We are so influenced by our up-bringing; it is quite an awesome responsibility to be a parent. I have four kids from 12 to 18yrs old. I was one of three boys myself and was the youngest, so I was also very influenced by my brothers in many ways. I was naturally competitive for attention and that can manifest itself in so many ways. I could say inaccurately I had one brother who was a parental delight, he did well at school both academically and in sport and he was a role model in one way but a hard act to follow. I think the other brother just decided it was too hard to compete with that and went to the opposite extreme and rather than attracting positive attention he got his by being as difficult as possible. I think by the time I came along 4 years later they were relieved as I wasn’t as difficult as one and I didn’t have to be as high an achiever as the other and consequently I felt comfortable with the middle ground and managed to have an all together average time at school and at home.
I was very influenced by my mum’s desire to do voluntary work. She had been a nurse when she met my dad and it being in the days before the push to have a two income family they followed the middle class norm of having a stay at home mother and an out to work father, is this now an old fashioned and archaic way of thinking? My wife and I contribute equally to the running of the household with Kate working mostly during the summer and me in the winter but I don’t think we have a full-on two income family and it is rare that neither one of us is at home to look after the kids when they are at home, I like this balance and we have never needed to get anyone in to look after our kids. I am not criticising those that are in a position where they have to but I think it makes parenting a lot easier if we don’t farm them out to others and I prefer having less money and more time parenting that is just my priority, I can live without an expensive car or regular foreign holidays we see many benefits in other ways.
This is all a preamble to what I actually want to talk about and what my mother’s example taught me and that is the ethos of volunteering and especially giving back to your community. I am trying hard not to preach or say that there is a right and a wrong way to go in life but we all have opinions and I think the origins of my belief in helping your community is probably rooted back in my childhood. Because my mum volunteered, doing meal on wheels and other various things it was just normal for me to do the same when I got older. Like gardening, I wanted to help out in the garden when I was younger, I enjoyed sharing time with my mum weeding and I thought it was cool when I got to plant something new and watch it grow and now I spend my time doing the same and on occasion my kids come out to help as well.
I moved to this small community in the South West of Ireland nearly 30 years ago moving from the city and urban life of the UK, where incidentally I didn’t know my neighbours and being caught up in the daily life that a place with a large population creates. Here in this remote corner where we don’t have access to all the bells and whistles of urban life people seem to value the contribution one individual can make. I remember my neighbours here helping me out when I first arrived, one day I found a bag of potatoes on my door step and on another a bucket of mackerel, no note or anything just a helping hand. Originally I had no phone, transport or even electricity so any helping hand was welcomed.
My dad died in the first couple of years I was here and I got the news from one of my neighbours who took the phone call, he came round and offered me a lift to the ferry if I needed it which I thought was very generous. I got to help out with hay making for another neighbour and I was delighted to have the chance to get to return some of the help I had received, even though I used to get awful hay fever and had to wear a surgical mask so that I didn’t end up with a face all swollen due to pollen, I must have made an extraordinary site!
Times have changed and no one seems to make hay anymore it is all silage, less dependent on the weather I guess and that is all done by machinery. I got involved in setting up a community council many years ago. I was the only “blow in” on the committee. A blow in is someone who has moved into the area and like the name implies they fulll expect you to blow out again as I have seen the vast majority do, it will be a few generations before that tag gets removed if at all. I am still on the community council and I have been secretary for the last 10 years or so. It is not particularly arduous taking minutes and writing correspondence. I do volunteer to help with running the lottery which is our main source of funding and the monthly meetings are from 9 till after midnight, for someone who usually gets up at 6am I do find it hard to stay awake for the last part of meetings. I also find it difficult taking minutes not only because I am half deaf but also because I struggle with the local accent and I don’t always know where or who people are talking about, the subtleties of local history and relationships are often lost on me, what I need sometimes is subtitles. But being involved and to a certain extent being accepted even as an outsider is rewarding.
This week is festival week in Goleen. I am quite proud of the fact that I was one of the first to propose that we had a festival in Goleen. Before the community council was set up there was no real coordination or group to organise such a thing. The main establishments in the village were obviously the church and in Ireland we also had the GAA, which is both a sporting and cultural organisation which promotes Gaelic sports of Hurling and Football (Irish) as well as traditional music and dance. Both groups had their hands full and as a non catholic I didn’t have any involvement in either. The Community Council however is something anyone can get involved in and even though there was a little resistance at first we did manage to set up a festival and it has been running ever since. I do hear criticism from some quarters about the festival but that is mostly that we don’t run enough events! Which is a turnaround, strangely this usually comes from those who don’t do anything for the festival anyway. We like to think that local businesses benefit from the week of events as we try to hold it after the August Bank Holiday to extend the season and we try to avoid Calves Week in Schull our nearest neighbours as that is well established and brings a lot of those interested in sailing. Goleen is a lot smaller than Schull and we don’t want to upset the neighbours!
I don’t get involved in every activity and over the last few years I have concentrated on just a couple of the events as well as helping out with stewarding others. I hold a Summer Table Tennis Training Camp for a few days leading up to the festival which does attract some visitors but is mainly made up of our regular players and some who come in from Bantry and Skibbereen which are larger towns equidistant from Goleen (25miles). This is finished off with a fun family tournament on the Saturday. We have a Bird Watching walk on Barleycove which is our local beach and the reed beds and sand dunes attract loads of different birds, some of which are rare visitors as they migrate and may be blown in during bad weather. We saw 16 different types of birds this year and we even had good weather which has been a rarity the last few years.
One of my favourite events is the Art Competition. This has been going for at least 12 years now and we had around 40 entries this year from 4yrs old to adults. I divide it up into age groups once we have all the entries in and I get to invite a guest judge in to pick the winners. I’m not a big fan of the “competition” side of things but it does get some kids motivated and involved in making something and I think that is a good idea. We also have an overall trophy for the Judge’s favourite piece and there is always a bit of excitement as winners are announced and over the years I have seen regular visitors come back each year and enter their pieces. This year’s judge was Nigel Connell-Bass who is a new artist who makes metal sculptures often using recycled materials including cutlery. I love his stuff and I got him to bring a couple along to show his work. He has never had to judge a competition before and he said he found it extra ordinarily difficult as each piece is unique and we have such a varied use of materials on show.
I was also asked to MC the Fancy Dress Parade this year and I got to announce the winners, again they all deserve a reward for the effort and it was one of those times when everyone gets a meddle which I am not always a fan of but I think in this context it is great. We had mini pirates, jelly fish, where’s Wally, an Irish Rugby Woman, Emojies, and our overall winners were the panel of judges from “Goleen’s Got Talent.” I also got the opportunity to present an award to my son James who recently was honoured by the Irish Table Tennis Association with the Sportsmanship Award. He has won many trophies over the years here and abroad as he has played for Munster and Ireland but for me this was the best one yet. I am a very proud parent and coach and for him to be acknowledged for his attitude to sport was brilliant as I have always felt that it is not whether you win or lose it is how you play the game.
I also get to volunteer for Special Olympics. I have been head coach for Munster SO Table Tennis for 12 years after I took a coaching course and a woman from Special Olympics Ireland gave a presentation asking for any of us who had specific knowledge to help out at one of their events. I went along and was so inspired by the athletes I became involved and was honoured to be Irish Coach for the World Games in Shanghai, one of the most outstanding experiences of my life. It totally changed my prospective on coaching and in many ways on life. I am so privileged and humbled to be a part of these amazing athletes and the motto “Let me win, but if I can’t win, let me be brave in the attempt,” is one we could all live by.
So volunteering is not sacrificing your time, volunteering is a way to make your life and others better and more meaningful, it is not about giving up your time it is about sharing and sharing is caring. It is my antidote to the free market economic engine that drives us and the environment into the ground, the counter weight that lifts the financial yoke that restricts politicians and corporate greed from doing what is right as opposed to what is financially restrictive. You don’t have to be left or right of the political divide you can just help make your community a better place to live and that not only benefits you but your children and all of us who share this planet.
As a parent I feel it is my responsibility to open this door to my kids and I help them get involved in volunteering within their community and consequently life becomes more about what can they give to make this a better place and not what can they take and in return they have so much more.
This is my longest blog so for all those of you who managed to get this far, thanks J