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Social club fights isolation with sticks but no stones

A COMMUNITY group has turned to the shillelagh in a bid to tackle social isolation and improve fitness levels among older men.

Members of the Shandon Shillelagh Social Club in Cork practise a form of non-combative martial arts using the iconic blackthorn stick.

Instructor Martin Forrest's programme combines elements of tai chi and Pilates and involves the use of the shillelagh for self-defence.

"It's not about fighting. It's about self-defence, personal safety, mobility and wellness," he said. "It gives the men confidence to know they can protect themselves. Above all it's fun. It's creating a space where people can talk together."

The club, which is the only one of its kind in the country, came into being as part of a range of activities for a local men's group, set up to tackle social isolation in the community.

They train weekly at Eason's Hill Community Centre in Cork city.

Next year, the men will take part in a St Patrick's Day event in London, hosted by the Irish Cultural Centre, and they hope to perform in Limerick during the summer as part of The Gathering 2013.

"It's great for the men – both for their physical and mental well-being," said community health worker Martin Aherne, who founded the group as part of a HSE/Health Action Zone (HAZ) initiative.

Michael O'Brien from Gerald Griffin Street, Cork, said: "It's an outlet. It's occupying the mind rather than sitting in front of the TV."

Mr O'Brien occasionally brings his grandchildren Dean (10) and Tyrese (5) along.

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John Thompson from Farranree, Cork, likes the self-defence element.

"It gives you more confidence. You hit them (an assailant) three or four fast strikes and then leg it if you can."

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