As Ireland goes back into Level 5 Covid-19 lockdown, with all the isolation and necessary social restrictions that brings, there has never been a more important time to support each other.
Knowing where we can reach out to for help when we feel overwhelmed is essential.
25 years ago a group in Kilkenny and Carlow set up a local branch of Samaritans - providing essential support for people in their most desolate hours.
This Friday, October 23, the group marks its 25th anniversary.
“The fact that we have existed as a branch for so long is testimony to the willingness of our wonderful volunteers,” director Gerard Farrelly gets to the heart of the organisation.
The Kilkenny Carlow branch continues to operate the listening and email service and will endeavour to do so throughout this crisis.
Coronavirus outbreak is affecting the way many of us live our lives. But Samaritans is reminding people that it’s important that we look after our mental health as well as our physical health, as they have been doing for the last 25 years in Kilkenny and Carlow.
“The Samaritans of Carlow/ Kilkenny has existed for the past 25 years, and we as a branch take great pride in the fact that we have been supporting people in need and distress throughout that time,” said Mr Farrelly.
“In those 25 years, many volunteers have trained and volunteered with the Samaritans and given of their time freely to help and support other people. Samaritans are simply here to listen and to support people in distress. Our reason for existing is to support and to listen to people, and in so doing, try to help reduce the numbers of people who may die by taking their own life. People who contact us often just need to talk, and to be listened to without fear of judgement, but heard with compassion, kindness and empathy,” said Mr Farrelly.
“The fact that we have existed as a branch for so long is testimony to the willingness of our wonderful volunteers who give their time to support others through listening within the branch, and/or to be a support volunteer in our fabulous Samaritans shop in Kieran St in Kilkenny, or supporting the branch through fundraising and in other roles.
“Prior to Covid19 our branch on the Waterford Road would offer a face to face service where people could come to the branch and be supported. Hopefully we will be able to offer this service again when it is safe to do so.
“If people need Samaritans, someone is available to talk to, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We can be reached by calling our freephone number 116123 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org,” he added.
As a volunteer with Cork Samaritans, Eileen Kinane saw the tremendous value of their work and loved the way they reached out to those in distress. It was this experience that spurred her, on return to Kilkenny in 1992, to begin the process of opening a centre in Kilkenny.
Along with friends from her counselling class, three gentlemen of the Knights of Columbanus, Louis Feely, Brian McEneaney, John Jo Wallace and Sr Pius (Matron at St Luke’s Hospital) she set about making her plan a reality.
This group became the Steering Committee and founders of Carlow/Kilkenny Samaritans over 25 years ago and many of them went on to be Samaritans at the branch.
“We travelled the length and breath of Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois and Tipperary speaking in churches, parish halls and schools. Our listeners had never heard of Samaritans but quickly they saw the need for this service and gave generous support. Communities became involved raising much needed funding,” Eileen recalls of those early days.
Bishop Forrestal gave them their first home at Barrack Street where a great deal of work was carried out, both inside and out, by Louis Feely and his team of helpers.
On April 25, 1995, at the Springhill Hotel, a public meeting was held to launch the branch.
Senator Gordan Wilson was the guest speaker on the night, his personal story inspiring many present to themselves to become Samaritans.
The first group of volunteers trained in the Waterford branch under the guidance of Rev. John Flynn and John Cunningham. On Monday, October 23, 1995, the branch took its first calls. Eileen Kinane and John Flynn did the first overnight duty.
Eileen said: “Today we take great pride in the achievement of these wonderful volunteers and committee members. We say thank to Rev. John Flynn, John Cunningham and the Waterford volunteers for their support at that time. To all the volunteers who continue the work of listening, sadly, the need exits now more than ever. Congratulations on your new Samaritan home at the Waterford Road and continued success with the wonderful shop on Kieran Street. We are so proud of you and thank you for continuing this remarkable service .”
An experienced volunteer of 25 years active listening added: “We believe in the work we all do as volunteers. In my very first week of training, many years ago, a friend and volunteer of an incredible 60 years now, said to the ‘room’, as a Samaritan volunteer, ‘we are callers on a good day’. That phrase has always stayed with me and I totally believe it. As Samaritans, we are chosen by people who contact us to hear their stories.”
Samaritans have provided some online resources that might help you look after yourselves or someone you care about in this difficult time, on samaritans.org.
Samaritans volunteers will continue to provide their normal service where possible. The helpline is there for anyone who is worried, anxious and concerned in general. Phone 116 123 or email email@example.com.
Trained volunteers are ready to listen with no judgement, no pressure and will give you the space to talk about what’s on your mind.