Elphin's bus is just the ticket

Residents celebrating Edward Harrington’s 96th birthday at the Elphin Centre
Residents celebrating Edward Harrington’s 96th birthday at the Elphin Centre

LIVING in a small, rural community is a real challenge for the elderly at the best of times, but without transport a normal life can become almost impossible.

Isolated from friends, family and the local community many senior citizens suffer terribly from loneliness, and that’s exactly why the new bus at Elphin Day Care Centre in Co Roscommon is still being celebrated a year after its arrival.

“It means absolutely everything to us,” says 80-year-old Mary Lambert, better known locally as Baby.

Baby suffers from arthritis, which makes it difficult to get around, and it was a real struggle for her to visit the popular day centre in the heart of the Elphin community.

The new minibus now calls to Baby’s home, where she lives with daughter Margaret, and brings her to the centre so she can enjoy playing bingo and cards with her pals two or three times a week.

Mary ‘Baby’ Lambert uses the lift to get on the bus with driver Padraig McDermott and day care Centre Manager, Catherine McGrath

“I originally came from County Sligo but I’ve met country people here who I haven’t seen for years and we have the chat and the game of bingo,” Baby says. “And those people would never have got here only for the bus, it’s as simple as that. Only for this bus I don’t know what we’d do, really and truly.

“Padraig McDermott who drives the bus is a great fella. I’ve never seen him do anything only smiling and chatting. For a bachelor lad, he’s mighty with old people!”

The specially adapted minibus is the end result of a successful application for funding from the National Lottery, and as Baby says, it’s a real lifeline for many of the day centre’s clients who live in remote areas.

“We were over the moon when we heard we’d got the funding,” says Centre Manager, Catherine McGrath.

“It’s made a huge difference to the lives of the clients. It’s just a new lease of life for them and it’s opened up opportunities for people to come here that weren’t able to come before.

“It’s a really beautiful bus. We’re using it now for when we go away for a few days and then of course we have it at the hotel where we’re staying so we can go out on day trips.

“When we were over in Westport recently we were able to hop on the bus and head over to Achill Island and to Maam Cross.”

The new bus bought with the National Lottery funding replaced a much older one that had no wheelchair access, meaning some elderly people in the community couldn’t take advantage of the super services provided by Elphin Day Centre.

“It wasn’t just people in wheelchairs who were missing out, there were also people who just couldn’t work the steps on the old bus,” Catherine adds.

A group from the centre are heading out to Longford later this week for a guided tour of the refurbished St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford.

Trips like this are a vital part of the services provided by the day centre, which enable older people around Elphin to continue being a part of the local community.

The centre celebrates its 21st anniversary this year and it’s been a real community effort from the start. Back in 1994 sixty local carpenters, plumbers and builders came together and converted an old school building during a local project that was broadcast on RTÉ’s People in Need Telethon.

Baby Lambert remembers the event well and describes the centre as “the best thing that’s ever happened for old people in Elphin.”

A volunteer works in the poly tunnel. PHOTOS: BRIAN FARRELL

“They had golf clubs here and clubs for this and clubs for that but they had nothing for old people,” she says.

“We were up for the opening and my neighbour asked what did I think of it and I said ‘well, if you go up, I’ll go up’ and I’ve been coming ever since.

“They’ve a mighty staff now but since they opened they’ve always had good staff. They’re all friendly girls. They all get on well with each other and they all get on well with us.

“Some of the people here come in from eight or nine miles away and the bus goes and collects them. I don't know what we’d do without it.

They call down for me as well and I’m nearly last on the bus because I can’t walk very far with the arthritis.

“We get a lovely dinner in the centre at one o’clock. You wouldn’t get it in a hotel now, I can tell you that.”

There’s certainly plenty of care on the menu at Elphin Day Care Centre as well, but Centre Manager Catherine wants to drop the care word from its title.

“We prefer just Elphin Day Centre,” she explains. “It’s more like a social outlet that’s just grown from strength to strength.

 “The social aspect is huge here. It’s not like Dublin or a big town, Elphin is only small and keeping in touch is very important.

“Our numbers are growing. Even in the last two or three months we have probably four or five extra people in. We do meals on wheels as well, which is run by volunteers.

“They come in and take the dinners to people out in the country or even some in the town, people living alone. They’ll even bring them their groceries. If anybody wants something they’ll ring me and we’ll pick it up for them.

“It’s a great contact for people living on their own.”

Staff, volunteers and service users are like one big happy family at Elphin Day Centre. And like all families, they watch out for each


If anybody is showing signs of being unwell or out of sorts, Catherine or one of the staff will have a chat and make an appointment with a nurse or a doctor if necessary.

Clients are greeted in the morning with a cup of tea, or a bowl of soup in the winter, before settling down for a game of bingo or a chat while they wait for dinner.

After dinner there’s more chat, or a card game of 25s, and every now and then there’s a visit from the chiropodist, the physiotherapist or an entertainer to brighten up the afternoon.

The days have a familiar, comforting routine but there’s always something new happening as well.

“We’re running an arts and crafts class at the moment and we did fabric painting last year,” says Catherine. “We’ll always be doing some activity or other. “It’s always busy. We built a new patio out the back last year so we’re developing that now. We have our own poly tunnel and we grow our own vegetables.

“We go on outings when we can. Some people don’t like to go away but the majority of them will come for three of four nights to a hotel.

“They get these over 50s deals and we’ll go off, so the new bus is great for that.

“We always have great craic. We might even have a couple of drinks during the night and a bit of music.”

- By Jack Gleeson



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