Nally stands up for the vul­ner­a­ble

Third Age Ire­land pro­vides ser­vices, so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties and vol­un­teer­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for older peo­ple

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health | Health Hero - Sylvia Thomp­son

Mary Nally was work­ing as a nurse at St Joseph’s Hospi­tal in Trim, Co Meath, when her re­cently wid­owed mother came to live with her and her fam­ily. It rapidly be­came clear there were few so­cial out­lets avail­able for older adults in the lo­cal­ity and that some suf­fered from lone­li­ness and so­cial iso­la­tion.

This mo­ti­vated Nally to pro­vide so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, ser­vices and vol­un­teer­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for older peo­ple in the com­mu­nity of Sum­mer­hill, Co Meath. And this sowed the seed for what was to be­come Third Age Ire­land. Over the next 30 years, ac­tiv­i­ties were de­vel­oped from home care and re­pair, a se­nior choir and drama group, fit­ness classes, to an in­ter­net cafe for older peo­ple.

In 1997, a se­nior helpline was set up with trained vol­un­teers. Other ini­tia­tives such as Fáilte Isteach – a free English con­ver­sa­tion classes for im­mi­grants – and Trauma Ted­dies (where older peo­ple and chil­dren knit teddy bears to­gether which are do­nated to the am­bu­lance ser­vices to comfort small chil­dren in dis­tress) fol­lowed.

Mary Nally has re­ceived several awards for her work in­clud­ing an Ashoka Fel­low­ship (a global or­gan­i­sa­tion of so­cial en­trepreneurs) and The Re­hab Peo­ple of the Year award.

What is your proud­est achieve­ment?

My proud­est achieve­ment is found­ing Third Age Ire­land and see­ing it grow and flour­ish over the last 30 years. It ex­ceeded all my ex­pec­ta­tions. I orig­i­nally set it up to help bring ser­vices, so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties and vol­un­teer­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for older peo­ple in Sum­mer­hill and the sur­round­ing areas in Co Meath. Some of the pro­grammes we con­ceived such as Se­nior Helpline, where older adults do­nate their time and pro­vide a sym­pa­thetic lis­ten­ing ear for peo­ple in need, are now a na­tional ser­vice.

Fáilte Isteach, an ini­tia­tive to pro­vide vol­un­teer-led con­ver­sa­tional English classes for mi­grants to Ire­land is be­ing adopted in coun­tries through­out Europe. Most of all though, I re­ally love the lo­cal ac­tiv­i­ties we de­vel­oped where Third Age mem­bers con­trib­ute to their com­mu­ni­ties such as teach­ing pri­mary school­child­ren how to knit or ex­hibit­ing our mo­bile mu­seum of 200 arte­facts in schools and nurs­ing homes.

What mo­ti­vates you in your work and life?

I’ve al­ways been mo­ti­vated by the need to solve prob­lems that I see around me. For ex­am­ple, I started up Third Age Ire­land be­cause I saw vil­lage life through my mother’s eyes and re­alised how lit­tle was avail­able to keep her oc­cu­pied and ac­tive. So much change and dif­fer­ence can be made by in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties of de­ter­mined lo­cal peo­ple.

There are so many ways we can im­prove life for our vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions and I’ve learned over the years not to be afraid of a chal­lenge. Of­ten it is all about mak­ing a start on tack­ling a prob­lem. I don’t worry about pol­i­tics or wait un­til all the re­sources are in place be­cause with a good idea, these will fol­low. I have very pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to life. I be­lieve you can achieve any­thing as long as you put your heart into it.

What do you do to keep mind and body healthy and well?

I love mu­sic and walk­ing. I take an hour-long walk at dawn which keeps me fit phys­i­cally and al­lows me to both re­lax and think through the day ahead. One of my hob­bies is col­lect­ing vinyl records. I have over 1,000 LPs and there is noth­ing I love more than lis­ten­ing to good mu­sic in the evenings.

What are the most im­por­tant fac­tors to main­tain a healthy so­ci­ety?

I think we need to think holis­ti­cally in terms of the bio-psy­cho-so­cial fac­tors for main­tain­ing a healthy so­ci­ety. En­cour­ag­ing peo­ple of all gen­er­a­tions to keep fit and ac­tive is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant, but we also need to look af­ter our men­tal health and take time to stop and smell the roses; to ap­pre­ci­ate the small things in life.

Find­ing ways to re­duce stress and main­tain a healthy diet is very ben­e­fi­cial, as is keep­ing so­cially con­nected within our net­works or com­mu­ni­ties, which can help al­le­vi­ate lone­li­ness and iso­la­tion.

What needs to be done in Ire­land to achieve this?

The sen­si­tive de­sign and de­ploy­ment of top-down health and so­cial ser­vices is crit­i­cal as is care­ful plan­ning for the chal­lenges that lie ahead in the fu­ture. How­ever, I am also a firm be­liever in a bot­tom-up ap­proach that en­cour­ages and ef­fi­ciently as­sists lo­cal in­di­vid­u­als and groups to get in­volved with vol­un­teer­ing and im­prov­ing the lives of those in their com­mu­ni­ties.

What do you think is the most press­ing health is­sue in Ire­land to­day?

De­pres­sion, lone­li­ness and so­cial iso­la­tion are top my list of press­ing health is­sues for Ire­land to­day. These af­fect all aspects of a per­son’s life. How do you think the Min­is­ter for Health needs to tackle this? Care­ful plan­ning and tar­geted health and so­cial ser­vices are crit­i­cal here. We need to con­sider both qual­ity of life and dig­nity, re­mem­ber­ing the im­por­tance of com­pan­ion­ship as well as ev­ery­day needs such as show­er­ing, good nu­tri­tion, and the abil­ity to get out of your own house.

Pro­vid­ing greater sup­ports to care­givers and fam­i­lies is key to keep­ing peo­ple out of hos­pi­tals and in their own homes, as is the rich ta­pes­try of ini­tia­tives we have in Ire­land such as Meals on Wheels, Men’s Sheds, En­able Ire­land, St Vin­cent De Paul, Ac­tive Re­tire­ment Ire­land, Jack and Jill Foun­da­tion, just to name a few. Cut­ting down hospi­tal wait­ing times to see a con­sul­tant or have surgery would also make an enor­mous dif­fer­ence in the lives of all gen­er­a­tions.

What do you do to re­lax and un­wind?

I have two sons and five young grand­chil­dren whom I adore. They all live in the same vil­lage as my hus­band and I and we see them all the time. Some­times we go on hol­i­days to­gether and I love watching the lit­tle ones grow, laugh and play. There is noth­ing that I en­joy more than sit­ting with them in my liv­ing room and read­ing sto­ries.

What makes you laugh?

You would not be­lieve the craic amongst the Third Age mem­bers. It lifts my heart to lis­ten to the jokes and witty com­ments that fly around in our meet­ings and as we do our ac­tiv­i­ties.

De­pres­sion, Lone­li­ness and So­cial Iso­la­tion are top my list of press­ing health is­sues for Ire­land to­day

Where would you like to live other than Ire­land and why?

My po­si­tion has taken me around the world from vis­it­ing out­door ex­er­cise pro­grammes in China, to the World Se­nior Games in Utah, to an in­ter­na­tional Men’s Sheds con­fer­ence in Aus­tralia. Each of these places has its own beauty and spe­cial at­trac­tions, but I re­ally can’t imag­ine liv­ing per­ma­nently out­side of Ire­land.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAVID PRENDERGAST

Mary Nally’s proud­est achieve­ment is found­ing Third Age Ire­land and see­ing it grow.

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