In The Club


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There’s a sense of belonging and inclusiveness in a club, a sense of stepping outside your quotidian and embracing new friends and acquaintances through a shared love or curiosity. We look at a diverse selection of clubs in the capital.

 

Finding your tribe in a city of over a million people can feel like an overwhelming prospect if you’re starting from scratch. If you’re new to the city and have already tried using Tinder as a way to find friends, what are your options for meeting new people? Maybe you’ve lived here for years, but your old friends have drifted towards new cities or new lives. Perhaps you’re searching for something to take you away from the day-to-day of work and life. You might find your peers in a club.

The first note of this piece was sounded by the St James’s Brass and Reed Band‘s band hall on Mount Brown. It’s a fairly unassuming building from the outside, which you may have passed on a walk towards IMMA or back into town from Kilmainham, but inside is home to Ireland’s oldest band. Who are its members? What brings them to this band hall and what do they do there?

While a band club requires a base level of skill and talent to join, other clubs we spoke to require little more than a positive mental attitude. The Base Devils play softball every Wednesday during the summer months. Some of its team players are life-long pros, while others are fans of baseball movies who’ve always wanted to give it a go. What kind of softball player are you?

From the field to the page, the Irish Feminist Network’s book club offers a space for intersectional and inclusive feminism. Every month, they use the words of authors to spark debate amongst themselves on the issues facing women around the world today. Why is a book club like this important? How can you join?

Have you ever watched a hive in action? A beekeeper once told me that the honeycomb is like the skeleton, the worker bees are the cells and the queen bee is the heart. The wonders of how bees interact, communicate and get on with their work is both an opportunity to reflect on the human experience, yet it is such an absorbing and enormous subject that it also provides the opportunity to not have to think about being a human for a bit, too. The members of Co Dublin Beekeepers Association are all about supporting beekeepers in the Dublin area, both experienced and beginners, and we learned more about their work. Can anyone get involved?

We spoke to members of these clubs to find out what it is that drew them to each other and why they keep going back. The common thread between them all was the theme of belonging. Each club demonstrates diversity in their membership, brought together by their common interest. The clubs are all made up of people from different backgrounds, age groups and nationalities, brought together by their shared love of something.

St James’s Brass and Reed Band

 

St James’s Brass and Reed Band is believed to be Ireland’s oldest band, by a long shot. According to the band’s acting secretary, John Farrell, the band was officially set up in 1800, but the origins of the group can be traced back as far as 1737. In that time, its gigs have included a candlelight procession to welcome home Fenian prisoners in 1877, and the 1898 parade of Wolfe Tone. They played for Douglas Hyde as he departed on his American tour in 1906. They played at the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa in 1915 and at the funeral of Thomas Ashe in 1917. One of their members, the late John Gannon, is even a Guinness World Record Holder. He passed away on January 27th of this year; he was 99 years and 8 months old. He had been a member of St James’s Band for 82 continuous years and it was his long-standing membership that secured him a place in this year’s Guinness Book of World Records.

Today, the band has 35 playing members who have been rehearsing twice a week in their band hall on Mount Brown, Dublin 8, since 2005. The band’s current conductor Tom Tyrrell is an ex-Army Bandsman who plays clarinet and saxophone. He’s been a member of St James’s Band for twenty years.

“The Band was presumably formed to provide musical entertainment for all and a place where musically minded people could play together,” says Farrell. “There is a wide variety of backgrounds within the Band ranging from bankers to plasterers, northsiders to southsiders.” Their youngest member is a thirteen-year-old named Lucy and the Band currently have five members in their 80s. Most members are between the age of forty and sixty. “The first woman to join the Band was in 1971,” says Farrell. It was the oboe player Penny Doyle, whose father was John Doyle, a horn player with the Band. “It doesn’t matter what your background is,” says Farrell, “if you can play the music you will be made feel very welcome at St James’s. We would expect anyone who wants to join the Band to have at least achieved a Grade 4, we allow everyone a 6 week trial period and if both parties are happy, the applicant can fill out a membership application form which goes through the Committee for approval.”

“There are small groups that socialise with each other outside of the Band. Some are in a running group, some are drinking buddies, and others meet to play golf on occasions,” says Farrell. They often meet up if a member is celebrating a memorable birthday or for a Band BBQ hosted by the group’s Chairman. “We always find a bit of humour at rehearsals and performances as someone always has a story to tell or makes a blunder within their part. Serious time is only for competitions when we have to have full concentration, but after that it’s about having fun. There is a great camaraderie among all the members. We watch out for each other and never see anyone stuck. With 281 years of history, we must be doing something right.”

St James’s Band are always looking for new members. This voluntary group requires a weekly fee of €5 from working members, or €2.50 for the unemployed or students. If you want to find out more about becoming a member, or indeed to enquire about booking the Band for a gig, contact secretary John Farrell on stjamessband@gmail.com or visit the Band’s website on stjamessband.ie

 

Base Devils Softball

You know, it’s not really that far from softball that we were reared. Rounders. So perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to find out that there are a network of softball clubs operating around Dublin and Leinster, under the governance of Softball Leinster. One such club is Base Devils Softball, a group of softball enthusiasts that have been on the go since around 1999. Over the years, there have been players from Venezuela, Taiwan, the US, Canada and players from all over Ireland, including some from the GAA Rounders League.

