There is a remote peninsula on the East coast of Ireland in the Co Louth. Cut off from the rest of the country, surrounded by the Irish sea and majestic mountains of Mourne, this mystical land filled with so many ancient legends is my home and it is called the Cooley peninsula. It is a very special place, as down through the generations, the people living there have always relied heavily on the helping hand of their neighbour for survival. Today, that tradition of helping another is very much alive in this quiet rural area. There is no branch of CASA in Cooley and yet the majority of homes have a ‘CASA Bag’ in their hot press, and the name ‘CASA’ falls easily from their lips. Stephanie and her ‘CASA Van’ is a familiar sight on the winding country roads. Every six months, a local Haulage Company, Hanlon Transport park their 40 ft lorry and trailer at Cooley Parochial Hall on a selected Saturday morning.
Through the kindness of local newspapers and radio, people are invited to come along and donate their unwanted items to the chain of CASA charity shops. The lorry remains at the hall from 8 am to 1 pm, and during those hours, the local people come in their droves to donate. By 1 pm, the heavy doors of the trailer are closed, another full load of donations is got ready to make it’s way to CASA.To an onlooker, this may seem like another lorry load of bags, but to those of us who know, we are very aware that this lorry has a very special cargo, it is filled to the brim with love, caring and sharing.
Every six months this operation is repeated, and for the past six years, the lorry has been filled to capacity. Many volunteers arrive on the morning of the collection to help load the lorry, children come and help wrap delicate items to ensure they will arrive safely in Dublin. An army of young men get out of their beds at 4 am following Sunday morning to travel with the lorry and help off-load it in Dublin. Each one happy to play their part in helping another.
Each time the lorry is loaded, many familiar faces appear. Elderly couples who have witnessed hard times, always seem to search and find a few items to donate. They appreciate the value of their donation. Mothers with car’s filled with children come with the clothes which fit them no more. The children stand on tippy toes, handing over toys which they will play with no more. Their mothers happy that they are discovering at a very early age the most precious lesson of caring.
Ladies come with dresses which have seen many parties and have lived wonderful lives. They hope that their glamorous dresses will go on to enjoy more exciting days. Some sad strained faces appear at the trailer, donating the remnants of lives which now are no more. With heavy hearts, they place the memories of their loved ones into black bin bags, and struggle to find comfort in knowing that they will now live on in the helping hand of another. People travel from the high mountains with perhaps just two donations in a small bag. Others travel from outside the area with cars filled with donations, on hearing the wonderful story of CASA. Cars, vans, tractors, and trailers all come through the wind, rain, or spring sunshine. Each person who comes to the trailer, hands over their bags, and then walks away with their good deed warming their heart with delight.
In these days of recession, our spirits can only be lifted by the story of CASA. These lovely country people will never witness the happy smiling faces of the disabled children as the great aeroplane lifts off the runway as it jets off for Lourdes. They will never meet the Africian mother who struggles in the hot sunshine to carry her disabled little girl to the new CASA Day Centre. They will not speak with the many brave sick people who find so much solace at Our Lady’s grotto. They don’t know the team of wonderful CASA helpers who give so freely of themselves to others. Yet, they continue to reach out, happy to support and share what they have. Delighted to extend the warm hand of friendship to people who need a little extra helping hand. I pray that this wonderful spirit of generosity, this wonderful story of caring and sharing will continue to thrive in this special place called The Cooley Peninsula.