On Thursday night I attended a seminar in Athy’s Art Centre on drugs and alcohol addiction. In the 140 years since it was built the Centre, which doubles as the Methodist Church on Sundays, can hardly ever have hosted a more important gathering. Young people were to the fore as the Chairman of the Joint Policing Committee, Councillor James Mahon, introduced the speakers.
One such speaker, a young man, now a volunteer in Athy’s Cuan Mhuire, introduced himself as a recovering heroin addict and an alcoholic. He spoke eloquently and movingly of his life as an addict and how he had managed to turn his life around while a resident in Cuan Mhuire. It was an inspiring address which received a well deserved round of applause from the audience which filled the 100 seater auditorium. Listening to the young man, whose name regrettably I omitted to note, I thought of the difficulties presented to the founder of Cuan Mhuire after she had opened the Centre in Athy. Sister Consilio’s story is well known and has been chronicled in the past by several writers. What may not be so well known or remembered are the difficulties presented for Sr. Consilio and her team of volunteers when some of the civic leaders of Athy raised objections to her drug rehabilitation centre in the town. I recall members of Athy Urban District Council expressing fears as to the consequences of having a drug treatment unit in Cuan Mhuire, which the more pessimistic of them felt would inevitably draw ‘a bad rough crowd to the South Kildare town’. Indeed the concerns expressed found voice also amongst many townspeople. Those fears proved in the long term to be unfounded, even though there was a period in the Centre’s early life when the business of the local District Court devoted an inordinate amount of time to persons associated, rightly or wrongly, with Cuan Mhuire.
Cuan Mhuire today provides residential detoxification and treatment for alcohol, drugs and other addictions. The Athy Centre, founded in 1966, was the first Cuan Mhuire in Ireland. Today there are Cuan Mhuire treatment centres in Bruree, Co. Limerick, Coolarne, Co. Galway, Farnanes, Co. Cork and Newry Town. There are also a number of after care centres providing facilities for addicts in recovery and their families. Seven of these centres are located in counties Tipperary, Monaghan, Limerick, Kerry, Galway, Cork and Dublin. To complete the treatment programme residential transition houses are available to allow former Cuan Mhuire residents to live independently until they can secure their own accommodation. Five such houses are located throughout Ireland.
The open door policy practiced by Cuan Mhuire provides a unique treatment programme for approximately 3,000 persons every year. It is a venture which was first started by Sr. Consilio of the Sisters of Mercy in a disused building attached to the Mercy Convent in Athy. As a member of the Mercy congregation Sister Consilio received support and assistance from the members of her local convent and from her Sisters of Mercy superiors. The continued success of the Cuan Mhuire venture, which is now the country’s largest multi site addiction treatment provider, is further proof of the outstanding work by members of the Sisters of Mercy since the congregation’s foundation in 1831.
The seminar in the Arts Centre brought home to me the extraordinary achievements of Sr. Consilio and her team of volunteers over the last 46 years. It was the unscripted talk given by the young recovering heroin addict which awakened in me the realisation that Cuan Mhuire has proved to be a wonderful example of what can be achieved by determination and an unwillingness to accept failure. Sr. Consilio and the young man who spoke in the Arts Centre last Thursday evening should be an inspiration for us all.
Congratulations to everyone involved in organising the seminar and staffing the various stands which offered material on community based services for those afflicted by addiction or otherwise troubled in their lives. It was an excellently organised and well attended function, no doubt thanks to the hard work of the Rapid organisation, Sergeant Tom Harte of the local Garda Station and the Joint Policing Committee chaired by Councillor William Mahon.
Athy Heritage Centre will be the venue for a lecture entitled ‘Titanic – Kildare Connections’ by the author James Durney on Tuesday, 10th April at 7.30 p.m. I understand there is no admission fee. The lecture is being held in conjunction with the exhibition presently in the Heritage Centre on ‘Athy in 1912’, the year that the world’s most luxurious liner sank on its maiden voyage.