.
Indeed, for some regular attendees it may be their only opportunity for social interaction every week, which is tremendously important in combatting isolation.
Developing friendships and fostering a sense of belonging are examples of positive outcomes for all involved, (facilitators and volunteers included); benefits many of us take for granted living in our own communities.
Present on Archbishop Clifford’s visit were some of those who give their time and skills to help the club function.
Bill Noble, who runs courses in watercolour painting and other art forms in the community, is convinced of the therapeutic value of painting to the anxious mind.
Also present was local poet Larry O’Sullivan who performs poetry readings on the first Friday of every month in Bowes pub in Friar Street.
John Donoghue who teaches the skills involved in jewellery making was also part of the celebration.
Sculptor Philip Quinn attended on the night as well and Fáilte Club members have often visited Phillip at his Holycross “Stonemad” studio where he runs a variety of courses including wood and stone carving.
The Archbishop took a keen interest in Philip’s work as Philip is currently renovating the statue of Jesus atop the east gable of the Cathedral of the Assumption in Thurles, which itself is undergoing renovation.
Much of the funding for the Fáilte Club comes from local support for which the club is very grateful.
Bag packing, the yearly pub quiz, sale of Saint Patrick’s Day badges, church gate collections and a recent Donkey Derby are some examples of fund raising activities undertaken by the club itself.
The carol singers of the “Monk’s” (O’Gorman’s) raise funds for the club every Christmas which is a great help in sustaining our efforts to continue to provide the service to our members.
The club organises activities such as outings and special training evenings which include courses in self-esteem and personal development as well as day trips to venues such as Killarney and Dublin.
Regular activities include pool, music and song, art and crafts such as jewellery making, sculpting and wood carving.
Courses in creative writing and mixed media were also provided in recent years.
Care in the community
Facilitator Mary Larkin discussed the need for extra volunteers which will be needed if the club is to expand its membership.
Mary said “Care in the community is constantly promoted by policy makers, but we are the community and we have to take our responsibilities as a community seriously and reach out to those we can… otherwise the stigma attached to mental health may never be overcome”.
Thurles Writer’s Club member Bill Cooke has encouraged the Fáilte Club to publish a book which is due to be launched at Source Library at the Thurles Oktoberfest.
All of the book’s contributors are local people and some have recollections of how mental health used to be treated in the past.
It is hoped that sales of the book will raise the awareness of mental health issues and raise funds for the Fáilte Club as well.
For further information on how you might be in a position to help or be helped, please contact 087-7577873.