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Ernie's Story

Published on 23 November 2021 12:00 AM

66-year-old Ernie lives with his wife, a retired nurse. Although he has family nearby, Ernie has recently found his life, which previously saw him surrounded by teams of workmates and pals, was suddenly shrunken to within his own four walls. He was shocked at feeling so lonely and his outlook on life became very bleak.  

Coming into contact with Age NI has put connection and community back into Ernie’s life. Here’s the story of his colourful life and how our remarkable staff and volunteers have helped to turn things around for him: 

Footballer turned musician

Ernie played football professionally for 15 years, for local clubs North and South, including Glenavon and Sligo Rovers.

While living in Sligo, Ernie was introduced to what would become a lifelong passion: Irish traditional music. He was immediately hooked, and with the help of local musicians, he learned by ear to play the tin whistle and the flute. When he moved back home to the Ards Penninsula, Ernie and some friends formed a group called Scrabo Folk and he also learned the box accordion. The group played everywhere from pubs to rugby clubs, gigging several times a week for years and even releasing an album. Ernie takes whatever chance he gets to play: when we met him, he pulled a tin whistle out of his sock to give us a tune!

Ernie’s only audience at home is his four-legged friend, who isn’t very appreciative, “One of my dogs, the wee rascal, doesn’t like it much, and he starts to bark, so I can’t play for long!”

There’s no doubt music has given Ernie joy over the years, but his life has been hit by some long-lasting knocks along the way.


After retiring from football, Ernie worked as trawlerman out of Portavogie. He spent days and weeks at sea, away from his wife, working in tough and challenging conditions. His tight-knit crew became like a second family. Sadly, after ten years working together, Ernie’s much-admired skipper was lost at sea. Devastated, Ernie returned to work, but his heart wasn’t in it, and even 35 years later it’s hard for him to talk about.

Ernie then moved on to work as a lorry driver for the Department of the Environment. An accident when driving the lorry has led to years of chronic pain and now crippling arthritis: “There was lots of damage to my arm, shoulder and neck. It has me in constant pain that makes it very hard to sleep. In the last year I have lost 110 nights of sleep. It makes it very very difficult to cope through the day.

Without social activities to give him purpose and get him out and about, and with limited contact with friends and family, Ernie saw his health deteriorate and his mood slip lower and lower as he turned inwards on himself.

"Without Age NI I wouldn't be here"

Ernie was referred to Age NI through a social worker, firstly receiving a weekly Check In and Chat friendship call from volunteer Karan. This was exactly the type of social interaction Ernie was craving: “Karan is very good, so she is. Such a nice person and so funny and she has the gift of the gab, I always look forward to her calls, we can talk about anything.”

Ernie was then brought into Age NI’s First Connect service, which provides one-to-one emotional and practical support. He has become a regular on many of First Connect’s programmes, including a Wednesday Wellness Group, doing quizzes, virtual singing sessions and art projects, where he’s begun to feel part of a community again.

“I can honestly say that if it hadn’t been for Age NI I wouldn’t be here. Age NI has brought me around to a normality where I’m speaking to people. As soon as I was on that first meeting, I knew this was the right fit for me. We have weeks where we do our quizzes, they’re always good craic. I couldn’t have come across better people.

First Connect has meant Ernie is recovering some of the social connection he has been missing over the last few years. He credits Age NI with turning his mindset around. “Getting involved with Age NI brought me back to life.”

Loneliness can be a killer

Communication and connection are so important for our survival as human beings. The World Health Organisation has stated loneliness is as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In recent months, we have seen isolation rapidly accelerating frailty in older people as they remain anxious about returning to normal life, instead choosing isolation out of fear.

Help keep older people connected

It only takes a few minutes to keep connected to an older person. If you know someone older, pick up the phone, pop round for a visit and let them know you’re thinking of them.  

If you can help us to do this for others by supporting our services, Ernie’s story shows the difference we can make – it might even change a life. 

Help Age NI make Christmas a little brighter for lonely older people like Ernie by making a donation today to our Christmas Appeal

From all of us, thank you Ernie for sharing your story x 


Last updated: Jul 03 2023

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