Lisheens new offices are Star of the Show

Story by Siobhan Cronin at the Southern Star

John Lonergan, former governor of Mountjoy Prison, cuts the ribbon at the launch of Lisheens House new premises in Skibbereen, watched by Ray Cullen (‘Talk to Tom’ Wexford), Jim Daly TD, Noreen Murphy, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony TD, Michael Collins TD and Mick Kearns. (Photo: Andy Gibson)

THE new offices of Lisheens House Suicide Prevention Centre were officially opened in Skibbereen.

The centre, which will house counselling, education, training and support services, is located in the former print room of The Southern Star offices.

With communication being key to good counselling, the building’s past, also being connected with communication, was mentioned by a number of speakers, including former Mountjoy governor John Lonergan, who opened the event.

Lisheens was co-founded by Bantry woman Noreen Murphy, who lost her own husband to suicide some years ago, and Mick Kearns from Dunmanway.

It is modelled on a similar service in Wexford – Talk to Tom – which was set up by Ray Cullen who also spoke at last Friday’s opening. A number of other services across the country, using the same model of counselling through education and support, are currently being rolled out.

The service, which currently receives no government funding, was promised the full backing of West Cork’s three sitting TDs, who all attended the event.

‘I feel a bit of a fraud here,’ said FG TD Jim Daly, addressing the audience. ‘I was shocked to discover there was no funding given to this service.’

He added that he ‘sincerely hoped’ he would be able to secure funding for Lisheens, and that his Dail colleagues would join him in that endeavour. ‘We will be your voice in Dublin,’ he said.

He added that Skibbereen now had a ‘hat-trick’ of community-up achievements – from the Ludgate hub, to the Skibbereen rowers, to Lisheens House.

From the moment he arrived at the offices, he felt ‘warmth and a great welcome’, and he was delighted to see that a room which had allowed so many people to air their views in the past – through the newspaper’s pages – was now another forum for people to express their feelings.

Dunmanway native Mick Kearns said Lisheens was borne out of tragedy in Noreen’s own family, but now something positive was being created.

‘We live in a very beautiful place here in West Cork, but none of us is immune from the tragedies of life,’ said Mick, who thanked Sean Mahon of The Southern Star for the space to begin ‘a new chapter’ in the print room’s life.

‘This is a non-judgemental, strictly confidential service,’ said Mick, and he thanked the people of West Cork who helped fundraise for it.

Noreen Murphy said the building was evidence of the true sense of the word ‘community’, and a community that believed in her vision, which took shape

at her kitchen table, through her own personal tragedy.

‘We need to break the taboo and stigma that surrounds mental health,’ she said, and said there needed to be more support for people suffering, and also for the families and children of those who live with people with mental health issues.

‘We want to give people the time and tools to get on with their lives and live them to the full,’ she said. ‘Thank you all for believing in my vision,’ she added.

Sean Mahon of The Southern Star said the service was ‘important and vital’ and hoped the stigma of mental health was beginning to go, thanks in part to places like Lisheens, and he offered continued support to the service.

Rev John Ardis said that through his work he comes into contact with a lot of people who have mental health issues, and that it was great to now be able to refer them to ‘this very welcoming space’.

Deputy Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (FF) said there was a ‘feelgood factor’ in the building and it was great that people no longer had to travel to the city for support. ‘Jim, Michael (Collins) and myself will lobby very hard for funding for this,’ she said. Deputy Collins said he was ‘not a bit shocked’ that there was no government funds for Lisheens because mental health needed to be treated by the government ‘the same as any other health issue’ and currently that was not the case.

He said that ever since his election, he wears a ‘take care, help is there’ wristband and he congratulated Mick and Noreen on their work to date.

Ray Cullen of Talk to Tom in Wexford described his own battles with depression after a debilitating accident many years ago, and the death of his nephew through suicide.

Although just a few years in operation, his organisation has trained 2,500 people without any government funding and he hoped Lisheens would adopt a similar model.

John Lonergan, who cut the ribbon to officially open the offices, reminded people to be good to themselves and banish the negativity. Listening is a huge gift to bestow on others, he said, and he never met an ‘all-bad’ person, even in all his years working in Mountjoy prison, so there is good to be found in everyone.

‘To find humanity in others, you need to find the humanity in yourself first,’ he said. ‘Reach out and don’t judge, because every single person is fragile and vulnerable at different stages of their lives.’

Keep smiling, he advised, because smiles ‘break down barriers’, he said, adding: ‘And it’s the cheapest way to improve your looks!’

He jokingly told Noreen Murphy not to worry about any debt that may be incurred in the future, because ‘when you are in debt, there is tremendous goodwill towards you! The worst thing that can happen Lisheens House is to have surplus money!’ he said.

He said he hoped the name Southern Star would remain over the door because each and everyone passing through the doors was a ‘star’. Every achievement in the world began with someone saying: ‘I’ll give it a go’, he said, and we should ignore the old phrase that ‘self praise is no praise’ because we should all praise ourselves, and each other, every day.

Speaking afterwards to The Southern Star, he said that modern life brought a strong sense of isolation and that in days gone by, people were much more like to ‘go visiting’ and have a social life. ‘Very often, there is no connection, no sense of belonging now,’ he said, so places like Lisheens should be encouraged and supported.