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‘Great camaraderie and a lot of fun’: Meet the adults taking up new hobbies and making lifelong friendships

Whether it’s hillwalking, diving, rowing, bowling or cricket, these groups allow for socialising and learning new skills

Laura Grealish is doing an eight-day solo hike in Norway this month. Having hiked everywhere from Carrauntoohil to Everest base camp, this is her passion. Joining the Hillwalkers Club in 2018 changed everything.

“I guess, like a lot of people, I had just been in a bit of a rut. I was out of shape. I was a bit burnt out after doing a Masters. I had piled on the weight and I just wasn’t feeling great,” she recalls.

“I always thought it would be really exciting to spend a whole day right out on the mountains and I thought hillwalking would be good exercise and enjoyable.”

When she saw the Dublin-based Hillwalkers Club went from Burgh Quay every Sunday morning, she decided to give the club a shot. Getting on a bus full of strangers on that first Sunday morning wasn’t easy.


“You don’t know anyone. You think, I hope I’m not going to be really bad at this and make a complete show of myself.”

She needn’t have worried. “Everyone was so welcoming. People started introducing themselves. There was a lot of encouragement. I thought, ‘I can fit in here.’”

Physically, it was tough at first. “The first time I went up a hill, I was exhausted after 11km. I had to push myself but doing them regularly I gradually improved,” she says.

The Sunday hikes soon became a fixture. “Everyone is coming out, leaving the stresses of the week behind and enjoying themselves. What we have in common is that we love being out on the hills.” Many members have become friends outside the club too.

“Despite growing up in Wicklow, I’ve seen parts of it I never would have. I’ve been to most of the mountain ranges in Ireland and the club runs trips abroad too. We have groups going to Scotland and to the Pyrenees shortly.”

My own self-confidence and wellbeing have improved. It has definitely had a positive impact on my physical and mental health

—  Laura Grealish

Hillwalkers Club members, aged from their 20s to their 70s, are from varying backgrounds and nationalities. “Sometimes, we will finish a hike and end up back in Dublin and people will have a few drinks to reflect on the day.” Pub quizzes, bowling, kayaking and climbing events have enabled members to get to know each other better too.

As her fitness improved, Grealish tried running. “I started on this journey of losing weight and feeling better. I thought, ‘Wow, I want to see where I can go with this.’” A couch to 5km programme has led to endurance events.

She has completed the gruelling Art O’Neill Challenge twice. The 60km race leaves Dublin Castle on a January night with competitors navigating through the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains overnight to Glenmalure.

“My own self-confidence and wellbeing have improved. It has definitely had a positive impact on my physical and mental health. During the difficult early days of the pandemic, people reached out to each other. The friendships in the club definitely made that time easier, even when we weren’t able to meet up and hike.”

Grealish runs regularly in the hills now but hillwalking with the club remains her passion. Supported by them to train in mountaineering and navigation skills, she now leads some of the club’s Sunday hikes. She is the one welcoming new members.

“The sense of adventure, the friendships, those shared experiences in the club. It can be a really great day out hiking or a time when we are rained on all day or things didn’t go well, there really is great camaraderie. It’s a lot of fun.”

The importance is the connection. It’s the idea that we relate to each other

—  Dr Claire Crowe

Joining a club and trying something new is valuable to us, says Dr Claire Crowe, member of the Psychological Society of Ireland. “It’s a permission to discover something new about yourself, this reinventing of yourself where you can come and find that connection with other people too.”

We gain most from a club when we feel like we belong, she says. People who have scaled a peak in lashing rain together, mastered a new skill or won or lost together can feel a particular bond.

“If I experience joy or a win as a person, that’s fine but if I see my joy in the eyes of others, it extends that experience of joy for me,” says Crowe. “Similarly, if I see pain in the eyes of others, the dismay or loss, there is a sense of shared experience. It mitigates the extent of the pain because of the togetherness.”

The activity you do together doesn’t have to be hard core or competitive to bring benefits, however. “The importance is the connection. It’s the idea that we relate to each other.”

Where there is an element of risk, like mountaineering or diving, club members depend on each other for safety. “When we need each other, there is high emotional intensity,” says Crowe. “So, our sense of belonging and connection is heightened. If there is an element of risk, it increases the emotional intensity.”

Being part of a club is protective of our mental health too. “The more we can feel we have a whole tapestry to our identity, different threads that come together to define who we are, the more we can tolerate problems in different facets of our life. I’m a soccer player, I’m a runner, if I miss a job promotion or I’m struggling at work, there is something which says, there is another part to me.”

Clubs aren’t just for extroverts. “Sometimes society exaggerates the benefits of extroverts. When we do that as a society, we draw people back from joining things,” says Crowe. “There is real value in someone who is an introvert recognising there is great merit in me joining because I have much to offer.”

