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Dublin: 4 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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Column: Young people are the future – but we older ones can help them there

Co-operation between the generations benefits everyone, and older people must play their part, writes retiree Betty O’Flynn.

Betty O'Flynn

IT WAS MY 74th birthday last weekend, and my 12-year-old grandson, Eoin, presented me with a very special gift.

It was a project he had been working on in school, to mark Grandparents’ Day, entitled, ‘My Granny’. On this colourfully decorated laminated board, Eoin had painted a picture of my life, and listed all the things that he loved about me, and had learned from me. I was incredibly touched. Of course, I had noticed that Eoin was being more inquisitive than usual in the previous weeks, but I had no idea what he was up to, and was genuinely moved to be presented with such a thoughtful gift. I was impressed too at the school’s recognition of us grandparents, and the valuable role that we can play in our grandchildren’s lives.

There is a misperception amongst some young people that people over a certain age are past it and have little to contribute to society.  Likewise, many older people tend to focus on the negatives when they think of younger people.

This year has been designated European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity Between Generations – a move which I consider to be significant and hugely positive. President Michael D Higgins officially launched this Europe-wide initiative here in Ireland, and spoke of his hope that, through this year, older people will be enabled to reach their potential and participate more fully in all facets of society. To hear such words from our President is so encouraging, and it is my hope that it will enable a change in attitude, and help to engrain a mutual respect between generations.

‘When Sean died I felt unable to go back without him’

To give a bit of background, my name is Betty O’Flynn, and I’m originally from Ballsbridge in Dublin, but have been living in Salthill, Galway, since 1969. I’m an active member of the Salthill Active Retirement Association (ARA), where I’ve served as both Secretary and Chair, although my first involvement with an ARA was in Renmore 14 years ago. I joined Active Retirement with my husband Sean, but when Sean died four years later, I felt unable to go back there without him. Luckily, it was at around that time that the Salthill ARA was established, and I felt happier to go there, as there weren’t so many memories attached, and it really became a lifeline for me.

There are 535 ARAs around the country, and they are all part of the umbrella group that is Active Retirement Ireland (ARI). I like to say that the work of ARAs is to serve as a preventative medicine. My theory is that, by providing older people with this social outlet, and getting them involved in activities, it keeps them active both physically and mentally, and therefore keeps them out of hospitals, and equally importantly, out of isolation.
We do all sorts of activities with our members, from walking groups, to book clubs, to bowling. The bowling is especially popular with the men, which is great, because often men can be less inclined to take up hobbies as they grow older, which means that so many of them end up isolated from society.

As well as seeing a bit of the world, the Salthill ARA – and other ARAs in Galway City – have been running an intergenerational project called ‘Living Scenes’ for a number of years now, in conjunction with the transition year students of Presentation College in Galway City. It’s a wonderful opportunity – both for our members and for the students – to get to know each other and gain an insight into how the other half lives, as it were.

‘It’s great that they see their granny out and about’

I have seven grandchildren, from four years old up to 23 years of age, and I think it’s great that they see their granny out and about doing things, with her own very active social life. The time I spend with the students has greatly enriched my relationship with my own grandchildren. It’s given me an insight into how their lives are right now; the difficulties that they face; and how they view the world, and even older generations.

It’s a tough time economically for all generations, and many of the students we have come to know through our intergenerational project in Galway are already thinking of emigration, which is so sad to hear. On the other side, they are hearing about the difficulties that older people face, and the fears that many older people feel. Fear of getting sick, fear of getting old, fear of being invisible, fear of being abandoned by the State, fear of being poor. It’s a terrible thing, fear, and it really is the main issue facing older people these days.

At the launch of the EU Year a couple of weeks back, President Higgins said that – while he was on the campaign trail – he had never heard a single request from young people that would come at the expense of older people and, likewise, older people had never expressed a desire for anything that would require a sacrifice on the part of younger generations.  I never want to be a burden on my kids – in the same way that they never want to be a burden on me.  So the more I can keep active, both physically and mentally, the better – and that’s why, to me, Active Retirement Ireland, and all the associated ARAs, are invaluable. I want to wear out, not rust out!

The young people we meet every Friday are wonderful listeners, and a breath of fresh air. And they deserve a lot, because we have had a lot in our lifetime. They are the future of this country, and they deserve to face the future with hope.  Older people can help them to achieve this.

Further information about Active Retirement Ireland is available at activeirl.ie.

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Betty O'Flynn

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