The Smarmore Castle Episode

Two and a half weeks in a 14th century castle in Ireland with excellent food and accommodation, lots of stimulating company, a large pool, sauna and steam room  – what’s not to like?  You are right – nothing at all.

When I was asked to go to Smarmore Castle Private Clinic to provide holiday cover as a therapist, I hesitated at first, largely for personal reasons – Ireland in my youth was a place to get drunk and I had made regular trips for that purpose. How would it seem – to a sober me? 

As I arrived, everyone came running out of the building, (a traditional Irish welcome?  No – just a fire alarm), but I was indeed made very welcome. Manager Nathan Rogerson met me, introduced me to the staff and Anne Marie, finance administrator, kindly took time to show me round.

Smarmore has a maximum capacity of 22 beds at present. Staff are very dedicated and patients are appreciative of the personal attention that they receive. Groups tend to be small but very intense and I was struck by the strong and supportive community feeling. The Twelve Step Recovery programme is operational and very similar to Castle Craig’s – a tribute to much hard work behind the scenes.  

Staff and patients share the dining room so there is a lot of contact. Sometimes in the evening we would relax by discussing diverse subjects such as Irish literature (very wonderful), Irish poetry (beyond very wonderful), Gaelic football (very scary) and astrophysics (beyond your wildest dreams), all hugely entertaining.

The nursing is headed by Stephanie whose ‘slim-gilt soul walks between poetry and passion’ (it shows in the way she does her job), enthusiastically supported by John, Damien and others; Health Care Assistants Mary, Nicky, Debbie and the multi-talented Keith (aka Cqeith), made my life easy (tea, cakes and so much more); my Therapist colleague Patricia went out of her way to guide and support me (thanks Trish – you run a tight group).  Admissions are handled by Marcella with great friendliness and empathy, if my own arrival was anything to go by.  

Apart from group and individual therapy, the programme includes a variety of other activities including equine therapy (much enjoyed), swimming and pilates in the pool, walks and fitness in the gym. In another popular activity, patients each made a collage of their hopes and aspirations for the future, a method of expression that several described as cathartic. Here is an example: 

Apart from the healthcare side, my every need was cheerfully attended to by Breede (Housekeeper), Alan (Head Chef) and Donal (Head of Maintenance and Common Sense). In truth, everyone whom I met could not have been more supportive.

On my first night, members of the local AA group in Ardee came to hold their weekly meeting. Almost a dozen of them came and afterwards the patients spoke appreciatively of their supportive attitude and the effect that this had on them. As in Scotland, patients go out to two fellowship meetings each week.

For outside entertainment, the local attraction is the Jumping Church (don’t ask – it takes too long to explain) at Ballapousta and further afield there are many more (attractions, not jumping churches), with Dublin just 45 minutes away.

And finally, a word on the patients; living in the same building, I got to know them all in a short time. Some were from Ireland, some from England and one from much further. Apart from being uniquely interesting individuals, they collectively displayed huge respect, honesty and openness towards each other, giving their best to this sometimes painful but ultimately rewarding process. I salute you, one and all.

A therapeutic community at work is an impressive sight and I will not forget this one in a hurry. All the very best to everyone. In the words of an old Irish road sign:

Go raibh maith agat agus beannacht – go dtí an gcasfar le chéile sinn arís.  Oibríonn sé más mian leat é a! )

(Thanks and goodbye- until we meet again. It works if you want it to !)