Arch Clubs provide a secure social environment for people who have special needs, their siblings and friends to learn, form friendships and, above all, have fun.
Monaghan Arch Club is affiliated with the National Federation of Arch Clubs Child & Vulnerable Adult Protections Statement.
Donal Kenny, Dernagrew, Monaghan 047 82038, 086 3705416, firstname.lastname@example.org
Grainne Rice, Rock’s Shop, Park Street, Monaghan, 047 81345
Child/vulnerable adult protection officers
Lorna Wilson-Fitzpatrick, Killymarley, Monaghan,
Darina Maloney-Moffett, Nart, Rockcorry, Monaghan
Arch Clubs are Recreational Clubs which provide a social outlet for people with special needs in their local community and are organised by volunteers. We are non political and non religious. In Monaghan we insist that members are 16 and older and helpers are 14 or older. The lower age limit for helpers was to allow transition year students to participate as helpers.
As far as the Arch Club is concerned people with special needs are people with an intellectual disability. These would include people with Down ’s syndrome, brained damaged at birth, slow learners, autism and such. It does not include people with a physical disability or a mental illness unless they also have an intellectual disability. The club is geared towards people with a mild or medium disability and over sixteen as it was felt that younger people would be too boisterous and would upset our older members. There is no upper age limit. It was intended to have a separate night for younger people but the personnel were not available to organise it.
Up to and even after the 1970s there were very few outlets for people with special needs in Ireland. Special schools were just being set up around this period, such as the Holy Family School in Cootehill and Saint Mary’s Special School, Drumcar. Co. Louth. Later Drumlin House Training Centre in Cootehill was set up for older children. However there were no recreational facilities available. In an effort to fill this void, the Federation of Arch Clubs was formed in Ireland in 1976. The first club was formed in Dundrum, Dublin that year. The idea was based on the Gateway Clubs in the UK, and as the names imply, it is a reaching across, be it through a gateway or an arch from the able bodied to people with special needs. The federation of Arch Clubs website is www.archclubs.com
In 1985, the late Paddy Rocks visited friends in Dundrum who happened to have a Down’s syndrome son. This son was very excited about a party he was going to attend that night and when Paddy enquired about it he was told it was an Arch Club Party and it was on every week. Paddy decided to go with them to the party. He was very impressed with the event and he decided he would try to introduce it to Monaghan. He contacted the Parents and Friends of People with an Intellectual Disability and they arranged to call a meeting around September ’85. I was invited to this meeting. I had no one with special needs in my family and at that stage I was not involved with any organisation dealing with special needs. However I was actively involved in organisations dealing with children such as Community Games and the GAA so I had experience of organizing events. I found myself elected vice-chairperson, Gus Moran was Chairperson,. Paddy Rocks was President, Mrs McElernon (ne Floody) was secretary and Grainne Rice (Paddy Rocks daughter) and Ann Slevin were joint treasurers. Grainne is still treasurer. The following year I was elected chairperson. The club held its first function in the Community Centre in the Broad Road, Monaghan in October 1985. The room was very small but we weren’t short of space as we had only about 25 people present and we were very happy with that. I got a few musicians together for the night, we also had a cup of tea and everyone went home happy. We remained there for a few months and as the crowd continued to grow we moved to Montfort House where we remained for a few years. We tried to introduce different formats and different ideas such as arts and crafts, board games and ways of stimulating their imagination but we eventually settled for the current format which we will go into later. Due to domestic pressures, such as having a young family and building a new house I could no longer give the same commitment but remained active in the background. Oliver Holland from Emyvale took over as chairperson and later Edel McNally-Callan followed in that role. Eventually the club moved from Montfort House to the Day Activation Unit in Saint Davnet’s Hospital where we still meet. In the year 2000, Edel, who was an asthmatic, took an attack while on holidays abroad and unfortunately passed away. The club nearly folded and I was persuaded to get more involved.
