By Niall McCoy
THE last few months have been extremely difficult for GAA supporters as basically all of the Association’s activities were halted due to the Coivd-19 lockdown.
While club action in the summer, in particular, provided a great outlet for players, coaches and supporters as they dealt with the toll of the pandemic, the gates have been mostly closed since December 27.
One thing that has been permitted is walking tracks at facilities, and Down club Liatroim Fontenoys are making full use of that opportunity.
Recently, a ‘FitTrail’ at Fontenoy Park was completed and every day and evening it is a buzz of activity – all while keeping in line with social distancing guidelines. While the floodlights are on at many clubs around Ulster to allow this, Liatroim have went a step further as seven fitness stations are dotted around the half-mile track. Dogs are also not permitted to ensure the path remains clean for walkers, joggers, runners and cyclists.
The thermometer is starting to move up a degree or two and the sun is staying out a bit longer, and the club are hoping that people will make even more use of the facility as winter gives way to spring.
Laura Owens is part of the health and well-being committee at the club and she spoke of the benefits of the track, particularly when it comes to the issue of mental health.
“From dusk to 10.30pm at night the lights are on, throwing a warm welcome to the community to come out and enjoy the facilities.
“There are lots of people here at the moment exercising, keeping their distance but all happy to be here. Many people use the track at the same time every day and meet the same faces and look forward to that bit of interaction.
“We think this is a positive news story in grim times and would like to acknowledge how GAA clubs working in connection with local councils can invest in initiatives which positively impact on the health and well-being of local people.”
Club PRO Lisa Austin also explained how the walking track is allowing the club to improve their environmental responsibility.
“The ‘FitTrail’ is a welcome break throughout the day for those working from home or home schooling, allowing families the opportunity to fit in a short burst of exercise and fresh air and help improve mental and physical well-being to help get through each day of lockdown,” she said.
“With Liatroim situated in a rural area with no street lights, the floodlit ‘FitTrail’ – which comprises of some 70 tall and 30 low level lights – acts as a beacon of light for people coming from every direction offering the community a safe, fully enclosed space for our young and old to get out and enjoy their daily exercise.
“In addition to the up-cycled bird boxes made by groundsman Tiarnach Magee, we also have 120 newly planted saplings of beech, birch and ash making the ‘FitTrail’ a haven of bird activity.
“You can see from the photos how lucky we are to have this in our community, constructed from grant money through SportNI and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.”
That construction has certainly gone down well with those using the grounds to exercise.
Sheenagh Bannon lives opposite Fontenoy Park and said that it had become a major part of her family’s life during lockdown.
“Liatroim club has been a large part of the Bannon family’s lives and the ‘FitTrail’ has proved to be a great asset to us during lockdown.
“We recently lost our beloved family member Patsy Bannon. Patsy loved nothing more than to look out through his living room window at the lights. On better days we loved nothing more than going for a walk around the track – three generations of Bannon men together.
“As lockdown has continued, walking around the ‘FitTrail’ has proved to be great for our physical and mental well-being. Ciaran and I, along with our three sons, avail of the ball wall and love to go around the ‘FitTrail’ most evenings.”
Walking duo Patsy Quinn and Rosaleen McCartan are also big fans.
“We are just delighted and so happy to have such wonderful facilities so local to us,” Rosaleen said. “The ‘FitTrail’ is a nice flat surface for older people with no muck, puddles or holes to navigate through. It is immaculately clean with no dog waste to sidestep.
“We feel very safe walking here as it is brightly lit and much safer than walking on the road and there is always a familiar face. Due to the length of the ‘FitTrail’ we can easily socially distance and it’s lovely to see children and mums with babies down using it too.”
Martin O’Donnell, who often uses the track with his daughters, added: “As a family, we are delighted to have the option to use the ‘FitTrail’ any time of the day due to the brightly lit pathway. We have the option to walk or run it as a family, individually, or to meet up with friends as a group when restrictions allow.
“This really helps benefit our physical, social and mental health. It is fantastic to see all age groups using the ‘FitTrail’, allowing for a further opportunity to catch up with people you may not have seen for a while. The ‘FitTrail’ has been a brilliant addition to Liatroim GAC.”
Club chairperson Sean McElroy said that it was brilliant to still see Liatroim at the centre of the community even with the reduction in permitted activities.
“Mental Health and well-being is an area of huge significance within any community, particularly during this time and we are delighted and privileged to have this fantastic amenity to offer our members and wider community.
“It has been most heart-warming to see people, young and old and of all levels of fitness, benefit from the ‘FitTrail’ on an almost daily basis. The ‘FitTrail’ has become a vital hub allowing our community to exercise safely within their own area and see familiar faces.
“We were fortunate to receive a grant from both Sport NI and Newry Mourne and Down District Council to complete the ‘FitTrail’ which has now largely become the predominant and most welcoming part of our community, helping to promote positive mental health, fitness and well-being.
“We have hundreds of individuals using the ‘FitTrail’ throughout the course of the week and the simple things in life such as getting a little bit of fresh air and interaction has impacted positively on many within our community.”