Well-known Irish men give their thoughts on what it means to be a man

On International Men’s Day, Donal O’Keeffe asked some well-known Irish men for their thoughts on what it means to be a man, and what they’d tell their younger selves about masculinity

Well-known Irish men give their thoughts on what it means to be a man

On International Men’s Day, Donal O’Keeffe asked some well-known Irish men for their thoughts on what it means to be a man, and what they’d tell their younger selves about masculinity

President Michael D Higgins

Since 2015, I have been, at the request of the UN under-secretary general, and executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, one of the Champion World Leaders of the “HeforShe” campaign. This global campaign has the engagement of men and boys at its core, seeking to bring one half of humanity together in support of the other half of our human family.

Sabina and I are also supporters of the “Man Up” movement, which promotes the role men can play in ending domestic violence. Gender should never be an obstacle.

If we wish to achieve the immense potential of Ireland and all our people, we need to address — and remove — the barriers that people experience when seeking to achieve full participation in the decision-making processes that affect their lives.

We must engage institutions and organisations that are in a position to influence change within communities, and focus on those settings where women are most vulnerable to gender inequality and discrimination.

The change we are looking for cannot be achieved simply by laws, policies or funding; Social change is necessary, as well as a change in consciousness. We must learn to respect and be comfortable with diversity.

One step in achieving that change is the building of an environment where men feel comfortable, and empowered, to identify themselves as feminists and as champions of women’s rights.

I would say to young men — and to men of all ages — that your assistance, your new thinking and your actions are all necessary if we are to join with the more than 50 per cent of humanity who are being excluded from their full rights.

We are all social beings. We achieve fulfilment through each other. We depend on each other and we thrive on a sense of solidarity with others.

As a nation, and as communities, we are at our best when we share not only our successes but also our vulnerabilities. It is by being open to our differences and by supporting others in overcoming their vulnerabilities that we can build a true Republic of real equality.

Martin Collins

I wish that when I was 16 or 17 I had the confidence and the pride in my own Traveller identity I have now.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t aware of the concept of toxic masculinity, even though I was in an environment where anyone who was perceived as less than masculine was ostracised. That has changed a lot in recent years thanks to the work of Traveller groups, and there’s recognition now that toxic masculinity is not only damaging to women, but it’s also very, very bad for men, too.

Martin Collins is co-founder of Pavee Point.

David McCullagh

Advice to my younger self: Tou think you’re indestructible, but you’re not; you think you have to do it all on your own, but you don’t; you think you’ll never figure it out, but you will; you think you’ll never feel like a real grown-up, but — well actually, you’re right about that.

Also, those things your Dad is banging on about — turns out he’s right about some of them. And some day, a teenager will be throwing their eyes up to heaven at what you say. This is called karma, and in your case, it is richly deserved.

David McCullagh co-presents ‘Prime Time’ on RTÉ1. The second volume of his de Valera biography, ‘Rule 1932-1975’, is in bookshops now.

Panti Bliss

On manhood, masculinity, and advice to my younger self: Kindness is an underrated virtue.

Panti Bliss is the drag queen alter-ego of gay rights activist Rory O’Neill.

Pat Shortt

When asked what my thoughts are on being a man, I really had to think because all I have ever been is a man. I have nothing to compare it with. Then I look at how masculinity has evolved, and being in the comedy/television world, I think an interesting place to look is the English sitcom. People may remember On the Busses and Benny Hill and the various ‘Carry On’ movies. That sort of bawdy attitude toward women is not acceptable anymore, and we are all the better for that.

I would like to think that in general men are better educated in these areas now, and appreciate that this type of behaviour is not funny or acceptable. The more modern That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch — “Bawdy 1970s Hospital” — shows up how awful and daft that era was.

What advice would I offer my younger self? Well, health and wellbeing are very important. That can take shape in various simple ways such as getting out for a walk more often and spending more time with the family, and slowing down.

Being young, invariably you are inclined to do everything and take on every job on offer. I was once told by an older entertainer to pass up on work and enjoy life more. Of course I didn’t and I was wrong and he was right. Simple advice, but isn’t the best always simple?

Pat Shortt’s new show “Hey!” is in the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, 10, 11 and 12 January, INEC Killarney Friday 1 February and Cork Opera House Friday 8 March.

Father Joe McDonald

No, Joe, don’t apologise! Don’t apologise for loving the music of Neil Young! Or for salivating at the thought of chilli ribs or admiring the curvaceous body, the muskiness of other.

Say sorry instead for shutting people down, for the harsh word.

No, don’t apologise for heroes from Reagan to Bobby Sands.

Say sorry instead, for not chaining yourself to the gates of Leinster House in solidarity with homeless sisters and brothers. Say sorry for not questioning, for being lukewarm.

Don’t apologise for not doffing cap or for not kissing ring.

Above all do not apologise for falling in love or for faith. Do not apologize for loving the Nazarene.

Father Joe McDonald is parish priest in St Matthew’s, Ballyfermot, and founder of Roncalli Reform.

John Kelly

When I was a teenager the idea of “being a man” was largely to do with playing shirtless Gaelic football on a treacherous all-weather pitch. And while fitness and fortitude are handy to have, they’re not enough to make you a decent member of the human race.

Fortunately, these days, we recognise that there’s no singular way of being a man, but speaking specifically to the teenage me, I’d recommend that I be very aware of what they’re not teaching me at school. And I’d also suggest that, by way of a course in emotional intelligence, I read books written by women. I didn’t, and it’s a mistake I’m still trying to correct. You can’t “be a man” when you’re clueless.

John Kelly presents ‘Mystery Train’, 7pm, Sunday to Thursday, RTÉ Lyric FM. His debut poetry collection, ‘Notions’, has just been published by Dedalus Press.

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