Photo: Diarmaid Byrnes with Sandra Farrell, founder of the North Tipperary Community Foodbank supported by Mid West Simon.
Clare last week, Tipperary this.
It’s like rinse and repeat in many senses, familiar on a number of fronts.
One is that you arrive with a feeling that it’s enemy territory; it’s anything but. There’s a welcome for everyone. Even a Limerick hurler. More importantly – Like my Ennis visit last week – there’s a welcome for people most in need of a helping hand in this Ireland of ours today. The homeless.
Nenagh, I am told as I arrive, is known as a ‘stranger’s paradise’. And after a morning there with the good people in the North Tipperary Community Foodbank, I get why.
It’s a crisp day, not a cloud in the sky as I drive down Ashe Road – were it not for the ‘e’ at the end, I’d be wondering is it a set up. I’m inevitably drawn to Nenagh Castle.
It towers over a car park and the back entrance to a well know GAA watering hole, Rocky’s bar. But the fact I park here suggests why well the ‘Castle Field’ was chosen as the location for the town’s ancient landmark.
It just pulls you in, particularly when you don’t know where you’re going. And I’m headed for Kenyon Street, at the other end of the town. Not the first time, I guess, a Limerick man gets his bearings wrong in Tipp.
This limestone lighthouse, with 101 steps to the top – not that I took even the first one – leaves me a good walking distance and a good bit of banter between here and my destination, Loreto Houe, where the Mid West Simon supported North Tipperary Community Food bank operates out of.
The walk takes me out onto Pearse Street and across the road is JKCs, the home of one of Tipp’s great forwards of the 1990s, Mike Cleary. ‘JK’ as they call him here.
It’s a newsagent but, moreover, and – particularly this time of year – a toy shop. Christmas gifts at the top of the list now.
They’re at the top of the list also 200m away at Loreto House on Kenyon Street where they’re also very busy.
It’s a different kind of busy as they’re packing both goods for the weekly foodbank and, coming up to Christmas, they’re trying to put a bit more into it.
They’ll have a special goodie bag for children too; some gifts to put a smile on the faces of children and also their parents. It’s typical of what Mid West Simon is about. Not just giving food, but very much trying to give dignity too.
Sandra Farrell is the inspiration behind this Mid West Simon ‘outreach’, supported by local businesses and the public.
Five years ago, she was on a holiday in India with a friend and distributed food under a Hindu tradition called Prashad, which is a simple act of giving food to others as a form of Thanksgiving.
Sandra, a force of positive nature, thought immediately that, despite our comparative wealth as a nation, there was a need for our own ‘Prashad’ here. She contacted Mid West Simon on return to explore how to go about it in Nenagh. Put these two forces together and great good has happened; a foodbank supporting people from north Tipperary, as far away as Cashel and across the border into Offaly and Laois.
Initially, Sandra thought only 20 or 30 people would turn up to the first foodbank. But 100 came to the door. Clearly, for many in society today the reputation as the fastest growing economy in Europe is a veneer covering really hard times.
You just don’t know, she says, who is experiencing hardship, who is under that veneer. One who crossed the street to the door of Loreto House that first day of the foodbank was someone locally whom she thought was coming to donate. But, instead, it was to receive.
Last week, just five years after it was set up, the numbers queuing for food has doubled. They’re struggling to keep up with demand and hanging in there in large part thanks to the support of Mid West Simon and also local volunteers and donors.
It’s loaves and fishes. But the generosity is keeping them going.
There’s a bit of magic into the bargain also, on Christmas Day.
I well know the magic in the hands and feet of Jake Morris but his uncle Maritn and his team at the Hibernian Inn make magic happen on the 25th when they cook Christmas Dinner for recipients of support from the North Tipperary Community Foodbank. The one morning they should have off, they give up for others. The warmth of Christmas.
The town of Nenagh is in an emotion tailspin as it mourns the great Shane McGowan. It was his town. The town of a genius; poet, songwriter, hell-raiser all rolled up in one. But a man with a deep soul, a man who also connected with people on hard times, like those queuing at this foodbank.
Fairytale of New York, which will not be sung with more gusto anywhere than in Nenagh this Christmas, wasn’t McGowan’s only festive offering. The Christmas Lullaby might be lesser known but strikes even deeper chords today:
Here’s to all the little kids
Who haven’t got no clothes
Here’s to all the little kids
Who haven’t got no homes
“And Santa and his reindeer
Jumped over the moon
So hush little child
Santa’s coming here soon”
He surely is. It’s a great message of Christmas and we all have to help make it happen! There’s gifts for everyone at Christmas, thanks to Mid West Simon, Sandra Farrell and many, many others. They need our help. Please support.
If you can, please go to https://www.midwestsimon.ie/donate/