Inspired by his love of small rural communities, County Galway ‘Volunteer of the Year’ John Martin Griffin believes that communities should have more involvement in the provision of services in their localities
With rural Garda Stations facing closure and Post Offices next in line for cuts, the role of community volunteers is growing ever more important.
John Martin Griffin, who was honoured at the recent County Mayor’s Awards for his tireless efforts in his home village of Ballymoe, has been volunteering for as long as he can remember.
He thinks that awards like the County Mayor’s Awards are important, but wants to see volunteers supported on an ongoing basis, rather than just once a year. “Volunteers need a lot of support and encouragement,” he says.
Despite his gratitude at receiving the award, Mr Griffin, who has worked for many years in neighbouring Roscommon as a psychiatric nurse in the field of addiction, says that proper structures need to put in place to empower and support volunteers.
“A lot of people come and they stick it out for a while and they go, because it’s a life of attrition really, volunteerism. It’s very difficult,” he says.
Mr Griffin’s volunteer work in his beloved home village has been as varied as it has been dedicated. As a long-standing member of Ballymoe Community Centre’s committee, he has worked in that capacity for 30 years.
He is also secretary of the Ballymoe Development Company and played a key role in co-ordinating Ballymoe’s twinning with Boystown, Nebraska in the United States.
And he was a driving force in the opening of the Boystown Heritage Store, which aims to bring back old style local shopping to help resist the decline of the small rural community.
Ballymoe’s connection with Boystown stems from Fr Edward Flanagan, a priest from Ballymoe who was renowned for his work with orphaned boys in the United States, and the subject of the Oscar-winning film ‘Boys Town’.
Mr Griffin says he is constantly inspired by the volunteer efforts of Fr Flanagan, and of another famous Ballymoe man, Éamonn Ceannt.
“They were born a century ago. They still leave a legacy of inspiration. They made sacrifices,” he says.
Other fields in which Mr Griffin has volunteered include soccer coaching, giving farm talks, helping with a local writers’ group, computer training and amateur drama, with which he has a particular affinity.
“We founded the Boystown Drama Club and we made sure we had a production every year. It holds people together, it holds their spirit together.”
While he confesses to often being “at loggerheads” with Galway County Council, the County’s Volunteer of the Year says that rural communities need to take a more progressive stance to the provision of services and look at adopting a partnership approach with local authorities.
“I think probably we need a more progressive way of looking at the future; we don’t need to be harping on about the County Council doing everything.”
Complaining, he says, may make some people popular politically, but it is only by taking a proactive approach and seizing control of their destiny, where possible, that rural communities can guarantee their survival. Irish people have in the past, he says, “seen this and much, much worse”.
“I’ve lived here all my life. I love Ballymoe. I love the small rural communities, the small villages. They are the heartland of Ireland and they’ve produced many, many leaders and many great people and I suppose you’d want to make sure that they stay like that.”
Name: John Martin Griffin
Occupation: Community worker and volunteer
Location: Ballymoe, Co. Galway
Newsworthiness: Mr Griffin was named ‘Volunteer of the Year’ at the recent Galway County Mayor’s Awards in recognition of his work in Ballymoe, North Galway.