Mags Gargan attends the national conference of the No Name Club, an alcohol-free youth initiative
Over 500 teenagers and 50 adult volunteers spilled into a buzzing conference room in Croke Park for the No Name Club’s National Conference, which sought to build upon the work done in local clubs across the country by showcasing positive alternatives to alcohol.
The No Name Club is a national voluntary youth organisation which enables young people aged 15 and over to organise and enjoy positive alternatives to alcohol and drug-centred activities. It aims to build self-confidence in young people, to increase awareness of the effects of alcohol and drugs, and to help them make informed choices when they are older.
The organisation was founded in Kilkenny in 1978 by Fr Tom Murphy, Eamon Doyle and Eddie Keher, to offer an alternative to pub culture for young people.
“What we are showing these young people is that you don’t need a drink to have a good time,” says Public Relations Officer, Edith Geraghty. “They realise they don’t have to be dependent on a drug to enjoy or feel confident in a social situation. They don’t feel they need a drink to participate. We give them a space where they can find out who they are and how they think about things, away from pressures to do certain things, and surrounded by like-minded teenagers.”
The No Name Club National Conference ‘Providing Positive Alternatives’ saw clubs from all over the country travel to Dublin to hear guest speakers such as TV presenter and former Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh and RTÉ 2FM radio DJ, Louise McSharry.
Maria Walsh, who was the No Name Club’s ‘Hostess of the Year’ as a teenager in 2004, gave a testimony on her life in which she said that the training she received with the club “served me when it came to the Rose of Tralee”. She explained to the room of teenagers that taking a lifetime Pioneer pledge when she was making her Confirmation at the age of 12 was the “greatest decision of my life”.
When sked if she ever regretted her decision to abstain from alcohol, she said “never”. “When people ask me what am I most proud of, and I am fortunate at the age of 28, my decision to become a Pioneer was and is the greatest decision of my life,” she said. “I got more advancement from being a Pioneer. I got more self-confidence because I have built myself up to be very self-assured and confident.”
Following on from Maria, broadcaster Louise McSharry spoke about her experience fighting through cancer last year, at just 31 years of age, and how having a positive outlook on life has helped her through tough times. She said “illness can happen at any time of your life” and her struggle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma taught her to “make use of my life” and to “turn it into a positive”.
The afternoon saw young people divided into small groups and participating in workshops such as: Youth Mental Health, Music with Chain Reaction, Gaisce, GOAL, Youth Diversion Project, Improvisation Skills and Children of the Digital Age. A lucky few even got the chance to walk on the Skyline rooftop tour in Croke Park and still enjoyed their experience despite the terrible wet weather.
The aim of the conference was to promote the positive alternatives that the club provides to the drinking culture in Ireland. Through their involvement in No Name Club activities, young people are encouraged to develop to their full potential by taking on the responsibility of planning and organising a wide ranging programme of social events in co-operation with the adult club leaders.
Long-lasting friendships are formed, social and decision-making skills are enhanced, creative talents are developed, and confidence and leadership skills grow as the teenage members move towards adulthood.
“I like meeting up with friends and going on different trips,” says Henry Coyle (18) from Geesala, Co. Mayo. “You meet up with loads of different people from around the country, from different clubs, and you get to share if you have a common interest with them. It’s great to have that and to know people from around the country, rather than just your own area.”
Chloe Dunleavy (18), from Belmullet, Co. Mayo is doing her Leaving Cert this year and she finds that the club is a great escape from her studies. “Just to be somewhere that has nothing to do with books or studying or deadlines, where you can just be yourself and relax. It feels like coming home,” she says.
As well as their weekly meetings and local club activities, there are a number of annual national events open to members, such as the competition Host and Hostess of the Year. This year’s winners of the prestigious title were Niamh Fannon (18) from Roscommon and Diarmuid McDermott (18) from Ballygar, Co. Galway.
“Being hostess means the world to me,” says Niamh. “The club has done so much for me and I am over the moon to get to represent them at a national level. I get to go to different events throughout the year and I get to be an ambassador for something I absolutely love.
“I also like that in my last four years in the No Name Club I have gained a ridiculous amount of confidence and that I have made so many new friends. Now that I am a junior leader in our club I get to see young people flourish and develop.”
Diarmuid says the main reason he joined the No Name Club was “to boost my confidence and meet new people”. “This is my fourth year in the club and I enjoy that I have been given a more senior role and I am really relishing almost being an adult member and bringing in the young people and creating a relaxed environment,” he says.
Edith Geraghty and her husband founded their local No Name Club in Erris, Co. Mayo ten years ago because “there was nothing for young people in our area”. “We looked at various models of youth club and the No Name Club absolutely appealed to us, especially with its focus on harm reduction around alcohol and drugs, which we feel is very necessary in today’s culture,” she says.
“No Name Club is different from other clubs in that the young people run the clubs themselves and we as adults facilitate them, which is a very different role to other youth groups where adults tell the kids what they are going to be doing.
“Our kids choose what they want to do and we help them to achieve that. Also through the course of our relationship with them they get one-to-one support and mentoring. We help them with their job aspirations, their dreams or if they have any issues we are always available to talk to them and to help them to seek help. We are people they can turn to who aren’t their family or their friends, because when you have an issue, with mental health in particular, you might not want to tell your parents but you can tell another adult that you trust,” she says.