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The Gift of Connection for Christmas by Westport Men’s Shed (Mayo)

A group of men singing a song at Westport Men's Shed.

“Wishing You Were Here” – A Song from Westport Men’s Shed

When we invited musician Mike Hanrahan to team-up with Westport Men’s Shed, the brief was simple: organise a few sessions with the lads to share favourite tunes and anecdotes, preferably in relation to connections with, and memories of, lost loved ones.

What resulted took our breath away: a highly successful creative collaboration that produced a gorgeous song ‘Wishing You Were Here’, just in time for Christmas 2023.

As Rebecca McLaughlin, Health and Wellbeing Manager at Irish Men’s Sheds, told us:

“I am so proud of Westport Men’s Shed who offer us this ‘gift’ at Christmas with their individual ‘take’ on what the season means to them. I love that this group includes men who had never sung before, and others who started learning the guitar only recently – it’s inspiring. I have no doubt this song will resonate with many people. There is a Shed out there for every man. I encourage anyone if they know someone who might benefit from being part of a Shed – give the gift of connection this Christmas, offer them the telephone number for their local Shed available on:”

Mike Hanrahan is equally delighted. Not only with the results but the experience. He elaborated on this during a recent RTÉ Lyric interview with Marty Whelan:

“It was such a buzz being in a room with a bunch of aul fellas like myself and having proper chats. We [men] usually ‘talk but don’t talk’. We’re afraid to talk about anything personal. We talked about Christmas and what it means to us. It was such a beautiful, beautiful experience.”

A photo of a man named Tony Reidy playing a guitar at a Men's Shed gathering in Westport.
A photo of a man named Tony Reidy playing a guitar at a Men's Shed gathering in Westport.

Even the theme of ‘connections’ went a lot further than anyone could have predicted. Featured in the above photo with a guitar is retired engineer Tony Reidy, who knew Mike’s dad from their time working together in Ennis, Co Clare, many years ago. So, as well as having the chats and sharing music and stories, deeply personal memories were also shared, taking Tony and Mike right back to their roots.

“It was so cool and lovely. My Dad would never have thought of this connection happening years later. I like that about life.”

Creating “Wishing You Were Here”

We filmed Westport Men’s Shed performing ‘Wishing You Were Here’ in a special live performance earlier this month (which you can watch in the video at the top of this page). As you can see from the video below, a room full of men going deep on Christmas and shedding the odd tear with lots of smiles while talking about the importance of connections made for a deeply moving event and one to be treasured.

Recognition for Westport Men’s Shed

In truth, this Shed didn’t need us, or indeed Irish Men’s Sheds Association, to encourage any focused thoughts about connections, memories and community. Earlier this year, Mayo County Council presented Westport Men’s Shed Chair, Brendan Duffy, with a certificate marking his shortlisting in Community Volunteer of the Year category at the 2023 All Ireland Community and Council Awards.

A photo of two men holding a framed certificate, presented to Brendan Duffy, Westport Men's Shed Chair.
Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Seamus Weir and Brendan Duffy, Chair Westport Men’s Shed, at an event in Westport Civic Offices in May 2023.

In presenting the Certificate, Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Seamus Weir, spoke about the great pride Brendan should take in being recognised for all the great work he has done with this Shed and the contribution this group has made to the town of Westport. He also praised the volunteer spirit that brings groups such as Men’s Sheds together to make their communities better places to live and visit for all.

We couldn’t agree more, particularly in relation to Brendan’s efforts in maintaining connections with all the Westport Shed members throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Brendan has been Chair for 10 years now, and under his stewardship, the group has grown from strength to strength. Just prior to the pandemic the group was at its largest at circa 52 members. However, because of Brendan’s foresight, he managed to maintain the group by organising regular telephone calls, Zoom meetings and walks right from the first lockdown.

Then again, as a retired psychotherapist with the HSE, Brendan understands all too well how isolation and loneliness can negatively impact mental health. When asked how being a Shed member can help with this, Brendan told us:

“It’s a great opportunity for fellas to talk about health. Or about a bereavement. Or about somebody close who is ill. Or somebody’s feeling a bit lonely. These talks don’t start spontaneously though. They need some trigger, such as singing together.”

This deep sense of community within the group can be seen through their many projects done in collaboration with other community groups such as Westport Tidy Towns, Active Retirement Group, Meals on Wheels and St Vincent De Paul.

Above all else, Westport Men’s Shed (like the 400 plus other Sheds nationwide) offers opportunities for connection. They’re always open to receiving new members regardless of age, background or abilities. Learn more about The Irish Men’s Sheds Association.

About musician Mike Hanrahan

Mike Hanrahan spent fifteen years with Stockton’s Wing as songwriter, guitarist and singer, and ten years with The Dubliners as guitarist, writer and producer. More recently, he graduated as a senior Fellow at The Global Brain Health Institute, Trinity College Dublin. He has spent the past year with new friends from across the globe working and learning together about the wonders of Science and Art in Brain Health and Well Being. Going forward, he’ll be working with a global community to promote equity in brain health and advocating increased support for Creative Arts as a key component in dementia care. Mike’s first task is to write a book of short stories.  More: