Until recently, Moyross Youth Academy (MYA) was one of Limerick’s under-the-radar success stories.
WINNING LIMERICK JOCKEY PUTS YOUTHWORK IN SPOTLIGHT
The organisation helps to train, mentor and nurture youngsters with ambitions to work in the horse industry. It does much more besides to engage youths – from carpentry training to motorbike maintenance to name but two.
However, it was its horse welfare and education programme that shot into view this year when one of the project’s protégés Wesley Joyce won at Sligo Racecourse. And he keeps on winning.
Wesley joined the project when he was five years old and never forgot his roots.
“They’re great people down there, trying to help all the young lads. They don’t get paid enough for what they do,” he told television viewers.
MYA has a strong partnership with RACE Academy in Kildare and that’s where Wesley rose to stardom. He now rides with Johnny Murtagh’s yard.
Naturally, local youngsters hope to follow his path. While others have gone from Moyross to Kildare before him and found success, Wesley’s winning streak – seven wins and counting – has made him stand out.
“I want to be a jockey like Wesley,” young Calum told TG4. A young female jockey testified that, “Wesley is a great inspiration for all of us. You can get anywhere if you put your mind to it.”
In August, Wesley had his biggest win so far when he romped home in the €100,000 handicap on day six of the Galway Festival.
He encourages every youngster with an interest in horses to pursue their ambitions.
“There’s loads of young lads in Limerick, in Moyross, with plenty of ability to go on and make good lives for themselves.”
Recently, he took the bus home to Limerick with a group of adoring fans from the city who went to The Curragh to see him ride (he won again).
“He came back with us on the bus, he was sitting beside them. It makes their dream attainable. It’s no longer a dream, it’s an achievable goal,” said riding instructor Catherine Normoyle of MYA.
TG4 visited Limerick this month to find out more about the group Wesley paid such high tribute to and the crew accompanied MYA staff to Clare Equestrian Centre.
(Watch TG4’s feature on MYA’s work and Wesley’s achievements here).
Helping youngsters to saddle a horse, Catherine said, “They’re fairly on the ball. They know what they’re doing. Some are real naturals.”
She noticed youths on the course bring what they learn home to their community.
“We had a young girl here the other day and I asked her how did she know how to do something and she said ‘Calum showed me’, which is great to hear.”
With the cameras rolling, she gently encouraged youngsters making their first appearance on television:
“You’ll have to get used to this if you’re going to be a jockey. You’ll be on camera all the time,” she said.
As well as children who grow up around horses, the project also welcomes those who never sat on a horse before in their lives.
Catherine sees the benefits daily.
“I’ve seen kids come in here in the morning and you’d know there was something slightly off. By the end of the day, you see the change. It’s the horses – they’re calming and they bring you back to yourself. They give you a break. They’re really important,” she said.
People have seen their lives turn around by engaging with MYA and the academy has evolved from when it originally focused on young people in Moyross and Ballynanty.
“It’s gone citywide and we’re looking at communities across Limerick city where there is a culture of horse-ownership, where it’s generational,” said Karen Keehan of MYA. “For some of these youngsters it’s inate with them. They grew up all their lives around horses and they’re very passionate about horses.”
Young people sign up for courses with MYA across a range of skills areas. The academy also teaches the Leaving Cert Applied.
Remembering when Wesley was a child, Karen said, “I remember him telling a teacher once – ‘There’s no plan B, I’m going to become a jockey.’”
She said MYA hopes to instill that level of self-belief in the young people it works with.
Keith Earls – who publicly congratulated Wesley on his success – is the most famous sports stars to date to emerge from Moyross. With Wesley now making waves, you can bet on more stars emerging from sporting Limerick. It’s not just hurling in the Treaty City!
Meanwhile, staff in MYA are enjoying the extra attention Wesley’s success is bringing to their crucial, community-based youthwork. In operation since the early 1990s, the project rebranded as MYA in 2018.
Elaine Slattery is one of the academy’s founders (and as it happens one of the founders of ‘Changing Ireland’). As she has previously said:
“Compared to other EU member states, Ireland actually has a very good story to tell in the area of youth justice. We have comparatively low numbers of children in care or in detention. But the challenge is always to identify what more we can do and what new approach we can take to diverting children and young people from crime and anti-social behaviour,” she said.
For more information, contact:
The project’s funders include: the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Social Protection, An Garda Síochána, the Probation Service, Solas, Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, and Limerick City and County Council’s Regeneration Programme.
See below for some of ‘Changing Ireland’s earlier coverage of the work of Moyross Youth Academy: