Shed life in New­town moun­tkennedy


Bray People - - INTERVIEW -

IT IS NOT NEC­ES­SARY to travel as far as the re­fined so­phis­ti­ca­tion of St Stephen’s Green to find a gentle­men’s club, as there is prob­a­bly one just around the cor­ner from you.

One of the most select – with a lengthy wait­ing list – is to be found on the out­skirts of New­town­moun­tkennedy at Kil­ladreenan. Be ad­vised that this is not a club in which mem­bers lounge around in leather-bound arm­chairs and pass the port around the ta­ble af­ter din­ner.

The New­town and New­cas­tle Men’s Shed has a strict no-al­co­hol pol­icy and the sit­ting room floor is cov­ered in mod­est lino. There are no flunkeys to stoke the log-burn­ing stove which ra­di­ates cheer­ful warmth and hos­pi­tal­ity on even the greyest of win­try af­ter­noons. They do it them­selves, just as they boil the ket­tle them­selves and work the toaster them­selves.

Those who come to en­joy the ca­ma­raderie of their fel­low men here have vary­ing views on what makes the ‘shed’ so ap­peal­ing. For some, it is an op­por­tu­nity to make things, to dust off old skills and be qui­etly cre­ative.

For oth­ers, the chance to grow things in the mini-al­lot­ments is very at­trac­tive. Some are hon­est enough to ad­mit that they ap­pre­ci­ate get­ting out from un­der the feet of their wives.

There are a few, too, for whom the shed is a ref- uge from lone­li­ness and the on­set of de­pres­sion.

The shed here in Chapel River, Kil­ladreenan, is a pos­i­tive al­ter­na­tive to the pub.

All agree that the craic and the ban­ter ex­changed in the best of good hu­mour are at the heart of the ven­ture. At the mo­ment, they are busy plan­ning a ma­jor fundraiser, putting up posters and sell­ing tick­ets for a con­cert at the nearby Parkview Ho­tel. Their spe­cial guests for the night on Fe­bru­ary 23 will be the Garda Band and it prom­ises to be a most en­ter­tain­ing oc­ca­sion.

The team­work which goes into the plan­ning the event over steam­ing mugs of tea is typ­i­cal of the Men’s Shed ap­proach. John Kelly may en­joy the ti­tle of chair­man but he is no more than first among equals and this is a team game.

The shed, by the way, is not an ac­tual shed at all but a former gar­den cen­tre be­side the old main road. The owner, James Car­roll, was keen to see good use made of the premises, prompt­ing the for­ma­tion of a men’s com­mit­tee a cou­ple of years ago. What is now the shed work­shop had been used to ac­com­mo­date over-win­ter­ing sheep and the build­ing re­quired con­sid­er­able clean­ing up.

At least the job gave the vol­un­teers who showed up the chance to show will­ing and demon­strate that they had the re­quired do-it-your­selves men­tal­ity. And the hands-on ef­fort was backed by gen­er­ous do­na­tions of goods and equip­ment. So now, where the ewes used to sit in straw, a full wood­work­ing set-up has been cre­ated with a clean con­crete floor and half-made projects on dis­play be­side the benches. The out­put in­cludes planters which are ex­ported to a Dublin school for dyslexic chil­dren and ‘ buddy benches’ for lo­cal schools.

Next door to the work­shop is the sit­ting room with kitchen and toi­let where the con­ver­sa­tion is al­ways lively and the ket­tle is al­ways on. They used to have a pool ta­ble but found it was get­ting in the way of the so­cial­is­ing, so it was ban­ished along with the darts board, which they never got around to putting up on the wall at all. A com­puter sits in a cor­ner but there is no in­ter­net con­nec­tion at the mo­ment and no one is greatly con­cerned.

The New­town­moun­tkennedy and New­cas­tle shed has the great ad­van­tage over many oth­ers that it is has full run of the place where it has its head­quar­ters. Leased long term, the mem­bers have the stove lit most days, en­joy­ing a sense of own­er­ship which al­lows them a home from home.

‘ This is the best thing since the sliced pan,’ says one mem­ber. ‘Any­one can come in here to read the pa­per and have a chat. The shed just gets them out of their shells – it’s a life saver.’

One of the signs up on the wall pro­claims

‘Grumpy Old Men’, but there is no ev­i­dence of grumpi­ness in the at­mos­phere.

How­ever, it is cer­tainly the case that most of those who come here are not in the first flush of youth – if only be­cause the younger ones have found em­ploy­ment. Many mem­bers have re­tired from full-time jobs and Pat Carey is the old­est on the books at the age of 82.

THEY ARE NOT be­yond so­cial me­dia, with a Face­book page de­signed by Ed Gregory giv­ing them a lively pres­ence on the world wide web. One of the fea­tured pho­tographs on Face­book is of the sleigh which was made to bring a jolly Santa Claus on tour around the dis­trict in De­cem­ber. The bright red sleigh re­mains in the yard out­side, care­fully stored un­der a tar­pau­lin pend­ing its re­turn to the North Pole.

As the weather im­proves, the men look for­ward to spend­ing more time out of doors. The raised grow­ing beds may be in a state of win­ter for­lorn­ness at the mo­ment but the bean shoots are be­gin­ning to put on a spurt, so the brown earth will soon at­tract in­tense ac­tiv­ity. The ad­mirably spir­i­tual de­sire to plant and nur­ture and grow will be laced with mis­chievous ri­valry as the gar­den­ers com­pete to pro­duce the big­gest onion or the finest toma­toes.

At the rear of the gar­den is a hen house full of fine egg-lay­ers, watched over by poul­try spe­cial­ist Wil­lie Fitzpatrick and the lat­est re­cruit, a young tabby cat called Kithen.

At the side of the ex­ten­sive yard an im­pres­sive bar­be­cue has been con­structed, which will be well used dur­ing the sum­mer months and tucked in be­hind that is a stor­age unit. It con­tains an im­pec­ca­bly re­stored pony trap, up­hol­stered and painted up in good time to take part in the St Patrick’s Day Pa­rade.

The setup of the shed rep­re­sents in­cred­i­bly good value for the ten­ner a year sub­scrip­tion – a bar­gain if ever there was one.

‘We have 50 mem­bers and we are lim­ited to that by our in­surance,’ re­veals chair­man John, who has to turn many men away. He laughs: ‘It’s a youth club for old men.’ The stove is lit six days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with full Ir­ish break­fast served for €3 a head on Wed­nes­day morn­ings (Colm Gam­mell pre­sid­ing at the hob) and a mu­sic ses­sion one evening each week. At the mo­ment, the slag­ging is mighty in the wake of the re­cent ex­pe­di­tion to Lyn­ham’s in Laragh.

Good turn-outs are re­ported too for gath­er­ings such as the Christ­mas din­ner or talks given by ex­perts on top­ics such as male health. The chef from the Parkview drops in from time to time to pass on a few tips about nu­tri­tion. It’s one of many sheds that have popped up all around Co. Wicklow, giv­ing a valu­able so­cial out­let to hun­dreds. They have been seen in Wicklow Town, Roundwood, Grey­stones, Ti­na­hely, Avoca, Bless­ing­ton, Ark­low and Balt­in­glass.

The first sheds emerged in Australia in 1990 and two decades later the phe­nom­e­non landed in Ire­land.

It ar­rived just in time to chan­nel some the tal­ent and en­ergy left idle by the rav­ages of the col­lapse of the Celtic Tiger into pos­i­tive ac­tion. The Aus­tralian model has been adapted with gusto on this is­land, with hun­dreds of sheds now in ex­is­tence with a na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion bring­ing them to­gether.

The New­town shed is rep­re­sented on the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive by Ger Sin­nott, who re­ports that shed­ding in Ire­land has now out­grown the orig­i­nal Down Un­der. This has been achieved south of the bor­der with a min­i­mum of Gov­ern­ment fund­ing, while those in North­ern Ire­land ben­e­fit from the Bri­tish Na­tional Lot­tery. Ger is con­vinced that New­town­moun­tkennedy is one of the best: ‘ This shed is premier league,’ he states with ut­ter con­vic­tion.

Ger Sin­nott would love to see a na­tional Men’s Shed con­fer­ence com­ing to New­town to raise the pro­file of his own lo­cal group. He is a very de­ter­mined in­di­vid­ual, so do not rule this out. In the mean­time, the mem­bers have the Garda Band to look for­ward to later this month.

And they will be fir­ing up the bar­be­cue for a re­peat of the very suc­cess­ful open day they staged last sum­mer.

Per­haps by then they will have added the pizza oven, which is just one of the many sug­gested projects the shed men have the skill and the will and the en­ergy to make real.

Eddie Gregory, chair­man John Kelly, James Gregory and Pat Doyle.

ABOVE: Derek Car­roll and James Gregory work­ing on a 360° bench. RIGHT: Jack Byrne.

LEFT: Derek Car­roll, Jack Byrne, Willy Fitzpatrick, Colin Gam­mell, Der­mot Downes, Pat Doyle, chair­man John Kelly, Paddy Mur­phy, John Mooney, Eddie Gregory, James Gregory and Ger­ald Sin­nott. RIGHT: Willy Fitzpatrick with the chick­ens. BE­LOW: Colin Gam­mell with the Christ­mas Sled.

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