Mags Gargan speaks to members of the No Name! Club, which provides alcohol-free social activities for teenagers
Last week saw the end of this year’s Junior and Leaving Cert exams, and teenagers across the country are now kicking back and enjoying their summer holidays after weeks of stress and cramming. When the results come out at the end of the summer, hopefully there will be more celebration than commiseration, but nearly every year these celebrations turn into newspaper headlines about underage binge drinking and bad behaviour.
The Irish have a reputation for being big drinkers, but we actually drink alcohol less frequently than our European neighbours, the problem is that when we do drink, we consume a higher volume, at a faster speed – binge drinking at the weekends rather than the odd glass of wine with dinner.
The No Name! Club is a national voluntary youth organisation which enables young people 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.
Fr Murphy, now based in Ballyragget parish, remembers the origins of the No Name! Club back when he was a curate in St John’s Parish in Kilkenny. “It was Temperance Sunday and I was giving out that people don’t get a chance at weddings. There’s wine, beer, whiskey, but if you are a non-drinker all you can have is the water on table,” he explains.
“At end of Mass Bobby Kerr from the Newpark Hotel arrived in the sacristy and I thought I was in trouble for knocking wedding receptions, but he said I have a hotel and I’m very happy to see that used by young people for non-alcoholic activities.”
Fr Murphy discussed the idea with Eamon Doyle and Eddie Keher, and this led them to set up the first No Name! Club.
“We started by organising a cabaret show followed by a disco and we went to schools looking for pre-Leaving Cert students to volunteer to be hosts and hostesses. We then trained them so they were able to organise events and make practical decisions, and we backed them up and encouraged them.”
Large crowds came to their events and as word spread of the success of the project, other towns asked the group to help them to set up clubs. Run by and for young people aged 15 years and over, the organisation now has over 15,000 members in 50 clubs throughout the country.
Becoming a teenage member of a club – known as a host or hostess – allows young people to develop their confidence and leadership skills. 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.
As well as their weekly meetings and local club activities, there are a number of annual national events open to members.
The National Youth & Volunteer Conferences are held twice a year as an opportunity for training, information and discussion for volunteers and young people. In the Super Talent Competition the host and hostesses of each club present a series of entertainment items through music, dance, drama and song, to compete with other clubs on a regional and national basis.
The National Youth Awards are presented to the host and hostess who, in the opinion of the adjudicating panel, have made outstanding contributions to their club, community, school and family. Participants often demonstrate significant personal achievement in the areas of sport, culture, arts, education and other activities in which they have been involved.
Laura Beston from the Claremorris No Name! Club was named this year’s National Hostess of the Year, following panel interviews at local, regional and national level and performing her ‘party piece’ singing I Dreamed a Dream from Les Mis.
Three busses from Claremorris brought her local supporters to Portlaoise for the final competition, which was followed by dinner and a ‘six-hour disco’ after the results were revealed, and ended with the young people bedding down on the ballroom floor for the night.
“It was so hard to believe that they picked me,” Laura says, “and the whole club was so excited. It was an amazing feeling and an honour to represent my club at regional level and now the whole organisation at national level.”
Laura first joined the club as a Transition Year student in 2012 and feels that it has really helped her self-confidence.
“Our town has two schools – one for boys and one for girls – and you get to know everyone so much better in the club and make a lot of friends. It gives you the opportunity to get outside the cliques in school and develop your confidence, because you know you can speak in front of people or go on stage to do a comedy sketch. Also it makes you proud of your community,” she says.
The No Name! Clubs are always on the look-out for more adult volunteers, who play an important role in helping to meet teenagers’ needs and delivering activities and events in safe, supervised surroundings.
Joan Troy, secretary of Castleknock and Clonsilla No Name! Club, has been involved in the organisation for over 20 years and from an adult point of view she says being involved in the club “keeps you young”.
“I got involved when my own children were teenagers and became a development officer setting up clubs around Dublin, and I set this club up seven years ago,” she says.
“Young people have so much to offer and 99.9% are very good. Our philosophy is to come together and be together without misuse of alcohol.”
However, Fr Murphy, who grew up in a pub himself, emphasises that the club is not anti-alcohol. “We wanted people to be able to experience good times without the use of alcohol. In every sphere of life, whether it is a Baptism, Confirmation, funeral, a match win or a defeat, it is all associated with drinking,” he says. “Lots of young people never had any other experience of a social occasion and we wanted to be able to give them an alternative so at least they can experience it. If they drink later in life, that is their decision, but at least they had that experience.
“These young people are hugely important. We have thousands of teenagers moving on from the club and hopefully they bring with them a lot of the characteristics they learned at the No Name! Club, so I think we have made a significant contribution to society in different ways.”
Interested in starting a club?
For information on setting up a No Name! Club, becoming a volunteer or becoming a host or hostess, please contact head office on 059-6400299 or email firstname.lastname@example.org