Carrigallen's Eileen Ward is a real community hero
By John Harrington
If there has been a silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s that we’ve been reminded what makes a community special.
Amenities can enhance an area, but sometimes we can become a bit too caught up in what we do or don’t have compared to others a few miles down the road.
Covid-19 stripped our society back to its bare bones, and what became more obvious than ever is that what truly makes communities great are the people who live in them.
The more people who make a genuine effort to contribute to the common good without asking for anything in return, the better a community will be.
That’s why in Carrigallen, County Leitrim, they’ve always had a keen appreciation for Eileen Ward.
When she taught in the local primary school she invested as much time in the youth of the area outside of school hours as during them.
She trained many of them to great success in athletics, winning 37 national medals, and in 1989 was one of the founders of the highly regarded Corn Mill Theatre in the village which is still going strong.
A two-time All-Ireland winning actress herself, she’s long been a champion of drama, music, and all things cultural in the area through her involvement with the theatre as well as Scór.
Now in her early 80s, Eileen remains an inspirational figure in her community. Last month she won €1,000 worth of Healthy club gear for Carrigallen GAA club after being awarded first prize as Connacht’s Healthy Walking Hero for her involvement in the Irish Life GAA Heathy Club steps challenge.
Even though she signed up a week later than most others who took part, she still managed to work her way into the top 3 of the leader board by averaging 25-30 kilometres a day.
Talk to people in Carrigallen, and they’ll tell you the sight of Eileen walking the roads rose everyone’s spirits at a time when they were flagging during lockdown.
“It's lovely to feel that it was inspirational for so many,” Ward told GAA.ie. “I was just going along quietly, not realising. So it's wonderful.
“When I was a schoolteacher my attitude was always that if you give respect you'll get respect. I lived in the community here always and I was involved in lots of extra-curricular activities in all areas.
“We have a mutual respect. I can meet everyone and chat away to all of them. That's what has stood to me all the way.
“All the former pupils would still come up to me and I'm still 'Mrs Ward'!
“I suppose I like a challenge and I worked on it. When I was training athletes I used to say to them, just keep ticking it off one at a time, don't go full burst or you'll never get there.
“I was fortunate enough that I enjoy walking. It’s an integral part of my day anyway. And then with everything being closed down with Covid, it was wonderful outlet for everyone because we could do very little else.”
Eileen’s daily walks were all the more inspirational for her fellow Carrigallen GAA club-members because they knew she was coping with a lot of adversity after her son Barry passed away last year from Covid-19.
For Eileen, taking part in the Irish Life GAA Heathy Club steps proved therapeutic as she worked through the grief of her son’s passing.
“That's the time you think an awful lot, when you’re out walking,” she says. “I'd chat a lot with him when I was walking. It was very therapeutic to be out walking.
“I've kept a small bit of his ashes and I say good night to him every night. I've a light lit for him and he's always included in anything we talk about here.
“He was not interested in the finanical end of things at all, Barry was a very giving sort of person. He was nearly too good of a young lad, he was a very good boy.
“He enjoyed the simplicity of life and feeding poor people and things like that.
“He wasn't interested in buying big cars or big houses or anything. His bike and his dogs, that was always enough for him.
“I think everybody's thinking has now become simpler because of Covid. We'll be happy with less, I think, which was always Barry’s mindset.”
Barry’s anniversary mass takes place today and you can be sure that everyone in Carrigallen will give whatever support they can to Eileen at this time.
She says she feels very lucky to have lived her life in this community and to have been involved in so much of what has made it a great one.
Everyone in Carrigallen will tell you the good fortune was theirs.