It is the least I can do, given the generousity of my Kerry hosts, to share my perceptions and experiences of my recent visit, focussed mainly on the Kerry Men’s Sheds but also taking in a small part of the enticing Kerry, Ireland landscape and culture.
Sat Oct 15, fly Dublin to Kerry
This morning the flight was from Dublin to Kerry. IMSA President and my generous host for my stay in Kerry is George Kelly. George was there with his nephew James to pick me up at Kerry Airport. We had a homespun Irish pub lunch of hake and boiled vegetables with potato close to the airport on arrival. George’s nearby tourist farm Hazelfort Farm caters for visitors including school age children.
I am for the next four days in rural Kerry week south of Dublin in a huge farmhouse George manages on the Ring of Kerry between Killarney and Killorgin. I am looking out as I pen this on Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain, just over 1000 metres, low by continental European standards. Most of my visit it is to be covered in cloud and mist.
Carrauntoohill in cloud
After a quick eat in dinner George took me to a Rambling House. I see on line that:
‘In recent years, in County Kerry, a tradition known as the “rambling house” has been revived. In times past, a rambling house was regularly organized to provide residents of a province or even a small city a venue for entertainment: song, recitations, stories, and jokes.’
The setting was the local Listry Community Centre. All ages were there, the instruments mostly button accordions with vocals as well as spoons and a guitar. There was set dancing, some involving heel and toe movement with tap shoes. An MC kept it all flowing, supper was included and it was a most enjoyable evening all around. Given the participatory theme, I contributed an unaccompanied ‘Maryborough Miner’ at the very end.
Weather permitting, George has plans for us to go out tomorrow by boat to Skellig Michael, a place I have always wanted to go, a World Heritage site since 1996. A Christian monastery was founded on the island at some point between the 6th and 8th century and remained continuously occupied until it was abandoned in the late 12th century.
Kerry coast, The Skelligs on the horizon
Sunday, 16 Oct Kerry
The seas were too high and it was very wet this morning so no trip out to Skellig Michael this time round. George and James have gone to church and pick me up late morning to go down to the Ring of Kerry Coast.
We headed first to Killorglin and west around the Ring of Kerry to Cahersiveen where we had a cuppa and cake with the welcoming guys in the local Men’s Shed, located in a disused fabric workshop. First time I have seen full size billiards table in a Shed. One of the shedders, Tom generously came with us as a guide, heading to Portmagee and then onto the Skellig Ring to the Kerry Cliffs, with remarkable vistas out towards the distant Skelligs. We drove on very steep roads to Keel and Ballinskelligs, returning back to Cahersiveen, then via Ballaghisheen Pass and the Glencar Hotel to Killorglin.
Monday, 17 Oct, Kerry
My host George picked me up this morning for a tour of his farm, starting with an introduction to the Social Farming group, essentially people with a disability who come regularly to the farm, assisted by a carer, to help with farm duties, particularly with the farm animals. My highlight was the Third Century fort that Hazel Fort Farm is named after, essentially a circular earth wall surrounded by what was a moat adjacent to River Laune. The area is now wooded but the fort is obvious and impressive.
In the afternoon I went into Killarney Town with George to shop, then for a delightful dinner with seven men from the Killarney Men’s Shed. Afterwards we spent two stimulating hours chatting at the Killarney Shed and finished up very late evening with a Guinness at a nearby hotel.
River Laune, Kerry
Tuesday, 18 Oct, Kerry
The event today was jointly organised by the Kerry Partnership and the Irish Mens Sheds Association. We traveled first to Killarney and met with Pat O’Brien who is actively involved in his retirement with Kerry Mental Health in an adjacent Cafe and and activity centre. We travelled up via Tralee (of Rose of Tralee fame) to the huge Kerry Partnership dairy factory at Listowel.
Participating Men’s Sheds were from Killarney as well as Abbeyfeale, Ballybunion, Tralee and Ballyduff. Pat from Killarney Men’s Shed is also an amateur apiarist. The Kerry Partnership has a vision of getting a community based apiary established opposite the factory on land, perhaps with Men’s Shed buy-in. opposite. The site includes a large area of native forest. I spoke about the big picture of Men’s Sheds, the shedders had displays of some of their work and Pat talked about beekeeping in Ireland. We met afterwards over lunch with an HR Manager, Kevin from the Kerry Group and travelled back with a short detour through Tralee.
Pat talked all the way back about the fascinating recent history of Ireland, in its long and painful road to independence from the British between 1916 and 1922.
Tonight George and I had dinner in Larkins Bar in Mill Town close to Castlemaine. Afterwards we drove through the relatively small hamlet of Castlemaine, birthplace of the Australian Wild Colonial Boy, and passed by the KC Men’s Shed.
Kerry sea cliffs, The Skelligs on the horizon
Reflecting on my experiences of four days in Kerry, it is clear that the Men’s Sheds and IMSA are strongly supported by their local communities in Kerry. There is a desire from all parties to make it work. As with all Men’s Sheds, at the margins there are sometimes personality differences, odd internal ructions and perennial questions about Shed purpose, appropriate activities and membership.
I am impressed by the IMSA pitch via their leaflet. It carefully defines what a men’s shed is, with health and wellbeing in the final sixth line. It briefly sets out IMSAs Purpose as being ‘to support the development and sustainability of Men’s Sheds in Ireland’. The vision is for ‘a future where all men in Ireland have the opportunity to improve and maintain their wellbeing by taking part in a community Men’s Shed.’ Irish Men’s Sheds Association email is email@example.com. Its web address is http://www.menssheds.ie with a postal address 1st Floor Ballymun Civic Centre, Ballymun, Dublin 9. phone 01-8916150.