To The Community Of North Louth

A Chairde,

Words are really inadequate to try and express our deepest appreciation and heartfelt thanks to all of you - the exceptional people of North Louth who have supported us over the past 20 years. The story of “The Birches” began in a sitting room in the Redemptorist Monastery where a group of people met to support each other as they cared for their loved ones with dementia. From within that group a very unique lady -Kitty Soraghan formed the North Louth Branch of The Alzheimer Society of Ireland and undaunted succeeded in getting a group of fundraisers to build a day centre for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

It was with great joy that those very determined and dedicated voluntary group saw their dream come true when on June 1st 2000 Minister Dermot Ahern opened “The Birches” Alzheimer Day Centre. Our Nurse Manager Olive Joyce commenced the 18th June and prepared the centre for our first Club Members on July 2nd 2000. Little did any one of us think that 20 years later we would still be here helping and caring for those who cannot remember. YOU the wonderful people of North Louth built “The Birches” and you have sustained and supported us throughout those 20 years with extraordinary generosity. “The Birches” is only a red bricked building at the back of the Louth Hospital on Priorland Road. But inside that building its essence contains the stories of all our families who have stepped over the threshold and allowed us the privilege of accompanying them on the journey called dementia. “The Birches” is a credit to our local community -a community supporting its own community and it is a great tribute to everyone who inspired us to keep going over the 20 years despite many bumps on the road. It demonstrates the love and value we place on the most important people in our lives-our fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters and friends.

As we travel down memory lane we remember the many people we met and friends we made as funds were raised (I know the danger of naming names) so will roll the drums for some of the numerous functions and ideas that emerged over the years -the Race and Casino Nights, Christmas Cards , Mini Marathons, Tea Days, Coffee Days and Cake Sales, Golf Classics, The Rotary and Lions Clubs input, Sisters of Mercy, Vintage Days, Ravensdale Market, Bridge Clubs, Auctions, The ICA, Quizzes’, Concerts, Line Dancing, Christmas Hampers, Hair Shaving Pop-up Shops to name but a few of the many fundraising events. For all who donated and fundraised in any way we owe you a deep debt of gratitude. It is important to reassure all of you that all funds raised locally stay locally and that all the branch members work in a totally voluntary capacity.

Our local papers -The Argus, The Democrat and Leader never failed or fail to support us and to promote our lovely day centre as did the radio stations -LMFM and our beloved Dundalk FM. The latter gave and give us a slot for every event helping us to advocate for funds and send out our many messages of caring. Over the years we have renovated and upgraded “The Birches” and the gardens. We now have an outreach in Cooley where Anne Carroll and her top team of bread and cake bakers, jam makers and all the community rally to ensure a very successful fundraising event each Christmas. The Christmas Cooley Market is an amazing event and each year we enjoy meeting up with Father Malachy and all the wonderful Cooley community who are also to the fore in supporting families in the Peninsula.

We have had and continue to have unbelievable support from Mary Deery and her groups in the council and from the HSE past and present who from day one gave us their support and encouragement with our caring. We work in great harmony with Louth Age Action, The DKIT, the Memory Café and the many agencies and services which have expanded over the years. We remember our local businesses who have donated much needed funds and sponsored events supporting us with their ongoing kindness. During the tough times when obstacles appeared in our path, we were blessed to have the input from our local politicians and councillors but especially Peter Fitzpatrick and Fergus O Dowd who stood with us and opened the necessary doors to enable us continue our journey. Our Support Group are friends helping friends the first Tuesday of each month and they have become superb advocates over the years. If “The Birches “could talk it would say -Life experience is shared with laughter. song and living in the moment which is unique to each person -and you are not alone.

Music is the backbone of our centre and Musical Groups and singers gladly give of their time to ensure joy reigns supreme in our beloved Club Members day with Art and alternative therapies also being an important part of their lives. Our Club Members have been blessed to have the Redemptorists as our friends and our very special Chaplain Father Padraig gives them love and spiritual comfort on a very regular basis. Dom Mark -Ephrem the Abbot of the Holy Cross Benedictine Abbey in Rostrevor has befriended our Club Members and they have found peace and friendship on their visits to the Abbey.

We remember all of our dear friends who were instrumental in the early years guiding and supporting the branch as officers and members who now watch over and guide us from their heavenly home. To the many who willingly gave and give of their expertise and time as branch officers and members our deepest gratitude. It is a great relief to see the many new faces under the baton of Gerry Murphy our Chairperson around the table at our branch meetings who are willing to travel the road into the future to ensure our very dearly loved “Birches “will continue to give care for your loved ones in the community. Still sitting with comfort at the present branch table are the Stallworth’s Brian Murphy and Sean Lawless- two of the original fundraisers watching over and befriending all of us with their solid wisdom. Brian and Sean keep in touch with the inspirational and original fundraising friends ensuring that their wonderful contribution to “The Birches “is not forgotten.

We have been blessed over the 20 years with our Nurse Manager Olive and her excellent staff of carers who give and have given unconditional love to each Club member and their families over the 20 years. They are the “The Birches” and we all become part of that family once you enter the building and remain so until you decide to leave. We hope they all know how appreciated they are by us the branch members and by you the community. Our door remains open and the light still shines brightly to provide a place of welcome for all those amongst us facing the challenges of dementia. I renew our profound thanks to each person who in any way has supported us over the 20 years and our wish is that each of you may receive many blessings in your daily lives and that you may have good health and stay safe during these extraordinary times.

The invitation of a loved one with dementia sums up our mission—which is to do our very best for all those in our care

“Walk a while with me my friends
Walk with me today
Come and see what I see and listen to what I say”

Mary Gaughran (Branch Member)
on behalf of all the branch members past and present.