A series from Golf Ireland bringing you the stories from some of the most interesting golfers and personalities across golf in Ireland.

Words by Darragh Small 

Listening to the advice from a former secondary school teacher with decades of experience, she can solve the conundrum much more easily than others – to succeed with children all you need is organisation and then let them have their own fun.

You cannot really argue with the logic put forward by Mary Farrell, who retired from teaching at St Mary’s Edenderry in 2016, took a year out and then devoted all of her time as a volunteer to the nearby Edenderry Golf Club.

Unsurprisingly, her knowledge and expertise has been invaluable there too, and their youth section has been transformed.

“I did years and years of extra-curricular coaching of basketball with kids in the school so I wasn’t a complete novice when it came to children in sport,” said Farrell.

“When I retired I saw the kids going around, they weren’t organised within the club and they had no central focus. I just got up and so many people followed. It was unbelievable, I am astounded with the amount of people that pop up every summer to do their bit.

“And we all have great craic afterwards, the chit chat.”

Golf4All programme

Farrell is part of a strong team of volunteers in Edenderry, where together with club professional Ken O’Brien and her husband Kevin Farrell, they place a particular focus on the next generation filtering through.

Their Golf4All programme was due to begin just before the pandemic struck. And whilst that delayed the start date, they had the right volunteers behind the scenes to ensure it did take place.

“We were aware that there were some groups in the town that worked with football and autistic children,” said Farrell.

“I approached one of our members who had a child in the group and he put me in touch with the leader of the football. He set up a WhatsApp group for me and I started off with the parents to see if anyone would be interested.

“I thought golf would be something that would suit them and got a good response. We have been going almost every week since while we take little breaks for the winter months.”

Golf Ireland Academy

The Golf4All programme has resumed again for 2024, with demand as high as ever while Farrell has worked hard to allow everyone to get the same opportunity.

Along with O’Brien, she attended a Golf Ireland workshop at the Golf Ireland Academy where she was upskilled in relation to introducing people with additional needs to golf.

One of the modules involved people with visual impairments and luckily Farrell was on hand to provide her guidance when Edenderry welcomed their latest batch of young golfers.

“The fact I was a teacher means I have contacts with the schools in the town,” said Farrell.

“I met one of the teachers one day and said would you like to bring your Special Needs group out here. He said yeah that’s great because we are just finishing our swimming programme.

“On the second week this visually impaired child arrived with the SNA. I had only been to a programme with Sarah Banville and Golf Ireland. We did actual examples of this child has this or this person has this, what are you going to teach them?

“One of the lessons was this person is blind what are you going to teach them? She gave a few little examples. I said to the SNA don’t you worry I have been to an extensive course, I know what I am doing. I took the child away to the side and Ken took the rest of the kids.”

They went to the chipping green where they went through a few games, Farrell went through the routine, she showed the golfer where the ball was, where the club was and then how to swing it.

Once she put the club to the ball he never missed it, he was swinging gently at first but she asked him gradually to swing harder. They stepped out how far the ball had gone and she would tell him how far the ball went after he hit it.

Then at the end of the session, O’Brien provided a new challenge for the entire group to see who could get closest to the flag. All the other children took their shots and some hit the green while some didn’t. Farrell lined up her golfer, he took aim after he counted out the space and hit it – he nearly hit the flag.

“Everyone erupted into cheers and I was nearly crying,” said Farrell.

“I couldn’t believe he did that after one session. It just gave me such a buzz and I was going around the clubhouse for the next three weeks saying wait until I tell you what happened.

“That that could be done, to see it happening, that gave me a personal buzz. It was better than winning the lotto.”

Leinster Club Volunteer of the Year

Farrell has held every position within the club from handicapping secretary to women’s captain and president but some of her fondest memories came while she was club secretary. It was a time when Edenderry Golf Club were taking back control of their club.

“It's great to have the club back,” said Farrell.

“We are finished, we have all our deals now, we have our finances in order. I was club secretary throughout the process. I wasn’t the financier, I didn’t know anything about doing deals.

“I was doing the paperwork in the background whenever I was asked to do it. It was fantastic to see the turnaround in the club. I do a lot of voluntary work within the club and to see the clubhouse being repaired and fixed, and new fixtures being put into it, it was just fantastic.”

Farrell was recognised by her club this year when they put her forward for the Leinster Club Volunteer of the Year, she picked up that award at the regional AGM.

And this week she will bid to become the second Golf Ireland Club Volunteer of the Year award winner.

“You are sitting there and not expecting it,” said Farrell.

“You meet so many other people who are doing huge amounts of work as well, even the day of the award, the AGM. I went up and met so many Golf Ireland people. It was only then I realised they are all volunteers as well.

“They are putting in hours and hours of thankless work, that nobody even knows is going on in the background. No sport in this country would survive without volunteers. 

“To win the national prize would be a little icing on the cake. It is the pleasure of getting it, it would be unbelievable really.”

A Slice of Life: Mildred Hodgett talks Banbridge and Ulster awards >