A softball team needs ten players for a game, so the Base Devils have a rolling team of around twenty men and women who can pick up their mitts and play ball in the summer season. To play a game, each team requires six men and four women – if that gender quota isn’t reached the team has to forfeit their game.

Sean Hughes has been a Base Devil for over ten years and he’s the current team captain. “We have a game every Wednesday evening at 7pm from May until August. Pre-season training starts in April where we would train and get our new players familiar with the game. During the season it’s difficult to find time to train, and most of us are happy enough to play the one night during the week. We also go to the pub and meet the opposition team after the games so there’s a social side to the sport as well.”

Players have come to the Base Devils from a variety of backgrounds as well as softball skills. Aoife Walsh joined the team in the summer of 2017, after returning to Dublin after living in Toronto for a few years. “Despite having an arts and bookish background,” explains Walsh, “I’m a big fan of baseball movies. To me, this kind of ball game lends itself to drama: it’s in the round, it’s stop-start-stop action, and features lead protagonists with unfulfilled potential.” She had tried to join a team while in Canada, but found it difficult to find a league that were open to complete beginners. When she returned home, she thought it might be a good way to help her readjust to living in Dublin again. She came to the team with almost no experience – well, apart from watching all those baseball movies, of course – and was bowled over by the welcome and friendliness of her now teammates.

So what do the players get out of being a part of this club? “I mostly love playing softball,” says member Neil Fleming, who was introduced to the team by his friend Olga Criado Monleon, also a Base Devil. “I’m a relative newbie, and have been given a chance to play from the word go. The team has been welcoming, instructive and they all seem to just have a great love of playing the game. In general the teams are there to play, to have fun, and of course, to win. I also got a jersey, and now I feel like a proper Base Devil.”

Niamh Carroll joined up in May 2016, and she loves the social aspect of being a Base Devil. “The Base Devils are a friendly, fun loving group,” she says. “Although we’re competitive, we mostly go out every week to enjoy ourselves and play as best we can. We are all very encouraging towards each other and always have each other’s backs. It’s a great way to meet new people. Sure it’s something different on a Wednesday night – the Base Devils are my softball family.”

Walsh finds the games to be an opportunity to practice present moment awareness. “While I do yoga in the winter, softball has become an equally mindful summer thing for me: just turning up is the thing, the game takes you along from there because you just can’t not take part. I’ve had my ups and downs, injuries and mistakes, but riding those out has been really instructive to me. It makes me present, I guess, in a way that I’m not in other parts of my life. I don’t think about anything else when I’m playing softball. You’re just there to play, it doesn’t matter where you come from, what you do, who you know. You’re in control of your attitude and the energy you put in. The rest of what happens on the pitch has a life of its own! I love that softball is co-ed, too. It brings a balance of voices, agendas and experiences.”

Hughes breaks it down to a less visceral level when he explains one of the game’s appeals: “You get to hit a ball with a bat and see how far it goes!” That does sound like fun, doesn’t it?

Base Devils are always on the look out for new members, male and female. They don’t receive any grants and are self-funded so, like most sports clubs, there is a subscription fee to help fund the games. You can find Base Devils Softball on Facebook or drop them an email on basedevils@gmail.com if you’re interested in joining up. For clubs around Dublin, check out softballleinster.ie

 

The Feminist Book Club

Members of the Irish Feminist Network’s Book Club have been reading and discussing books together since 2010. A core mission for the IFN is to make feminism as accessible and inclusive as possible. “The book club aims to promote reading and discussion of both feminist and not-feminist books, although we focus on the former,” explains the group’s organiser, Emma Regan. “At our monthly meetings, we create an inclusive, intersectional feminist space for people to share both their responses to the book and their ideas about related feminist issues. We also provide an opportunity for socialising and networking among Irish feminists and the feminist-curious.”

The book club is organised through a private Facebook group, which has over a thousand members. Around twenty book lovers attend the monthly book club, and they’re proud that the membership is very diverse. Recently, the club has read The Surface Breaks and Almost Love by Louise O’Neill, In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park, Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo, Difficult Women and Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay, Daring to Drive by Manal Al-Sharif, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, Women, Race & Class by Angela Davis, Animal by Sara Pascoe, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “The membership includes both younger and older people, people born in Ireland and migrants and people with varying degrees of knowledge about feminism,” says Regan. “The vast majority of our members are women, although we are not an exclusive group and welcome male members. What unites us is our intersectional feminist perspective and our desire to learn more through reading and discussion.”

