Dublin footballer Brian Fenton presenting Latton O'Rahillys Christina Weldon with her 'Hero Award' at the GAA's Healthy Clubs Conference.
Dublin footballer Brian Fenton presenting Latton O'Rahillys Christina Weldon with her 'Hero Award' at the GAA's Healthy Clubs Conference.

Latton O’Rahilly’s GAA club shines a positive light

By Cian O’Connell

It is that time of the year again when Ireland is lighting up in the winter with GAA clubs occupying a central role throughout the country. After the success of the campaign earlier in the year, the GAA is again teaming up with RTÉ’s Operation Transformation and Get Ireland Walking, to make exercise more accessible. More than 150 GAA clubs across the country participated in this exciting initiative and this year the GAA now want to double this figure.

Latton O’Rahilly’s work in the community continues and the ‘Ireland Lights Up’ initiative remains a significant success in the club. Different health related initiatives have been implemented by the progressive club, who continue to work with the GAA’s Community and Health Department. The recent Healthy Club Conference at Croke Park proved to be another interesting event with stories shared and new projects commencing.

Christina Weldon, Latton O’Rahilly’s secretary and healthy club officer explains how the ‘Ireland Lights Up’ initiative worked so well. “We got very big numbers even though the weather wasn't great,” Weldon says. “Most nights we had between 80 and 100. It is a small community, but everyone really got behind it last year.

“All ages, that was the thing we noticed. The youngest was just over four and the oldest were in their 60s and we had a few of that age group between 60 and 75. We had around 20 of that age out walking. “We did two nights a week. We are a very rural club, we are six miles from the nearest towns, one of them in Cavan and one of them in Monaghan, we are just on the Cavan and Monaghan border. “It fitted us perfectly. We were going to do something anyway because we have a training pitch that you can walk around. We are three quarters of the way there with our new purpose-built walking track, we hope to open that next year.

“We were trying to get people into the idea of walking before we opened that to get them used to it. That is really what it did.”

What struck Weldon was how two men with limited attachment to the club participated and were ready, willing, and able to attend the walking sessions. “One of them has no links at all,” Weldon remarks. “The other man's grandchildren play for the club, he might go to the odd game, but as regards coming to anything in the club in the clubhouse or coming to things like that you would never have seen either of them there.

Latton O'Rahilly's continues to deliver different initiatives for the local community.
Latton O'Rahilly's continues to deliver different initiatives for the local community.

“We were up at the Operation Transformation Community Champions day in early January this year, Kathryn Thomas hosted it in Croke Park. From the podium people had asked what’s the best way is to promote it, through social media or what not? They had said social media is great for the young people, but for the older generation they said club notes and even to get the priest to announce it off the altar.

“Just as we were leaving Croke Park that day I said to my husband, who is the PRO, that we'd ring the priest. We said that everyone is welcome, that it would be a great way to get out and about walking in the dark nights. “Basically, what we had told the priest he wrote it down and read it word for word. One of the men had lost his wife last year and he lived at home on his own.”

It captured the importance and relevance of social inclusion for Weldon. “It was never going to be a fitness thing,” Weldon admits. “The social element is probably more important for a rural community. If you close your door in the evening, that is it for a lot of people, especially older people.”

Weldon who was recently nominated as a ‘healthy club hero’ for her outstanding work is content that Latton O’Rahillys recently completed a successful Operation Transformation drive. “Before the Lights Up I had applied for the second phase of the Healthy Clubs and we had been accepted in December,” Weldon recalls.

“So, we knew that Ireland Lights Up had started and we just completed an Operation Transformation. “We had up to 57 people out, we did something every night of the seven days. We finished it with a 5k on Sunday (November 25). We had over 45 people running in that. It was a six-week programme so we had something on every night for the six weeks.

“Some people did the whole programme, but we had things like a circuit training on Wednesday night that people would go to. “Our aim was to get middle aged men in their 40s and 50s out, who had stopped playing. We just noticed in our numbers in the 5k that we had almost 20 men running, that would have never run in their lives before. We had them back. It was intense getting it done.” Another Latton O’Rahillys mission accomplished.

Registration is now open for Ireland Lights Up and interested clubs can sign up by simply going to www.getirelandwalking.ie, reviewing the criteria and registering online. The closing date is Friday December 21st. During the five-week period Operation Transformation cameras will visit a selection of participating clubs across the series, with all clubs encouraged to capture their stories via video and images for use on the show, GAA.ie and RTÉ’s various platforms.