ALPS: 'You just don't know what people are going through'
4.45am on a Saturday morning early in May, the sun hadn’t peeped out yet for a crowd of hundreds gathered to walk through the village together, just as they were in towns and cities and rural enclaves across Ireland that day.
That was the morning the widespread scale of suffering at the hands of suicide and mental health problems hit Jude Donnelly.
Dylan Craig was Jude’s nephew; his sister Lucy’s only child, who was a father-of-two himself, a partner to Colleen, a beloved son of Lucy, Adrian and step-parents Helene and Derek, and a friend.
He was just 24 when he sadly took his own life in April of this year.
“All the family did the walk and, to be honest, it was uplifting,” says the former Bellaghy player and now Lavey manager.
“It wasn’t until then that I sat down and thought about all the families you saw out doing it. It’s something a lot of people did without having been directly affected by suicide, but there were other local families who had been.
“When you start thinking of different families that have gone through it, that’s when it hit home that suicide has become very common.
“Dylan was a bubbly lad, a great cub. He had two children and a partner, he was a great family man to them. He was into cars, he had friends. It’s just been such a shock.
“Lockdown probably didn’t help Dylan. He enjoyed going out occasionally on a Friday night for a pint or two with his friends.
“Probably this last year he didn’t get to do that with bars not being open, and I think that was a great outlet for him. Now, when I look back, he probably missed that.
“You just don’t know what people are going through. That’s the worst thing for this type of illness, nobody seems to know unless they’re really, really close to somebody.”
The number of deaths by suicide continues to grow. Over 300 people in Northern Ireland took their own life in 2018, 74 per cent of whom were men. Much work is being done to help prevent the rise, but there is more than ever to do.
ALPS was formed in 2017 as its own identity and has gone on to provide support to more than 50,000 people on all things wellbeing, mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
“Alps reached out to us as a family following Dylan's passing and still to this day continue to offer their support to members of our family. Frank [Diamond] and the team have been great, to be honest,” says Donnelly
“The thing about it is, it’s sad, anybody I know that’s been in this situation probably hasn’t talked enough on it. The help’s there we just need to assist people to reach out for it.
“It’s fantastic, that ALPS has now opened a place in Portglenone, a safe space, somewhere that people can go in locally and have a conversation in privacy and without judgement.
“The work they’re doing, Alps and a lot of other charities, is fantastic and much needed especially in so called rural communities like our own.
“It’s just so tragic for the family left behind, they’re always wondering could they have done more. Dylan’s parents did as much as they could have done.
“The devastation that suicide leaves, there’s just that many questions, could you have done this or done that, and you don’t have the answers.
“Dylan was just such a good lad, he would have done anything for you, and I genuinely mean that.”
On Saturday afternoon, ALPS will hold what’s thought to be the first high profile GAA game wholly for the promotion of Mental Health and Suicide Preevention.
Alps Masters, a team comprising a host of legends from around Ulster, will take on the Antrim Masters in Portglenone for a throwback encounter that is sure to entertain.
Jude Donnelly, an Ulster club winner with Bellaghy in 1994, will be on the ALPS side himself for an afternoon that’s designed to entertain but also raise awareness on these very important topics.
The ALPS select, managed by the charity’s COO Frank Diamond alongside former Derry and Bellaghy star Danny Quinn, former Allstar Kevin McCloy and legendary coach Adrian McGuckin, will be a literal who’s who of Ulster football in the last 30 years.
Canavan, Lockhart, Brolly, Coulter, O’Neill, McConville, McGrane, Muldoon, McCusker, McGinley, etc etc. They’re all there and more.
And then there’s Antrim, managed by the great Brian White, and boasting men like Sean McGreevy, Joe Quinn, Kevin Madden, Kevin Brady, Stephen Mulvenna and the rest.
Their joust begins at 5.30pm, but the main event will already be over by then.
The Derry and Antrim GAA For All teams face off at 4.45pm, showing off their own skills on the big stage, something they’ve become accustomed to in what has arguably the most positive of all the advancements made by the GAA in recent years.
Derry’s recently-crowned All-Ireland minor football champions will also be presented to the crowd at Roger Casement’s at half-time in the senior game, with commentary being provided by the inimitable Vincent Donnelly.
Tickets for the game are still available from www.alpsltd.org, and if you are free why not join everyone for what promises to be a spectacular event.
The organisers would ask that all spectators attending respect all Covid-19 protocols at the game and follow all directions asked of you by stewards and officials.
ALPS Masters: Mickey Conlan, Cahair O'Kane, Aidan McLernon, Niall McCusker, Enda Muldoon, Enda McGinley, Karl Diamond, Liam Hinphey, Paul McGrane, Oisin McConville, Seamus Kearney, Joe Diver, Jude Donnelly, Paul McFlynn, Paudie O'Kane, Cathal O'Kane, Peter Canavan, Padrig Kelly, Ciaran Gourley, Sean Marty Lockhart, Stephen O'Neill, Eoghan Woods, Dermot Washington, Benny Coulter, Joe Brolly, Ronan Rocks, Rory Stories O'Connor, Brian Burns, Tommy Dillon