Charity Shops have been a common feature on main streets in provincial towns in England for many years. As with everything else, Irish towns were somewhat slower in taking up that trend but with the death of the Celtic tiger, Irish provincial towns have thrown up a huge variety of charity shops. In Athy we have the Lions Book Shop, the Gorta Shop, St. Vincent de Paul and the National Council for the Blind of Ireland all of which provide a very worthwhile and beneficial service for the local community.
The English charity shops are for the most part manned by volunteers, men and women mostly retired who devote a day a week to help the charity and their local community. Volunteerism is something which is prevalent in many aspects of Irish sporting life but which is not always to be observed in other aspects of community life.
With a retirement age which has remained unchanged while life expectancy has grown incrementally over the decades every Irish provincial town has a wealth of experience and talent readily available amongst those men and women who have left full or part time employment. As valuable as a volunteering resource are those housewives who having reared their families now find time on their hands with little or no opportunity to make use of the reservoir of experience and skill which they have amassed over the years.
There are, I’m sure, many men and women in and around the town of Athy who with advantage to both themselves and to the voluntary sector could make themselves available for voluntary work within their local community. There are many voluntary groups in Athy, so many in fact that regrettably a complete up to date list of such groups is not available. In short, in the absence of such information, we who live in Athy don’t know the full extent of the voluntary sector in our midst and of course cannot make use of the facilities and services offered by many of these groups.
There is obviously a serious gap in the information available to the local people in terms of local facilities and services. One wonders if that information deficit extends to other aspects of our community life. This is something which will perhaps be dealt with in the town regeneration plan which was recently commissioned and which hopefully will be launched in the next few weeks.
The absence of a Town Council leaves what I can only describe as “an implementation void” which inhibits our communities’ ability to get things done. There is an important role for volunteers working in the community and perhaps someone will take up the suggestion of stimulating and coordinating the untapped energies of those who would be only too willing to devote some of their time and energies and skills to the common good. I know for instance that the Heritage Centre for which there are exciting development plans in the offing is looking for volunteers who would be willing to give a few hours every week to help man the exhibitions in the Town Hall Centre. If you feel you would like to be associated with the Heritage Centre in its work to further interest in the history of Athy and its people, why not contact me or Margaret Walsh who is the Manageress of the Centre.
There is so much that can usefully be done to re-energise the various associations or groups in the town and so help the town take maximum advantage of the upturn in the economy which is slowly but surely coming about.
It was in July 1859 that the Leinster Express, while reporting on the Athy Regatta which was revived after a lapse of some years, claimed ‘there is not in Ireland an inland town that can boast of more public spirit than Athy’.
That spirit is visible in the work of Athy Lions Club whose members will be offering during next week’s County Show free diabetes and glaucoma screening. Glaucoma is a potentially blinding condition which is treatable if diagnosed at an early stage. The free screening for glaucoma, which will be offered in conjunction with the Lions Club’s ‘Fight for Sight’ Programme, takes only a few minutes and affords a real opportunity to raise awareness of a serious condition which affects so many people.
Athy Lions Club first offered free diabetes screening to those attending the ploughing championships in Cardenton. The initiative has since been taken up by other Lions Clubs and next Sunday’s free diabetes screening will again be available at the County Show.
The work of the local Lions Club members in offering these services to the public is a fine example of the real value of voluntary work within the community.