The sun that greeted cyclists at St Mel’s College last week was made all the brighter by the sea of orange that invaded the local secondary school.
Joining forces to form an anchor school for the third annual Cycle Against Suicide, the school communities of both Meán Scoil Mhuire and St Mel’s College gave cyclists a warm Longford welcome as they arrived on Thursday evening last.
After enjoying the hospitality of generous locals, participants and organisers gathered again in St Mel’s College, where hundreds of people - students and staff from both schools - lined the avenue of the college, all wearing orange, to give the cyclists an unforgettable send-off on the next leg of their 1,400km journey. Some local students and teachers even joined the event, cycling as far as Killashee with the group.
Once they had left, attention then turned to a programme of events planned by the schools to bring the message of the cycle home.
As the orange-clad crowd gathered in the sports hall, Kat Mahon got proceedings off to a flying start with her performance of a Guns n Roses classic.
As talented students took turns delivering entertaining performances, Chaplain of St Mel’s College, Fr Joe McGrath, enthusiastically kept the event going, encouraging the students to cheer each other on and repeat the cycle’s message that ‘it’s okay not to be okay and it’s absolutely okay to ask for help’.
“Who are we here today?” he asked the packed-out sports hall. “We are Longford Against Suicide!”
Introducing the event’s founder, Jim Breen, Fr McGrath concluded by saying, “he has created a light that shines in the darkness - now it’s our turn’.
Jim started his own speech by getting the students up and dancing, leading a conga line around the floor.
Amazed by the buzz that the event had created in Longford, Jim admitted “this is the first time that for me, I’ve seen that it’s actually taken off”.
Referencing the publicity and excitement generated by the schools, he continued, “it’s become bigger than any of us. It’s more than just Longford against suicide”.
“I had a sense that today would be less about talking the message and more about living the message,” he continued.
Two students then stood alongside Jim, telling him about the Positive Mental Health Weeks held in their respective schools, before a video was shown of the college’s ‘hug a minion’ initiative.
Jim then bravely took some questions from two local students, detailing his reasons for setting up the event and offering advice and personal anecdotes on how people can help themselves and others.
As well as outlining his own training for the cycle, and the run of the route that he completed beforehand, Jim finally explained the effects that the cycle has had on him since it began.
Pointing out that the audience in front of him are the influential generation, the demographic that are most often targeted, Jim said he believed that the students have the power to change the mindsets of the people of Ireland when it comes to mental health. “Above everything else, what Cycle Against Suicide has given me is hope,” he concluded.