Trying something new as an adult can be hard. She advises those tentative to give it a go. “Activation precedes motivation – the motivation to do something comes after you’ve gone in the door. That’s what makes it hard to go in the door.” Asking a friend to join you that first time can help.

Rolling in the deep

Peter Brady’s life changed when he took up diving. Having learned to do it, he and others founded the Dublin-based Kish Sub Aqua Club. He’s now a diving instructor and the club’s training officer.

“My house I bought in 1988 was from somebody I was good friends with in diving. I’m still here. I met my late wife through diving. She was a diver. We just bumped into each other and, slow burn, it just happened.” Their son, Ben (23), is a diver too.

“I don’t think there is any part of my life now that I can say has no connection with diving,” says Brady. “The vibe at Kish is family. The reason you carry on anything is because of the friendships you build up.”

Diving is his passion. “When you get in, it’s that sense of weightlessness. You are leaving everything behind. There are no phones, nobody can contact you, you can switch off. I describe the sea as my church. That’s where I do my praise, my thanks be to God or to whoever is up there.”

A shared activity that has a certain risk tightens the bond. You get the feel for somebody and you only dive to within their limit, not your limit

—  Peter Brady

In the winter, members meet on Sunday mornings. “We go fin-swimming around Dublin. Somebody might read that and think ‘heathens’ but it doesn’t matter,” he says. The summer is dotted with away trips – Donegal, Schull, Inishbofin and further afield. The club’s Instagram account, @kishsubaquaclub, gives a taste of their adventures.

The club runs “try a dive” nights at the Guinness Pool on Watling Street, where the dive-curious can have a go with no commitment. New members are welcome. “You are not left sitting on your own at Kish. I grew up in a small pub so it comes naturally to me but someone can have a bit of social anxiety coming for the first time. You just have to sense where they are coming from,” says Brady.

Good days in the water happen often. “Good visibility is top of the list but I tell people, ‘Don’t go diving with a shopping list,’” says Brady. “Yesterday, I saw one of the biggest lobsters I had ever seen and a conger. Last Sunday, I saw an anemone ingesting a small crab. I had never seen that before. I saw another thing called a nudibranch – they are slugs that look absolutely gorgeous – and I saw one laying its eggs. It really is phenomenal.”

Diving is a shared enterprise at the club. “Post-dive, there is your equipment to wash down, diving cylinders to fill, the boat has to be fuelled up and moored,” says Brady. Everyone mucks in.

Safety and trust are crucial. “A shared activity that has a certain risk tightens the bond,” says Brady. “You get the feel for somebody and you only dive to within their limit, not your limit. My limits don’t matter – it’s their limit that counts.

“If I said the club means everything, it doesn’t overplay it,” says Brady. “When I consider Caroline, my late wife, the work that I do now because of the skills I’ve learned diving. If I looked at my address book, there would only be a handful of people who wouldn’t be associated with diving in some way. You have a network. When Caroline passed, I just knew these people were there for me.”

Row in

Denise McMenamin wasn’t big into Gaelic or soccer growing up. That’s part of what drew her to rowing. It’s what still draws many young people to Inver Rowing Club in Donegal.

“Kids that aren’t fantastic footballers, that aren’t getting the chances within the GAA or in other clubs, they are drawn to rowing because it’s still a club. I find the kids who are flat footed on the field have really strong legs in a boat,” says McMenamin.

She started rowing aged 14. “What I love is just being on the water. On an evening like this evening and you are out in Inver Bay with dolphins dancing around at the front of the boat and the peace, there is just nothing better.”

Rowing was always here. At the end of the fishing season, local men would race punts, that’s how competitive rowing began, says McMenamin. “I grew up sitting on the wall, watching the men training.”

Inver Rowing Club’s 100 members range in age from 11 to 86. In summer, they are on the water most nights. “We are flat to the mat. The conversations in the boat, the fun, the craic, the competition even inside our own club between people – it’s just lovely.”

McMenamin is chair of the club and a coxswain involved in training the next generation. “I just love the children. The way that you can push them and they give you so much. I always say, ‘Just leave your heart in the boat, know when you get out of the boat, you have done your best.’”

For her, the club is a thread of continuity that stretches from her mother’s childhood into the future. Passing her skills to new members is something she treasures.

“I love the idea that in 40 years time, the people we are teaching now, they are going to be the people teaching the next generation. The children getting in the boats, their fathers have rowed and their grandfathers have rowed, their great grandfathers have rowed”

From writing safety statements to servicing equipment and applying for grants, backbone members work hard to keep the club afloat.

Right now is rowing season. “When the weather is good and we have a high tide and we can go out on Inver Bay, the chances of seeing dolphins is quite high. To be out on your boat and to have the dolphins breaking the water beside you, it’s just magical.”

