Volunteering – A Special Report. Monday, May 9, 2011


For many years, RTÉ broadcaster Des Cahill has been volunteering at Cuala GAA Club in Dublin. Here, he explains how the pleasure of being involved is the greatest reward.



WHICH DIRECTION should I go here? Do I write in praise of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers on this island who do such magnificent work? Or do I vent my anger and frustration at the Government, State bodies and local authorities who not only appear to take volunteers for granted, but often don’t give them the respect they have earned.

Let me begin by giving you my own background. Am I a volunteer? Not really. I help out as MC at a lot of charity functions, but I see that as a duty rather than a voluntary effort. When you’ve had the luck that I have had – with my family, my friends, my career – the least I can do is support those who haven’t had so many lucky breaks.

I’m also involved with a GAA team. I’m a selector with the Cuala senior football team in Dalkey. Does that make me a volunteer? Not really. I love it. Derek, Aidan and Paddy do most of the work.

Am I doing it to help young men who would otherwise be hanging around the streets or getting into trouble? No, they are as solid a bunch of lads as you could hope to meet.

I’d like to think I’m not simply doing it because I’m a glory hunter, loving the excitement that goes with being involved with a successful team. It is that I just love being involved with such a diverse bunch – different backgrounds, but united in sport.

You have no idea of the entertainment value in driving four of them home from a match on a Saturday evening (especially if we’ve won) and listening to them making plans for that night. Which girls will they ring? What house can they get into to drink a few cans because they are mainly students and can’t afford the pub prices?

I love it. I love they way they bond if one or two of them has a problem; I love the way they will gang up on whoever has the bad haircut or the dodgy clothes.
Cuala is no different than any other sports club or voluntary organisation. The pitch has to be lined, players have to be rounded up and transported, county board meetings have to be attended, the kit has to be washed. Thankfully, people who have been doing this work for decades get recognised in the Volunteers in Sports Awards, under Ronnie Delany’s stewardship for the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

But these volunteer groups need a lot more funding from central government. Especially the groups looking after those with special needs – Special Olympics for example. Most of us are involved for pleasure, and I owe the pleasure I get from my involvement to a real volunteer, Mikie Sheanon.

Thank God we live in a country that has lots of men and women like Mikie. They are the reason we are still a great country – despite the economic despair.Now I should stress that the Cuala club has several men and women like Mikie. The club would still thrive if Mikie, Bríd and their extended family were not involved (his brother Johnny is across every single one of our teams).

But Mikie is the reason I got back involved with Cuala, and like a real volunteer, who is there for the right reasons, he made what I consider a big personal sacrifice to get me back as a volunteer. I used to be Chairman of Cuala. Frankly, I didn’t enjoy the experience. I felt I owed the club for the happiness and friendships I enjoyed as a player.

However, being chairman means you are constantly trying to deal with subjects that have nothing to do with going to matches – the bar, the hall, insurance, injuries, parents irritated with their children being dropped, acting as middle-man if the hurlers and footballers each want the dual players on the same day . . . the list is endless.
So when I stepped down, I was glad to take a break. In the meantime, Mikie – and others – were nurturing and developing little six- and seven-year-olds into a fine group of footballers and hurlers.

The culmination of all their efforts came when the team won the Dublin Minor Football Championship. Mikie’s son, John, was captain. It was a fantastic day. We had never won it before, and we beat the mighty St Vincent’s in the final.
Move the story along, and this team is now getting ready for the under-21 championship. Mikie came to me and said he would like me to get involved, and he would step back. I said: “Are you mad? This team has a great chance of winning the under-21s, and you have been with them since they were toddlers. Why not enjoy the benefit of 15 years hard work?”

Mikie said it was important to let others have a chance, but the real reason he was inviting me to get involved is he felt it was a shame that I had been so involved in the past, but now because of my work, I hadn’t really got to know this bunch of lads, and I was really missing out if I didn’t get to know them.

So I got involved and took the glory. Mikie – a carpenter – began his annual fund-raising to go to South Africa and help build houses with the Niall Mellon Trust. You have to see the conditions there to appreciate how bad it is. This year, one of the houses was named “Cuala”.

So I salute all of the Mikie Sheanons and their families. I salute all those at Bray Lakers Special Olympics Club, where my own daughter, Amy, has become an enthusiastic volunteer to help those who don’t always get the same opportunities as the rest of us.

To the Government I plead: Please don’t take these bodies for granted – especially those who work with special needs and those who look after our children.