Jimmy Hennessy, Ger Casey, Liam O'Sullivan, Aime Sheahan, Brendan Healy, Patsy McCarthy, John Flynn and Mike Dalton were pictured at the Men's Shed, Askeaton
There’s work to be done. It’s a Monday evening in Askeaton and seven men and a small brown dog are gathered outside a slightly ramshackle outhouse in Askeaton.
To the untrained eye, it may not look like much, with its cracked plasterwork, rusty galvanised roof, sagging gutters and ivy sprouting from various crevices.
But these men see something else. They see potential. They see a future. More importantly, the see a project. And men like nothing better than a project.
This is the Askeaton Men’s Shed group, recently established but bursting with big plans.
“Three months ago, we were just a bunch of lads with an idea but since then it has started to get legs,” says secretary Mike Dalton.
It was one of their own members - Ger Casey - who offered them the use of the property on West Square for a nominal lease. And it’s ideal for their purposes - with a house facing onto the street and the outhouse at the back which will become their shed.
They have already started work on its renovation, with plans to develop a workspace on the ground floor and a meeting room upstairs. There’s even a small patch of green space which they intend to use as a garden with some fruit trees and maybe a beehive or two.
But it’s early days yet and they are open to any suggestions that members may have.
“It’s essentially a blank canvas at the moment. It depends on what skillsets are in the group and what people want to do. People are going to bring ideas to the table,” Mike explains.
The impetus to establish the group came about following a number of tragedies in the area, highlighting the need for a safe space for men to come together, talk, work, find a common purpose.
As Jimmy Hennessy - one of the members - puts it: “Every one of us here can count up on two hands the amount of fellas we personally know that killed themselves...there is too much of it going on.”
Already the club has more than 20 members ranging in age from mid-20s to late 70s.
A series of fundraising events, including a draw and a disco, have been very well supported locally, providing the group with the financial base to bring their ideas to life.
Support also came from the Newcastle West Men’s Shed group who were very generous with advice and practical help. They even made a stairs for the Askeaton shed in their own workshop.
Treasurer Liam O’Sullivan says they hope to have the shed ready for use within six months. “When it gets up and running it will set a precedent for the villages around. They might see an opportunity there too,” he says.
“There’s 20 core members now and they’re getting involved, but when it’s up and running you could have 40 more,” he adds.
Another member, John Flynn, quotes from the old Kevin Costner movie, Field of Dreams: “If you build it they will come”.
John, a painter and decorator by trade, got involved in the group as a way of fending off boredom, being “fed up with television, fed up with the paper, fed up with the internet”.
“I was unemployed, going up the walls, so I came down out of curiosity the first meeting,” he says.
Like the others, he hopes to be able to apply his skills to the renovation of the shed, and maybe learn some new skills. “I grew up in a farm and we always used to have an old workshop for killing away time - you’d be surprised what you’d make.”
Patsy McCarthy stresses that all are welcome to get involved. “Whatever you can do - there’s work for everybody,” he insists.
Listening to the men discussing their plans for fixing up the shed, with knowledgeable talk of blocklaying, roofing, rafters, shingle, galvanising, sheeting, scaffolding, it’s clear that between them they possess a wealth of knowledge and experience. Giving men the opportunity to apply that knowledge in a productive manner is at the heart of the men’s shed movement.
It is a safe and busy environment where men who have time on their hands can come together and do something constructive with that time.
It is also a place where they can get together and talk over a cup of tea, or shoulder to shoulder as they work.
“The most important tool in the shed is the kettle because guys sit down around a cup of tea or coffee and chat,” says Mike Dalton.
“It’s essentially about getting guys out that have time to give and that have ideas in their head and are staring at four walls with nothing to do...over-thinking and thinking about the wrong stuff. Whereas if there’s somewhere to go that they can get a benefit out of and give something and get something back as well, that’s what you’re looking for.”
Chairman Brendan Healy says they plan to have the shed as a place where men can come at any hour of day or night - whenever they feel the need for a chat or a bit of company.
“The idea is you’ll have a key for the shed and a key for the gate and if you want to come down here at 10 at night, you can come down and have a cup of tea if you feel like it,” he says.
Mike stresses that all are welcome. “Men can just come and have a chat and a cuppa it that is all they’re looking for.
“Eighteen to 90, we’ll take you”.
The Askeaton Men’s Shed group meets at 8pm every Monday night in the community hall. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information.