Anyone for cricket?

You’ll find Dave Ramsey at County Kerry Cricket Club most weekends.

“What does the club mean to me? I’ve spent the past 30 years of my life running the damn thing,” says Ramsey.

“You don’t think you’ll be involved in something for so long but I’ve been chairman of the club for 30 years now and it’s a major part of my life. Despite me giving out, I really do love it.”

Ramsey was an accidental founding member. “We were at rugby practice, the last of the season, and one of the guys who was English said, ‘Anyone for cricket?’ Four or five hands went up and that’s how we started,” he recalls.

“I hadn’t played in 25 years – I played at school so I knew I could handle a bat and a ball.”

The night marked a rebirth of the sport in the Kingdom, where it had once been huge. A GAA ban on foreign games had led to its decline, though the ban was less effective in Kerry, says Ramsey.

It’s not Gaelic, it’s a minority sport, but we get by. We’ve survived. It’s great to see it becoming so successful and all the hard work paying off

—  Dave Ramsey

Starting with a makeshift wicket at the rugby grounds, the new club moved to a sports complex in Tralee before landing in the tiny village of Spa in 2016. “I lived beside the rugby club then I moved up beside the sports complex then I moved to the Spa – it’s just pure incredible coincidence that I end up a mile or two away from it all the time,” he jokes.

“I love competing, I’m a big competitor. I don’t like playing friendly cricket. We have the Taverners who play for fun but I find it hard to play for fun, it doesn’t suit me,” says Ramsey. “Covid kind of knocked me a bit. I lost my rhythm so I haven’t played yet this year but I’d be managing and mentoring.”

Membership of the club has waxed and waned over the decades but Ramsey has remained stalwart. He looks after the senior team. They practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There are four games every weekend, two at home and two away.

“Just to see how well it has developed and how well the teams are doing. We are the only club in Munster with a ladies team. We finally got juveniles together and it’s just great to see things progressing.”

The arrival of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshis to the area have raised numbers and standards at the club. “They are terrific. Those guys would be the first and second team players. There are Afghans and South Africans too. Third and fourth are the Irish and English. The Australians come and go. It’s the Asians who put us on the map in terms of being up there.

“I think at last count there were 16 nationalities. It’s absolutely fantastic. We have a massive mix of cultures. It’s fantastically educational.”

Bounded by the Atlantic and with views of the Slieve Mish mountains, visiting teams are blown away by the setting of the Oyster Oval and the food.

Half-time teas are a cricket tradition. “You are out on the field for three hours, you need a bit of nourishment. Players bring enough food for themselves and their opposition. The boys are bringing biryanis, it’s like a dinner at half time,” says Ramsey.

“It’s not Gaelic, it’s a minority sport, but we get by. We’ve survived. It’s great to see it becoming so successful and all the hard work paying off.”

Bowled over

Eva Delaney knew there was a bowling club in her native Crumlin but she didn’t have any connection to it. When her son died suddenly two years ago, she was overcome with grief. Though it was hard to pick up with life again, she felt a draw to the club.

“I was devastated – I’m still devastated – but I kept saying, ‘I must go down, I must go down but I couldn’t pick up the courage,” she recalls. When a book in her home popped open on a picture of a man throwing bowles, it felt like a sign from her son.

On the way back from her weekly shop that day, she made a detour to an open day at Crumlin Bowling Club.

“It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life,” says Delaney. “There were loads of people there. This lady said, ‘Would you like to go out and bowl?’ I had never bowled in my life. Before I knew where I was, I was out on the green throwing a bowl. The shopping was in the car and half of it was defrosted when I came back out.”

It’s such a gorgeous place, you could be anywhere in the world and you are right there in the middle of Crumlin

—  Eva Delaney

Bowling is now a weekly event for her. “I meet the ladies there on a Wednesday and we have what’s called a roll-up – it’s just a game between us to practice. We have a cup of tea or a bit of lunch together. You can walk in on your own and you will never feel on your own,” says Delaney.

She played her first competitive match in June. “I used to see them on television and I thought, ‘How boring is that?’ But it’s absolutely brilliant,” she says. “The idea is to get your ball closest to the jack. My aim is some days good, some days not so good but I enjoy it anyway. I’m much happier in myself. It’s given me new life and new energy.”

There is a friendly Sunday league and the club has quizzes and music nights too.

“I wasn’t really aware the club was there. I didn’t even think of what existed behind the trees. It’s such a gorgeous place, you could be anywhere in the world and you are right there in the middle of Crumlin,” she says.

“I’d say to anyone, ‘Do it.’ Life is for living. I never thought in a million years I’d be out there with a bowl in my hand.”