Action plan for a Dublin 4 Men’s Shed

By Peter McNamara

Pictured, from left, Dublin 4 Men’s Shed Project Organisers: Christy Barry, Jimmy Murray, Anthony O’Riordan, Michael Curry, Henry Hicks, Phil Ryan, Dave Kelly, Ryan Harridge, Martin Byrne, Vincent Byrne, little Ruby Byrne.                          Photo: by Peter McNamara.

Men don’t talk face to face; they talk shoulder to shoulder.’ These are the words of Men’s Shed founder, Professor Barry Golding. It is often this simple insight that resonates most with people when they wonder what Men’s Sheds are and why they have been such a phenomenal success in Ireland over the last few years.

With over 400 Sheds in Ireland, at least three in each county, north and south, we enjoy the greatest concentration anywhere in the world. And now, thanks to the efforts of dedicated Ringsend locals, Dublin 4 may soon have a Shed of its own.

Men’s Sheds are informal spaces where men can come together and engage in hands-on activities and socialising. You might learn something new, teach something to someone else or just pop in for a chat and a cup of tea.

Sheds in Ireland run many diverse activities, but woodwork and crafts are often the most popular. The Dublin 4 project is looking to harness the skills and knowledge inherent in Ringsend, namely the connection to the river. To that end, it will be called the Ringsend Community and Maritime Men’s Shed.

According to Jimmy Murray, one the project’s key organisers, it makes sense to tap into local knowledge and traditions.

“For the Ringsend Shed,” he says “we envisage a dry dock. It could be somewhere to repair boats. Down here, we have so much unique experience in doing that kind of thing, you could really help people.” All the same, Murray stresses that the focus wouldn’t simply be on maritime interests. “The Shed might be somewhere you could borrow a tool. Or you might drop in and get one of the lads to fix something small, like a crib, or a radio. Say you have a DIY question – you could throw it out there and someone might come back with an answer for you the next day.”

As it stands, the project is split into two tasks. The organisers are looking to build a Men’s Shed on a permanent site and during the time that will take to complete, they are also looking to set up a temporary Shed.

For a long-term site they’re considering the vacant area in the marina, near to the Stella Maris and Poolbeg clubhouses. This neglected tract, wryly nicknamed ‘Area 51’ would be a nice fit for the D4 Men’s Shed. “We’d be setting up on the foundations of the old Poolbeg Club,” says Murray. “One community centre following on from another. It feels very appropriate.”

However, funding will be needed to build the Men’s Shed. In order to set-up at the marina location, a safe access route  needs to be created in to the site, also ‘Area 51’ must be cleared out before any work could begin. Sorting out these problems could take another year at least. For that reason, the team want to set up a temporary Shed.

Fortunately, on that front things are further developed. “We have our structure,” says Martin Byrne, another key player in the project. “We’re going to set up in a shipping container. And we have different tools and things to get activities up and running.” The biggest obstacle for the temporary Shed is a location. “We’ve been trying to think creatively. We only need space enough to house a regular-sized shipping container. You could tuck it away anywhere, even in a car park. Once we find that, we’re away.”

Byrne became interested in setting up a Dublin 4 Men’s Shed after his brother opened one in Mullingar. He’s been working on the project since last September.

“I started out talking to friends, and then to local councillors,” he says. “Dermot Lacey has been a big help, right from the off. There’d be no hope of a Shed without him.” Byrne also credits councillors Pat McCartan, Kieran Binchy, Frank Kennedy and Dublin City Council’s Declan Hayden. “Mary Doolin at the Spellman Centre has been great to us as well,” he adds.

Men’s health – both physical and mental – is a big issue in Ireland. Men continue to be at greater risk of a range of diseases and conditions than women, and their life expectancy is shorter by as much as five years. The success of the Men’s Shed movement in this country is a testament to their effectiveness. According to the study, Men’s Sheds in Ireland undertaken by Dr. Lucia Carragher at the Dundalk IT, the outcomes from taking part in a Shed are very positive.

Respondents to the study said that a Men’s Shed provides them with a place to get out of the house, and that they felt happier at home as a result of going along. The majority of people interviewed said that their wellbeing had improved. For many, over 88%, Sheds play an important role in facilitating access to male health information, not just leaflets or classes, but crucially through informal chats and the camaraderie that develops between the men themselves.

Christy Barry, another of the Dublin 4 project organisers, is passionate about helping others enjoy better health and happiness. Barry is a personal trainer, specialised in fitness and diet instruction for older people. “When we get a Dublin 4 Shed up and running,” he says, “I’ll be glad to share what knowledge I have. Staying healthy in older age is all about food and movement. I could do a class for people, it could be something good.”

Barry is also interested in ways to maintain good mental health. “Human beings are designed to be together. If someone felt lonely, they could come down to the Shed to have a chat. And they’ll go away feeling better.”

This is something else proven by research. According to the Dundalk IT study, the existence of a Men’s Shed in a community addresses one of the biggest challenges facing both rural and urban Ireland today: social isolation. While Sheds are primarily spaces for small groups to come together and connect, over 90% of men felt they were more connected to their wider community from being a member of their Shed.

“Everyone needs a bit of company,” says Barry. “To have a place to go, even for an hour a day, would give a person something to look forward to.” He believes a Ringsend Shed could be especially important for older people. “In the dark winter months, when you’re locked inside most of the day, dropping in for a cuppa would make a world of difference to someone’s mental health.”

Men are beginning to embrace healthier lifestyles. They are eating better and exercising more. They’re cutting down on smoking, alcohol consumption, and other risky behaviours. With more men willing and encouraged to seek help with their personal issues, suicide rates are beginning to fall. Men’s Sheds are part of this positive change.

The D4 Men’s Shed team are determined. “There are obstacles,” says Jimmy Murray, “but it will be worth the effort.” Alongside the many benefits that come with a Shed, Murray believes the Ringsend Shed will play a special role in the future of the area. “With people coming to teach and learn different skills, the Shed could be a place to pass on our local traditions. Life always changes,” he adds, “but traditions don’t. They’re something solid we can look to. And if we don’t make the effort to pass on local knowledge and skills, we could lose them altogether.”

In theory Men’s Sheds are places to come and do a few hands-on activities. In practice they are so much more. With such a passionate organising team behind it, and such a tight-knit community to draw upon, the Ringsend Men’s Shed could become something very special indeed.

For those interested in taking part in a Shed, you need not wait until the Dublin 4 Shed gets started. A Men’s Shed is currently running in East Wall. If you, or someone you know would like to go along, call Paul Graham at (01) 899-3985.