KARA turns retirement into age of opportunity in Galway

`Older people are not prepared to sit by the fire any more doing their knitting

`Older people are not prepared to sit by the fire any more doing their knitting. We want to be as well as we can for as long as we can and to be seen as a resource rather than a problem in society."

These are the words of Billy Pope, one of the main movers behind the active retirement movement in Galway, which has taken on a life of its own since the city's first active retirement association (KARA) was set up in the rapidly growing suburb of Knocknacarra in 1996.

Today many of the city's over-55s are leading busier social lives than many twentysomethings. Bowling, swimming, art, drama, creative writing, computer classes and day trips are only some of the activities crammed into the average week.

KARA has helped in the formation of active retirement associations (ARAs) all over Galway, in Renmore, Salthill, the city centre and Monivea, which have a combined membership of over 500, and growing.


The Western Regional Council, which co-ordinates the work of ARAs, has appointed Ann Goodwin as a development officer to help set up further associations in urban and rural districts in the west of Ireland. Anybody interested in establishing a group in their area can contact Ann at 091-592780.

According to the KARA chairman, Billy Pope, "Some people like to be alone but no one likes to be lonely. Many individuals in modern society suffer from loneliness, and older people are particularly vulnerable." He says that even if older persons are not lonely as such they will often not be fulfilling their potential for participation. "The active retirement movement is a direct contribution to the enrichment on a self-help basis of the lives of members," says Billy. "The movement represents an important health promotion service."

Many over-55s feel threatened by the rapidly changing technology, and so computer training was identified as a need by KARA. With funding from the Galway City VEC and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs they set up a computer training school run for and by older people in a city-centre premises provided by the St Vincent de Paul.

Members are also taking part in an innovative inter-generational programme with 25 transition-year students in the Presentation Secondary School.

Through the exchange of ideas, experience and skills it is hoped this study, which contrasts the lifestyles of "then" and "now", will lead to a greater understanding between the generations.

The Adult Education Officer at NUI Galway, Mary Surlis, says: "This cross-generational programme is the only one in the country that brings older people into the school. It has been a major success due to the commitment, enthusiasm and amount of giving that these people do to promote the idea of ageing with dignity."

Eithne Carey, from Renmore, helped to start the Renmore ARA two years ago, and her very active association boasts 160 members, who walk together, play bridge, go to indoor bowling two mornings a week, hold music appreciation classes and join KARA for creative writing.

"Last year we invited 50 older people from Omagh to join us and put them up in our homes for four days. They met the mayor and we took them to Connemara and had a party for them on the last night. We still have a lot of contact with them, and a busload of us went to be with them in Omagh for the first anniversary of the bombing. It was the only positive thing we could think of to do for them," she says.

When KARA became so successful that it outgrew its meeting rooms at the local church, Con Crowley set up the Salthill ARA to accommodate the growing number of members from that area, and his group now has 150 members.

Frank Corliss retired to Galway from the US, leaving his children and grandchildren behind, but since he joined KARA he hasn't had time to be lonely as he is "up to my eyeballs in all sorts of things" from supervising the computer room and creative writing to planning trips away.

Since she joined KARA last year, Nora Carroll, a widow, has had a new lease of life: "It has been so life-giving. The energy in the group is inspirational.

"There is such a variety of interests laid before you and it's a question of what you want to choose. It can be very hard to restart a social life as a widow, but this is a very comfortable and safe place to be and I am making new friends."

Michelle McDonagh

Michelle McDonagh

Michelle McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family