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GAA Initiative shows age no barrier to Social gatherings with a difference

In a world obsessed with reversing the outward signs of aging it’s always refreshing to spend time with those who know that the real fountain of youth is located within.

The energy and enthusiasm displayed by a Social Initiative group from Antrim during their recent tour of the GAA Museum and Croke Park would have put any teenager to shame. The trip, on Saturday, February 25th – the same day that delegates from all over Ireland and the world GAA were getting their annual outing at Congress – was organised by the Antrim Health and Wellbeing Committee as part of their efforts to ignite greater participation in the GAA Social Initiative in the Saffron County. It benefitted 78 members from clubs across Antrim’s nine deep green glens and was supported by Antrim County Board and a grant made available through Irish Life’s generous CSR investment in the GAA’s Healthy Club project. 

The GAA Social Initiative’s goal is to enrich the lives of all older members of our communities while specifically reaching out to older men across the 32 counties who may experience isolation or loneliness. It is hoped that through the Social Initiative, age-friendly GAA clubs can offer lifelong community engagement for older members of our society and in turn can tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience they possess. 

Presidential link
Formed from the observations of then President Mary McAleese of a scarcity of older men at events she attended across the island of Ireland, the Social Initiative has grown from a small pilot project involving GAA clubs across four counties to one of the Association’s flagship community outreach projects. The initiative falls under the auspices of the GAA Community & Health department which is working towards embedding the GAA Social Initiative in the fabric of the Association through the new health and wellbeing structure and the Healthy Club Project (HCP). 
Several of the 60 clubs participating in Phase 2 of the HCP identified as a priority making their clubs more age-friendly while engaging members of their communities experiencing isolation or loneliness. This theme formed the basis of a very popular workshop facilitated by NUIG’s Professor Eamonn O’Shea, Director of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology, (better known in GAA circles as former Tipperary hurling manager) at the 2016 National Health and Wellbeing Conference in Croke Park. 

To better support this movement, all County Health & Wellbeing Committees were allocated a grant of €500 each through Irish Life’s generous CSR investment in the Healthy Club Project to help them run a Social Initiative event for the older members of their clubs and communities. Antrim’s memorable Social Initiative trip to Croke Park and the GAA Museum is captured in the video attached to this article. Similar successful trips have already been hosted by the Monaghan, Mayo, and Limerick health and wellbeing committees, with Tyrone and Fermanagh’s scheduled to take place later this month. 

In Donegal, as we know, they like to do things differently, and their health and wellbeing committee ran a fantastic local Social Initiative event supported by the grant. Donegal brought 93 older members together to coincide with their Division 1 Allianz National Football League clash with Dublin in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey. The special guests were greeted in the Rose Hotel, Ballybofey, by Brian McEniff, 1992 All Ireland winning manager, provided with pre- and post-match refreshments and complementary VIP tickets in the covered stand. All counties that have ran their Social Initiative event to date have praised its success within their own county and have extended thanks to Irish Life for supporting them.

While most GAA clubs already offer one of the most natural environments for inter-generational fun and engagement, a Social Initiative group or event can add significant additional value. They bring the potential of a different dynamic in the club setting, utilising the knowledge and skills of these older members, some of whom may not feel that they have a set place in club activity currently. The club can open its doors and become a social hub of the community for its members throughout their lifespan, for the betterment of all involved.
Clubs such as Rosemount in Westmeath, Naomh Mearnóg in Dublin, the Spa Club in Kerrry, Lamh Dhearg in Antrim, and Ballindeereen in Galway all have vibrant Social Initiative groups that engage in both local club-based activities or enjoy trips to various attractions and events around the country. 
* How can a club get involved?*
A special rate exists for clubs arranging Social Initiative trips to Croke Park for a Stadium Tour and meal. This is the perfect opportunity to kick-start a Social Initiative group in your club, to engage the older members of your community, and to sow the seed for on-going activity back in the club that responds to needs that they have identified.  

Steps required:

  1. Identify a group of older members (over 15 people to avail of special offer)
  2. Contact the Croke Park museum – Gemma Sexton Museum Tours Manager:                                                   Email: gsexton@crokepark.ie Telephone: +353 (0) 1 819 2374
  3. Book a bus for this event and contact all invitees to confirm details
  4. Closer to the event contact all invitees to confirm their attendance – with this group drop outs can occur with last minute appointments, people becoming unwell etc. 
  5. Let museum know final numbers day before event for meal provision on the day
  6. Complete event and ensure some photography taken on the day to promote on in your local media and club social media pages – tag #GAAHealth 
  7. Review success of event and consider regular activities that can be run in the club setting, i.e. card nights, rambling house, coffee mornings, lifts to club matches, home visits, etc.
  8. Liaise with your Club Health & Wellbeing Officer to set this up
  9. Go to www.gaa.ie/community for more information      

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