Dundalk Gaol was the setting for the launch of the Harry Taaffe Mental Health and Wellbeing Programme last Thursday evening where a large crowd came out to hear about the new initiative which has been set up by Dundalk FC. The club in association with Fyffes launched the programme in memory of the club’s hugely popular late groundsman and video analyst Harry Taaffe, who tragically passed away by suicide in July 2020.
The programme is being sponsored by Fyffes and will be led by Derek Pepper who has been working in the mental health sector for almost twenty years. Harry’s death sent shockwaves through the club and the wider Dundalk community and the packed audience who were in attendance at Dundalk Gaol for the launch was testament to how well regarded he was in the town.
Members of Harry’s family including his wife Maria and children Shane, Orla and Elaine were all in attendance for the launch as well as former Dundalk FC and current Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny and current Lilywhites boss Stephen O’Donnell. Brian Gartland and John Mountney represented the players who Harry used to look after on nights out where he was affectionately labelled ‘Head of Security’.
Dundalk FC kitman Noel Walsh, who recently completed Dublin City Marathon in memory of Harry while raising €1900 in the process was also in attendance. A number of local politicians including local TD’s Peter Fitzpatrick and Ruairí O’Murchú were in attendance as well as representatives from Dundalk Counselling Centre, Head in the Game, Women’s Aid and Turas. Emma Hunt Duffy and Gerry Cunningham from Fyffes were also in attendance as main supporters of the initiative. The programme’s co-ordinator Derek Pepper spoke brilliantly on the night as he explained what the new initiative was aiming to achieve.
“The programme is designed to educate and increase awareness about mental health and thanks to Dundalk FC and Fyffes we now have a hub in the community where we can go and speak to somebody. We will also be running programmes within the club and for the employees in Fyffes to help them recognise signs that people may be struggling and give them the tools to try and help anybody they think may be struggling.
“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,” stated Derek.
Stephen Kenny also spoke on the night and talked about the huge impact Harry had in helping Dundalk FC enjoy such a successful spell during his tenure at the club between 2012 and 2018.
“Harry was always a champion for the underdog and whether it was the water rates, Louth hospital or homelessness he was always protesting about something. Sometimes I perhaps protested over the amount of time he was protesting but he was a real lover of his community and he loved to help people. Harry didn’t go to university but he was such a smart smart fella. He was doing complex video analysis stuff for the club way before it became popular and he took it upon himself to learn how to do it properly and find out what software he needed and all that. When I first came to Dundalk my family were in Donegal and I would spend many evenings in Harry’s house watching back games. Sometimes I’d fall asleep on his couch only to be woken up by Harry about 2 or 3 in the morning.
“He was our unofficial head of security and his job was to mind the players whenever they were out having a drink and make sure they didn’t get into trouble. He was a great man for getting stuff done and he used to amaze me with the ability he had to source equipment and fix what needed fixing,” remarked the Republic of Ireland boss.
“When I first arrived in Oriel Park in 2012, 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.
“I couldn’t believe it. “Who has all that sort of equipment lying around? Anyway, myself, Ciaran Bond and Andy Connolly ended up getting permission from the Grammar school to use their field beside Oriel Park and Harry got it in great condition for us.
“It’s hard to quantify just how much he did for us but he was immense and there would have been none of the success we had if it weren’t for him. He did so much for so many people and we should fondly remember him.” concluded Stephen.