It’s no surprise that the mantra of Dungarvan Men’s Shed is “Working Together for a Better Community”. Since the shed was first opened in May 2012, it’s done just that day in, day out for the last nine years.
Even when the outbreak of COVID-19 hit, it didn’t weaken the Dungarvan shedders’ rallying spirits. In the dreadful, dark days that we as a nation have become all too familiar with in the ongoing pandemic, the members of Dungarvan Men’s Shed still found ways of uniting to make the world around them that bit brighter.
For the 30-plus members that had become regular visitors to the shed pre-COVID-19, maintaining this sense of optimism and connection with each other was no mean feat.
The shed is open to men of all ages, with members there ranging from those in their 30s all the way up to their 90s. This meant that in the early stages of the pandemic, a significant amount of shed members had to cocoon in order to protect themselves from COVID-19. While WhatsApp groups were a viable option for some, many of the men were unfamiliar with such apps or didn’t have a smartphone. Determined not to leave any man behind, or to let any shedder feel isolated, the members of Dungarvan Men’s Shed took matters into their own hands.
“Our members supported each other by just visiting and shouting through the window on the footpath” says founding member Michael Cass. “That happened for a small number of elderly men who decided that they were going to isolate. For those men, there was a very significant fear of COVID-19 – almost a dread of it. They needed someone to share their anxieties with or just take their minds off it. We’d all reached saturation point with news about the virus by then, so we watched out for each other, it was our way of keeping some humour in our lives during an extremely sad time.”
This practice of recognising a need to protect the old, and appreciating people and relics of the past that society may often overlook, is also what’s really helped to set the shed’s craftsmanship apart. Over the course of the pandemic, the shed has completed a number of projects that have benefitted the entire area.
Among these are benches for the local Greenway, as well as a new cross for the Famine Graveyard in nearby Carrick-on-Suir. Both of the projects are unique, as they were created with a very special historic material. “We were kindly contacted about some old timber that had been left in a field and was literally mangled when we found it, but we looked at it and knew instantly that it would eventually work for us, because we’d been talking about benches for the Greenway for the past three years,” Michael explains.“The wood had been part of the roof structure from St Molleran’s church in Carrick-Beg which was originally built in 1336 and rebuilt in 1827, meaning the timber is nearly two centuries old and the pitch pine trees were planted at least 60 years old before it was used on the roof. So the wood in the cross and our benches is at least 260 years old,” he shares.
Next on the shed’s agenda is something much newer, and even experimental for the area; a “Little Free Library” for Tournore. The men are currently creating a custom-made book box which locals and visitors can flock to. Everyone who comes across the box is invited to take a book from it, and leave another book there in return. The concept, which first began in America, has already become hugely popular in many parts of Europe as a way of fostering a love of reading in people from all walks of life, and bringing a community together. This means that the local men’s shed was an obvious port of call when the Residents’ Association of Tournore started brainstorming for the project. After all, who knows how to connect local people more effectively than a group as wide-ranging as Dungarvan Men’s Shed?
While the people of Dungarvan will have plenty of reading material from this free library, Michael also urges anyone interested to read over the shed’s latest news. Their Facebook page is regularly updated with details of what’s going on with the men and what they’re working on. “Now that we’re reopening, we’re going to continue focusing on environment and heritage projects, but we’ll also just keep being all about people,” Michael predicts. “We’re most looking forward to having each other and that sense of belonging again – it’s almost like going back to school!” CL