The wonderful setting of Dundalk Gaol was the venue for the official launch of the Harry Taaffe Mental Health & Wellbeing Programme on Thursday night.

The initiative was set up in memory of the club’s late groundsman and videographer, Harry Taaffe, who tragically passed away by suicide in July 2020.

The programme, which is designed to educate and increase awareness about mental health, is proudly supported by Fyffes and will be coordinated by local man Derek Pepper, who has been working in the mental health sector for almost 20 years.

Members of the Taaffe family were joined by a number of invited guests including former Dundalk FC, and the current Republic of Ireland manager, Stephen Kenny, Lilywhites head coach Stephen O’Donnell, players John Mountney, Brian Gartland and kitman Noel Walsh.

Representatives from Dundalk Counselling Centre, Head In The Game, Women’s Aid and Turas were present to showcase their services while a number of local councillors and politicians were also on hand to show their support for the programme.

Maria, Elaine, Shane and Orla Taaffe, pictured with Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny and Dundalk FC head coach Stephen O’Donnell at the launch of the Harry Taaffe Mental Health & Wellbeing Programme. Photo by Ciaran Culligan

Speaking on behalf of the Taaffe family, Harry’s son, Shane Taaffe, said: “It’s an honour to be associated with such a great cause. If it can help one family, and stop them from having to go through what we went through and get people the support that we didn’t get, then it will have been worth it.”

In his address, Dundalk FC chief operating officer Martin Connolly said that the programme was an important step in the club’s aim to strengthen its links with the community.

“Communities are made up of a range of organisations, groups and services, each of which may provide the potential for delivering mental health promotion across a wide range of population groups and settings.

“A community perspective recognises the important role that various organisations outside of the health sector can play in promoting positive mental health. We very much hope that through our profile within our community, we can get people talking about their mental health.”

Connolly also paid tribute to Harry, saying that his contribution off the field was paramount to the club’s success on the field over the past decade.

“When Harry passed away from suicide, a little piece of Oriel folklore died with him,” he said. “A person who had played such a huge part in our incredible story was gone.

John Mountney, Brian Gartland, Stephen Kenny and Stephen O’Donnell, pictured with Gerry Cunningham and Emma Hunt-Duffy from Fyffes at the launch of the Harry Taaffe Mental Health & Wellbeing Programme. Photo by Ciaran Culligan

“Not a player, a manager, or a coach, but a person who had given every bit of himself to make our team, our club and our town just a little bit better.

“We want to welcome Maria, Orla, Shane, Elaine and Harry’s extended family here tonight. Like them, we continue to mourn his loss, but hopefully, this will help us celebrate his memory.”

One of the pillars of the programme is the Community Recovery Trust which will provide opportunities for individuals to apply for funding that will enable them to participate in an activity that will enhance their mental health.

“Fyffes have always endeavoured to stay true to our roots and support the communities in which we live and work so when Martin approached us to support the new mental health and wellbeing programme, we knew immediately that this was the right thing to do,” said Emma Hunt-Duffy, the head of marketing at Fyffes.

“We’re really excited to get the Community Recovery Trust underway so that we can start to make a real impact for those who need it most.

“It’s often the small things that can make a big difference – something to look forward to and keep hope alive – so we will work with Martin, Derek and the team to choose the most meaningful ways of dividing out the funds.”

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny and Dundalk FC head coach Stephen O’Donnell at the launch of the Harry Taaffe Mental Health & Wellbeing Programme. Photo by Ciaran Culligan

Plans are also in the pipeline for staff from Dundalk FC and Fyffes to take part in a safeTALK workshop, the HSE’s internationally recognised programme that shows participants how to identify and engage with people who may be having thoughts of suicide.

The courses will be delivered by Derek Pepper who gave a powerful speech on mental health and suicide.

“We always hear about the people who died by suicide but what we don’t always hear about is the people who were thinking about suicide but didn’t follow through on it. I get to meet those people every day. The reason they didn’t follow through on it is that somebody met them on the street, met them at work, or went for a coffee.

“I see examples every day. I was at the match with Bohemians last week and I saw a young lad getting his picture taken with Sam Bone. He had ‘Bone’ on the back of his jersey and the euphoria on his face when he had the picture taken, and the euphoria on his father’s face when he went back to him; it was shared between the two of them.

“Moments like that save the lives of people who are thinking about suicide; the simple everyday things we do for one another can help people. With this programme, we hope to advance that.”

The final speaker of the night was Stephen Kenny, who delivered a poignant speech in tribute to his old friend.

“Harry was a lover of his community,” said Kenny. “One of the things about him was that he was the champion of the underdog. He was always protesting about something!

“Whether it was water rates, the closing of the Louth Hospital or homelessness, he was there for everyone who needed him. That’s who Harry was.”

The national team manager also recounted a number of amusing tales, including the story of how Harry became the club’s head groundsman.

“When I came to Oriel in 2013, we were looking for a grass pitch to train on and I was having a bit of difficulty finding one. One day, Harry just turned to me and said: ‘I have a roller, I have all the stuff we need, I can do it.

“My answer was: ‘What?’ laughed Kenny. “Like, who has all that sort of equipment lying around? Anyway, we got the Grammar School pitch and he worked long hours to get it right for us to train on.

“Harry created it and without all of that, there would have been none of the success we had. He did so much for so many people and we should fondly remember him.”

MC for the evening Michael Duffy brought the event to a close with a round of applause for Dundalk FC kitman Noel Walsh who ran the Dublin City Marathon last week and raised a whopping €1,900 for the programme through a GoFundMe campaign.