LAST week I was fortunate to attend a production of Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London. An avid fan of the theatre, I was extremely excited for the show and it did not disappoint.
Engaging from the outset and superbly performed, it received three standing ovations when the curtain came down. Anyone who has experienced it live will attest to the brilliance of the story telling and music: it really is a wonder.
What did strike me, however, and it was something I wasn’t fully prepared for, was the great sadness of the play. It may have been the fact that it was the first time my wife and I had been away from our baby boy since he was born, but the scene in the play where Hamilton comes to terms with the death of his son had me in tears as I sat there surrounded by strangers. The senselessness of it all, the emotion and tragedy played out on stage was too much for me in that moment.
I was brought back to that sense of tragedy this week when I learned of the sudden passing of a young member of our great rivals Ceide Lamh Dearg. I called in to Jimmy’s in the Moy, run by Middletown man Jimmy Gaffney, and he told me the news, adding that we in Middletown need to do all we can to support the Keady club at this time.
I often see advocates of good mental health on my Twitter feed, Gaels such as Domhnall Nugent and Chris Kerr talk about the dangers out there for young men but also lament the stigma that still pertains to mental health and addiction issues. If I’m honest I just pass these dangers by without much thought as I go about my daily life. This week I’ve begun to pay more attention.
I’ve been thinking more about my own mental health as well as checking in on friends and work colleagues. If I’m honest with myself I’ve found it very difficult to come to terms with what has happened and my heart and my sincere condolences goes out to the family.
I can’t begin to comprehend what they are going through but I want them to know that they have the full support of all members of the Middletown club and the wider GAA family in Armagh. We keep them in our daily prayers.
In 2021 there were 237 suicides in Northern Ireland an increase of 8.2 per cent on 2020 with one in every three of those deaths being someone under the age of 30 with the vast majority (75 per cent) of those taking their own lives being men.
Since the Good Friday Agreement, which was signed 25 years ago next month, more people have died through suicide in Northern Ireland than lost their lives during the Troubles. An astounding statistic.
The Ulster GAA has organised a ‘Heads Up’ campaign and the wider GAA has signed up to GAA Mental Health Charter, as well as implementing the ‘Little Things’ awareness campaign. If the events of the past week have taught us anything we must all commit to redoubling our efforts.
The Keady club do tremendous work with the young people in the town and should rightly be commended for that, but each individual Gael should also take responsibility for their own mental health as well as looking out for each other, be they club mates, friends or work colleagues.
After reading this column, lift the phone and call a friend, talk to your siblings about how their day is going, check in on your parents. Life is precious as well as being so, so fragile. At the end of Hamilton his wife sings of his legacy and how he was taken too soon, she talks about his love for his son and how they never had enough time together.
This St Patrick’s Day weekend, put the phone or tablet away and make a point of spending that quality time with your family, check in on your friends and pray for our fellow Gaels and those who are going through what we can’t begin to comprehend. And fheis go raibh ag a anam.