What is it that draws people to the IFN’s book club? “I think a lot of people today are becoming more comfortable with the feminist label,” says Regan. “They recognise inequalities in Ireland and in the world and are inspired to engage with the feminist movement. The book club provides a relaxed introduction to feminism for the newcomer. It facilitates people to read and educate themselves about feminism and to speak to other like-minded people about issues they care about. The group also allows people to share their personal experiences and feel validated. By speaking and listening to one another with an open mind, we can develop our understanding and feminist perspective. Finally, some members of the book club are seasoned activists and campaigners and the meetings can act as a springboard to get people involved. For example, people often share information about upcoming feminist events they’re involved such as marches and protests.”

“The club typically ends up discussing various aspects of the book that struck us like a particular section, character or theme”, says Regan. “Members often make connections between the book and larger feminist issues, e.g. rape culture, the beauty myth, institutional racism or reproductive rights. We also make connections with our own lived experiences, popular culture, current and historical events.”

Members agree that they enjoy the opportunity to discuss the issues raised by the books they read in a safe and inclusive space. “I joined the club because I wanted to read more feminist books and to have a good network of women to discuss them with,” says Jane Xavier, who joined the book club in September 2016. “I have always felt welcomed in the group, I could feel that the group was opened to migrant women and they appreciated my suggestions for books and the discussions have always been very constructive.”

Jennifer Butler has been a member since 2016. “I enjoy hearing the different opinions and viewpoints,” she says. “Each month you hear something in the club that you may have missed or interpreted differently.”

“I like being introduced to books I’d never choose and the opportunity to discuss them with people from different age groups, countries and cultures,” says Cathy, who has been with the club for nearly a year. “I am probably the oldest member.”

The IFN are always open to new members, and there is no fee or payment involved in engaging with either the IFN or its Book Club. “The only cost of attending the book club,” explains Regan, “is buying your own cup of tea at the event!”

Find the Irish Feminist Network Book Club on Facebook. Their next book club meeting is on Friday, August 31 at 6:30pm at the Tea Garden, 7 Ormond Quay Lower, Dublin 1. They’ll be discussing Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

 

County Dublin Beekeepers Association

 

The current County Dublin Beekeepers Association has its origins in the Royal Dublin Society, making it one of the oldest beekeeping organisations in Ireland. The Royal Dublin Society took a break during war times, and the County Dublin Beekeepers Association reconvened in 1947 after the Second World War. Its founders were John McGrane, Mrs Shackleton, Pops Poultin, Dan Deasey, and John Downes. “The Association was set up to maintain and promote the ancient craft of beekeeping,” explains Rose Breslin, the Association’s current secretary. It’s also about supporting and advancing the needs and interests of beekeepers, she says. Today, there are around two hundred members in the Association.

“People from all walks of life are represented in beekeeping: all professions and trades, people who have a long history of bees through the generations and those who are first generation beekeepers,” says Breslin. “Also, many of our members are people new to the country who were involved in beekeeping in their previous life. Our youngest member is aged in single digits and our more experienced members are soon in line for the gift from the President.” Breslin came to beekeeping herself when she was introduced to it by a friend. Her grandfather and aunt had bees, so the buzz for beekeeping was in her family, so to speak.

During the winter months, from September to April, the Association runs a series of lectures on the first Monday of the month while the summer months see regular visits to apiaries around Dublin. They host beginner and improver’s courses for those getting into beekeeping, and outreach events at Bloom and the Dublin Horse Show. One of their main events is the annual Honey Show in Christ Church in Rathgar, which typically takes place in early November.

The County Dublin Beekeepers Association is an entirely voluntary organisation, from the committee officers to those who look after the education aspect of the Association, to people working on the stands at shows and fairs to the organisers of the annual Honey Show. “The committee is made up of a chairperson, secretary, treasurer, membership secretary, apiary manager, honey show manager, beginners course convener and a number of other committee members,” explains Breslin, who also notes that the Association is affiliated to the Federation of Irish Beekeepers who oversee insurance for the Association and produces a monthly magazine called An Beachaire.

So what is it about the Association that attracts people? “There are a number of important advantages to being involved in the Association,” says Breslin. “For starters, as part of their membership all members receive third party insurance for their bees and they also get a monthly edition of An Beachaire. Both of these are through the Federation. In addition, the Association provides courses and talks that are of benefits to the beekeepers. Being members allows beekeepers to meet other like-minded people, who can provided support and assistance when needed.”

Breslin has some advice for those interested in learning more about beekeeping. “Anybody interested in beekeeping would be best advised to do a beginners course before embarking on the venture,” she says. “Find out as much as you can before you start and if possible get a mentor. Despite what people might think, urban bees are doing much better than rural bees because there is a wide variety of forage and less chance of the bees being subjected to spraying by pesticides and insecticides and other chemicals.”

It appears that urban beekeeping may be on the rise, and the Association welcomes new beekeeping members. Every winter and spring, the Association holds a beginners’ course, so that might be your way in to beekeeping.

Find out more about the Association on dublinbees.org or contact Breslin directly on brezzerorb@gmail.com.

Words: Aoife McElwain

Images: Steve O’Connor

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