By Marie Duffy, PR and Communications Officer, Mental Health Ireland
On October 18th, 2023, Galway Mental Health Association, with support from Mental Health Ireland, marked a significant milestone in its journey as it celebrated its 40th birthday. The Galway Bay Hotel played host to a conference, appropriately titled ‘Celebrating Volunteers – Ordinary People Who Do Extraordinary Things.’ The occasion drew volunteers from Mental Health Associations across Ireland to join in the celebrations. It was a day filled with inspiration, workshops, and information stands, all dedicated to promoting mental health and recognising the invaluable work of volunteers.
The event kicked off with opening remarks from John Ward of Galway Mental Health Association and Valerie O’Toole, the Chairperson of Galway MHA. They set the tone for the day, emphasising the organisation’s dedication to mental health and their deep commitment to the community over the past four decades. Liam Carroll, the Cathaoirleach of Galway County Council, and Cllr Eddie Hoare, the Mayor of Galway City, highlighted the extraordinary efforts of Galway Mental Health Association and their profound impact on the county. Their speeches paid tribute to the legacy built but also the continued effort of Galway MHA to raise awareness about mental health and reduce stigma in the communities they supported.
Jacinta Kitt delivered a captivating talk titled ‘Self-care for Those Who Care,’ injecting humour and wit into it while engaging the audience completely. Her insights on self-care resonated deeply with the attendees, providing a fresh perspective on the importance of looking after oneself. Martin Rogan, the CEO of Mental Health Ireland, and Catherine Brogan Deputy CEO of Mental Health Ireland, expressed their admiration for Galway MHA’s achievements over the years. They commended the association for its forward-thinking approach to mental health and its unwavering commitment to improving the lives of those experiencing mental health challenges in Galway.
The day was a chance to celebrate volunteers and recognise the huge impact they have on communities, as well as the huge impact Galway Mental Health Association has had in Galway since its foundation. The day’s agenda included a diverse range of interactive workshops, offering attendees a chance to experience sea swimming, drumming, music, yoga, mindfulness, and creativity workshops. These workshops encouraged exploring different types of self-care practices and their significance in maintaining good mental health.
After lunch we heard from Holistic Performance and Wellbeing Coach Tony Og Regan who shared insights on leadership and wellbeing, highlighting the importance of taking care of oneself in order to be an effective leader and community advocate. We had a fantastic presentation from Helen from Galway Volunteer Centre who spoke about the power of volunteers and how vital they are in supporting organisations in communities all over the country. Maria Walsh Healy from Mental Health Ireland took attendees on a nostalgic journey with a ‘Reeling in the Years’ style presentation with media coverage and photographs showcasing the incredible work carried out by Galway Mental Health Association members over the past four decades. The conference concluded with a heartwarming performance by the Mental Health Ireland and Friends Choir. They performed a specially composed song titled ‘Everyone Deserves a Helping Hand,’ encapsulating the spirit of the day – a celebration of connection and the tireless efforts of volunteers.
Following the day’s events, John Ward, Honorary Secretary of Galway Mental Health Association, expressed his gratitude to all the attendees. He emphasised that the day was far from ordinary; “it was an extraordinary event that left delegates feeling energised, enthused, and invigorated after listening to vibrant keynote speakers and participating in engaging practical workshops.”
Aine Hurley, Galway Development Officer for Mental Health Ireland, summarised the day by highlighting the positive speeches from the Mayor and the Cathaoirleach. She pointed out that the workshops were particularly impactful, with sea-swimmers braving the elements for their self-care workshop. She said that the event was a ”wonderful celebration of an invaluable organisation in Galway and the volunteers around the country who embody the spirit of ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
The 40th birthday celebration of the Galway Mental Health Association was more than just a commemoration; it was a testament to the commitment of mental health associations all over the country and the incredible impact of volunteers. It showcased how ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things when they come together for a common cause. This milestone event served as a reminder of the importance of mental health support and community engagement, reinforcing the idea that everyone deserves a helping hand on their journey to well-being.