Ronan Keohane and Orla Leahy talk about the benefits of Gaisce for students’ physical and mental health


What is Gaisce – The President’s Award?


Gaisce – The President’s Award is a self-development programme, originally founded by former Irish President, Mr. Patrick J. Hillery, that rewards young people for their participation, dedication, and discipline in a number of challenge areas over a set time period. There are three Awards, Bronze, Silver, and Gold. Challenge areas include community involvement, physical recreation, personal skill, adventure journey, and residential project at Gold. Young people achieve a Gaisce Award with the assistance of a PAL (President’s Award Leader), who supports and mentors participants by offering advice and approving participants’ chosen activities for each challenge area. 


What are the benefits of Gaisce for students?


Ronan – Gold Gaisce Participant 


For my Gaisce Award, I chose gym work as my physical recreation, advanced French lessons as my personal skill (in order to eventually sit my DALF C1), and volunteering at a St. Vincent de Paul charity shop for my community involvement. I have seen noticeable improvements in my mental and physical wellbeing as a result of this. Gym work and exercising have significantly helped me to concentrate more in my studies, and learning French has been a relaxing experience as I see myself improve in every single lesson. Working in a charity shop has immensely helped with my mental health. Dedicating a short amount of my time to benefiting the community at large and working within an organisation that I am passionate about has been a mentally rewarding experience for me.


When I first started Gaisce, I was a little bit apprehensive, I knew it was something that required a decent amount of dedication. As someone with a highly busy schedule, I was unsure of how I was going to be able to balance Gaisce with everything else I planned to do during my second year of university studies that I had missed out on last year because of coronavirus lockdown and restrictions. I was worried that I would be overwhelmed by my responsibilities. Now that I’ve completed a good few weeks, I’ve realized that that was the entire issue, I saw Gaisce as an obstacle rather than a rewarding experience and something that could help me obtain my goals. I now have greater appreciation for how Gaisce promotes excellence as a virtue by pushing yourself to achieve more and putting yourself out there within your community.


Orla – PAL and Gold, Silver and Bronze Gaisce Awardee


I completed my Bronze, Silver and Gold Gaisce Awards in secondary school, and qualified as a Gaisce PAL when I started in UCC last year. I absolutely loved participating in Gaisce myself, I enjoyed many fantastic experiences, from climbing Torc Mountain on my Silver adventure journey to abseiling in Connemara on my Gold residential project. 


Personally, committing to gym work for my physical recreation each week was a fantastic way to relieve any stress associated with the Leaving Certificate and schoolwork. It was also a good opportunity to regularly meet up with friends. Similarly, photography for my personal skill functioned as a great stress reliever. 


One of my favourite aspects of Gaisce has been the great sense of belonging that I gained in my community by coaching a local Ladies’ Gaelic Football team for my community involvement for all three Awards. Ultimately, the sense of achievement associated with Gaisce has helped me to stay motivated, and to overcome challenges, such as the recent lockdowns that the country faced. I would highly recommend getting involved in Gaisce, whether it be through activities that you are already involved in, or through new activities. As a PAL in UCC, I am always delighted to welcome new participants, and I hope that students may experience as many benefits as I have through their own Gaisce journeys. 


How can I get involved in Gaisce at UCC?


Take the first step on your Gaisce journey today by contacting the UCC Gaisce Project directly via our social media channels, or via email, If you would like to undertake an Award, we will pair you with a PAL who will support you through your Gaisce journey. Alternatively, if you would like to become a PAL, we will assist you with the application and training process! We look forward to hearing from you. 

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