Following the Volunteer Ireland Awards ceremony on 2 December 2022, we’re delighted to announce that Gwen Maher has been named Ireland’s Volunteer of the Year! Gwen has devoted over eight years to volunteering with Cumann Báire Setanta GAA Club in Ballymun, Dublin.
Gwen’s passion for supporting young people’s development on and off the pitch shines through in the numerous ways she supports Cumann Báire Setanta. As well as being a mentor, coach, member of the club executive, referee coordinator, GAA camp coordinator, and event planner, Gwen also supports the development of young players off the pitch, finding ways to include them in the community and develop their life skills.
Gwen is credited with keeping young people in Ballymun engaged in sports and connected to their community, and increasing by 50% the number of girls who continue to be involved in the GAA club.
Gwen’s friends at Cumann Báire Setanta praise her helpful, caring, and resourceful nature, which they say shine through in everything she does.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d be on stage accepting an award for doing something I love,” Gwen told the audience when accepting her award. She took the opportunity to urge parents to volunteer with their local sports clubs as a way to connect with and uplift their children.
Other winners on the night included Edel Finn from Dublin, who spent this year sourcing and distributing Ukrainian children’s books to displaced Ukrainian children in Ireland; Ini Usanga, founder of Love and Care for People, a Cork-based charity that supports victims of abuse; and Connemara man Bertie O’hAinmhire, a human rights activist with Trócaire and the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The Volunteer Ireland Awards are the national awards for volunteering in Ireland and celebrate ordinary people doing extraordinary things in our communities every day. 11 category winners and the overall Volunteer of the Year were named at an awards ceremony in the Carlton Hotel Blanchardstown, Dublin on Friday 2nd December. The awards are supported by the Department of Rural and Community Development and Healthy Ireland.
Arts, Culture & Festivals
Veronica Kelly and Sarah Wood, Leitrim Pride, Leitrim
Veronica and Sarah volunteer with Leitrim Pride and were pivotal in making Leitrim’s first-ever Pride parade happen earlier this year. Sarah coordinated with the Gardaí, County Council, and Leitrim Volunteer Centre, and took care of risk assessments and formal applications to all statutory bodies. Veronica organised community engagement with Tidy Towns and other local businesses and groups, drumming up huge support for Pride throughout Leitrim.
Campaigning & Activism
Bertie O’hAinmhire, Trócaire, Galway
Bertie O’hAinmhire is a campaigns and activism volunteer for Trócaire, an activist for the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), and a member of the board of Sadaka. He contacts local TDs and ministers on Trócaire’s campaigns and Palestinian issues on behalf of Sadaka. He has been involved in Trócaire’s work in schools as well and has introduced Trócaire to the Gaeltacht by translating its materials into Irish.
Children & Youth
Edel Finn, Books for Ukrainian Children in Ireland, Dublin
As the war in Ukraine unfolded and Ireland started welcoming displaced Ukrainians, Edel Finn was inspired to start the Books for Ukrainian Children in Ireland fundraiser. Edel has dedicated her time this year to fundraising for, sourcing, and distributing children’s books to Ukrainian children in Ireland. The project aims not only to provide Ukrainian children with books in their native language but also to support the publishing industry in Ukraine and the survival of Ukrainian culture.
Environmental & Animal Care
Carmel Rooney, The Cat and Dog Protection Association of Ireland, Meath
Carmel Rooney has been volunteering with the Cat and Dog Protection Association of Ireland (CDPA) for five years. She currently volunteers as Chairperson and Rescue Team Lead. As Chairperson, Carmel manages the finances, administration, and day-to-day running of CDPA. As Rescue Team Lead, she is responsible for coordinating and facilitating CDPA’s trap-neuter-return and rescue programmes. Carmel often deals with difficult situations related to animal neglect. She houses cats in her own home when they are first rescued and is known for being the first to roll up her sleeves and help a kitten in need.
Health & Wellbeing
Teresa Condron, Rossinver Calling, Leitrim
Teresa Condron has been a phone volunteer with Rossinver Calling for three years. Rossinver Calling is a phone service for older and vulnerable people. It is Teresa’s duty to call all the people on her list, check in with them, and have a chat. During the pandemic, Teresa helped those who were socially isolated and cocooning. She visited clients and chatted with them through windows. She also helped with delivering any items they needed, such as medicines and food. She gave people hope and companionship during a very lonely time.
Safety & Emergency Services
Karen Smyth, Louth and East Meath Defibrillator Unit & Cú Chulainn Blood Bikes, Louth
Karen Smyth has been volunteering with Louth and East Meath Defibrillator Unit since 2012 and is instrumental in the daily running of the unit. Over the years, the group has fundraised to install over 25 life-saving defibrillators in communities, with Karen out collecting funds, no matter the weather. Karen attends schools every year to train students in defibrillator use and CPR. To date, Karen has delivered free training to over 6,000 students and members of the public.
Social Inclusion & Community Support
Ini Usanga, Love and Care for People, Cork
Ini Usanga is the founder of Love and Care for People (LCP) – a national charity based in Cork. The charity provides services to support women and young people, especially victims of abuse; those living in hardship; those who are socially excluded; and those with fewer opportunities. LCP’s services include a domestic violence training programme, parenting courses, a youth development programme, computer classes, cookery classes, English classes, employment and education support, counselling, and more. Ini has supported over 500 young people of migrant heritage in Ireland, encouraging them to stay in school, further their education, and keep out of street/gang violence.
Sports & Recreation
Pat Hayes, Clonmel Town FC, Tipperary
Pat joined Clonmel Town Football Club over 15 years ago to help train/coach the schoolboys. In 2014, Pat took on the role of Chairman of the Schoolboys section, quickly establishing the Junior Academy and was instrumental in introducing schoolgirls teams. In 2022 a total of 515 boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 16 were actively playing soccer with Clonmel Town.
Carmel Murray, Irish Cancer Society, Dublin
As the Irish Cancer Society’s ‘Relay For Life’ Fundraiser, Carmel Murray supported Relay For Life volunteers across the country, even during her own cancer experience. Relay For Life is a community event that celebrates those who have survived cancer, remembers loved ones lost to cancer, and invites the community to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those experiencing cancer. Carmel passed away earlier this year and was nominated posthumously by her colleagues at the Irish Cancer Society.
Outstanding Small Group (3 – 20 people)
Steering Committee – Clonmany Mental Health Association, Donegal
Clonmany Mental Health Association in Co. Donegal provides a safe, affordable complex where older people can live while being treated with dignity and respect, in St. Columbcille Village. The Clonmany Mental Health Association is a voluntary group of people who saw a need in the community for a day centre for elderly people to attend. Over time, St Columbcille Village has extended to also include housing for 34 residents. It currently provides day services to a further 15+ people. The complex is one-of-a-kind in Ireland and is unique in being non-profit and run by volunteers.
Outstanding Large Group (20+ people)
Volunteer Driver Service – Irish Cancer Society, Nationwide
The Irish Cancer Society’s Volunteer Driver Service has been in operation since 2008. It offers a chemotherapy transport service to cancer patients attending public hospitals throughout the Republic of Ireland. The service is delivered by a network of volunteer drivers across the country. Volunteers collect patients from their homes, drive them to the hospital, and then bring them home safely after treatment.