The club has currently about 100 members with special needs from all over County Monaghan. We would expect to have between 60 and 70 of these present at each function along with some volunteers. We meet each Thursday Night from 8pm to 10pm in The Day Activation Unit in Saint Davnet’s. We have our own disco equipment with voluntary DJs. We start with different activities for the first three quarters of an hour. These include choir practice, pool, snooker and table tennis, while the disco is also going on. We break at 8.45 for a cup of tea and a bun. We have a brief sing song and then we finish out the night with a disco.
We also get invited to different venues around the county from groups such as the ICA, special needs groups, sporting and social groups. These would also be on a Thursday night so we would cancel our function in St. Davnet’s to attend them. In those instances we would be at the venue at 8pm and finish at 10pm. These events would consist of a meal, the Arch Club choir would sing and we would finish with a dance with music provided by a local group.
While these events are excellent the following five events take precedence over everything else. At Easter the Knights of Saint Columbanus provide an Easter Party in the Westenra Hotel. The Lions Club provide a Summer Party also in the Westenra. The Rotary Club provide the Halloween Party in the Hillgrove Hotel. The club itself provides the Christmas Party in the Four Seasons Hotel. These events would last from 8pm to 11pm. The mc is usually Sean McCaffrey of Northern Sound and the content would include, depending on the event, a comedy sketch, a magician, fancy dress, Santa, a sit down meal , the Arch Club Choir would sing, the Special Olympics Dancers would perform their routine and we would finish with a dance.
However the fifth and the biggest event is our annual outing in July before we take our summer break. This consists of a meal and concert in a location away from Monaghan., This year we went to An Bord Gás Theatre in Dublin to see “The Lion King”. We also had a lovely dinner in the Maldron Hotel. Last year we went to the Northern Sound Concert in the Kilmore Hotel in Cavan where we heard entertainers such as Mike Denver, Robert Mizzell, Michael English, Jimmy McCarthy and many more. In previous years we have gone to events such as Daniel O’Donnell and Joe Dolan concerts, the musical “Fame” in the Grand Canal Theatre and to June Rogers in the Red Cow Inn in Dublin.
We receive no finance from the State. While we have the free use of the Day Activation Unit we pay a voluntary stipend each year. We currently charge an entrance fee of €2.00 per person at our events in the Day Activation Unit. We charge €10.00 for the Christmas Party and €20.00 to our annual outing. We get donations from members’ families, charitable events such as the Blackwater Fun Run and Monaghan Country Festival and from the court service. Our biggest expenses are the Christmas Party which costs close to €4,000.00 and the summer concert which cost close to €6,000.00 and buses which cost about €3,000.00.
What does the future hold? Well the future is a mixed bag. The life of people with an intellectual disability bears no relationship now to when the Arch Club started. Most now attend special schools and training workshops and many hold down employment. Along with the Arch Club, the Special Olympics has also taken off in a big way and members are engaged in different activities during the week, such as athletics training, table tennis and bowls. Around the time Monaghan Arch club was formed, clubs were also set up in Clones and Carrickmacross but these folded after a number of years and some of the personnel who attended these now come to Monaghan Arch Club which is the only club in Co. Monaghan. About two years ago a club was set up in Cavan Town but it only lasted a few months. In my opinion the reason clubs don’t last are twofold. They are not offering the right entertainment and/or the organisers are not putting in sufficient effort. In Monaghan we have been successful on both scores but the organising committee are getting older and fresh blood is badly needed. Due to the recession cut backs are eating into State sponsored programmes, while donations on which groups such as the Arch Club survive are becoming smaller and less frequent Finally I would like to thank the committee and volunteers/helpers, who are responsible for the success of the club and all our members who by their enthusiasm and love of life make it all so rewarding for us all. I would also like to thank the parents who deliver and collect our members from the club and without whose support it wouldn’t be possible to operate, all the groups, too numerous to name individually, who invite us to parties at their local venues at some considerable expense and to all who financially support us. There are many more who have contributed to the success of the club in many different ways and we thank them all very sincerely.