HAVING been named Limerick’s volunteer of the year for 2014 by camogie president Aileen Lawlor, you could forgive Sr Joan O’Regan for resting on her laurels.
But the Salesian sister shows little appetite for calling it a day. Honorary president of Na Piarsaigh Camogie Club, with whom she has served since its foundation, Sr Joan is still a fixture at the training ground in Caherdavin. Still there giving words of encouragement to her young charges, Sr Joan can’t resist sometimes taking to the pitch herself in spite of her 75 years.
“I go into the field with them and I love it. Age is only something in your head as far as I’m concerned. I’m lucky that I haven’t an ache or a pain in my body. I walk a lot and the girls keep me young. I always said I wanted to do something for my community because when we were in school all those years ago, you had to do everything for yourself. So volunteering keeps you young as well,” said Sr Joan.
It is this spirit that saw Sr Joan named volunteer of the year, a national award, last month. This was followed by another honour from Limerick GAA.
And last Sunday, Na Piarsaigh committee members invited Sr Joan out for a drink in the Radisson but asked her if she would first pop into the clubhouse bar to pick up a couple of forms.
“I opened the door and there was 200 people inside. It was like This Is Your Life. I got an awful shock,” said Sr Joan.
Among the well-wishers were Mayor Kathleen Leddin, Deputy Willie O’Dea and Fr Tom Carroll, the GAA-mad priest who had encouraged Sr Joan to get the girls at Mary Queen of Ireland NS, where she was teaching, involved in camogie.
The game took root in Caherdavin, in spite of all the other temptations.
“There’s a lot of distractions for girls, especially in a city. There’s the basketball, the disco dancing and the ordinary dancing as well but we managed to get it up and running,” said Sr Joan.
From the local school, Sr Joan brought her skills and knowledge to the local club Na Piarsaigh, which started camogie in the early 1990s. From humble beginnings, there are now around 100 girls and women playing, a couple of whom played for Limerick in last year’s All-Ireland intermediate final.
Sr Joan’s love for camogie started at an early age. At the age of eight, her family moved from Kilmeedy to Fedamore, where her father John farmed the land.
“As soon as the rosary was over, it was out into the field with the boys and it didn’t bother me if I got a black eye. I often played with the handle of a brush if I had no hurley,” she said.
Na Piarsaigh Camogie PRO Pat O’Neill said it wasn’t just in the love for her own sport that Sr Joan had had an impact.
“She is a truly marvellous person who puts the children’s needs and those of the community first. She started up the brownies in 1984 and continues with them to this day. She trains the school quiz team, helps out with the knitting lessons in the school every week and volunteers in Carrigoran nursing home every Monday. And she can also be found in the church helping the kids practice for their readings at mass.
“This is what a true volunteer is and we as a club applaud her and are very proud,” said Pat.