A plan to get older men out of their homes has resulted in more than 200 GAA clubs targeting men in their localities with activities such as theatre nights, tours of Croke Park and literary pub crawls.
The idea came from former president Mary McAleese who noted the absence of older men during her visits to local communities. She expressed concern about the isolation of older men, particularly in rural areas.
There are more than 200,000 men over the age of 65 across the State and one in three lives alone.
Mrs McAleese’s intervention led to the establishment of the GAA Social Initiative with a mission to encourage the participation of older men in the community.
GAA clubs set up men’s groups and their members identified local men who no longer attended community and sporting events. They organised outings and activities aimed at drawing these men back into community life.
Former Roscommon footballer Seán Kilbride has been co-ordinating the project for the past two years. He said the response had been “very inspiring. We have over 200 groups and the number is growing steadily. We have clubs doing fantastic work and getting a fantastic reaction.”
He said the recent appointment of county co-ordinators was expected to increase the number of clubs involved and the activities on offer.
There are more than 2,000 GAA clubs in the 32 counties.
“Eventually the real ambition has to be that all clubs will be doing something with the initiative because it fits in absolutely with the GAA’s vision for itself,” said Mr Kilbride.
An eclectic range of activities has been organised by the clubs. Glen Rovers in Cork set up a men’s choir and has also encouraged involvement in Tai Chi, a walking group and bowling.
Other clubs have organised nights at greyhound races, reunions of players from certain decades, literary pub crawls of Dublin, visits to the Titanic exhibition in Belfast and question-and-answer sessions with successful sports people.
The Croke Park tour has been very popular with the men’s groups. Almost 1,200 people visited the stadium last year as a result of the initiative.
The Health Service Executive is expected to take a central role in the initiative as it will boost its efforts to get health information to those often difficult to reach.
Research has revealed that one in 10 older Irish people has minimal social contact and limited social networks which can lead to isolation, depression and illness. And while many older women are open to involvement in local groups and activities, men are less inclined than women to become involved as they get older.
A UCD/Teagasc study published last week highlighted the increased risk of suicide in rural communities, with men at least three times more likely than women to take their own lives. Report author Dr Anne Cleary said social support from farming, sporting and voluntary organisations would increase social inclusion and help prevent suicide.