MICHAEL FISHER Northern Standard Thursday 26th March
“We are not a group of fuddy-duddies, although many people have that perception. Just look at the number of women out on the dance floor tonight, enjoying themselves”. The President of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association Liz Wall was speaking to me after presenting 161 members in thirteen Monaghan guilds with their long service certificates. When the sums were done, the result was that all these ladies had given a total of 4400 years’ dedication to the aims of the ICA in the county, what seems to be a unique record for any voluntary organisation. Two guilds, Aghabog and Clones, accounted for over a quarter of that figure.
Liz has made three previous visits to the county during her three years in office, which will end in May when her successor will be elected at the AGM in Portlaoise. In October 2013 she opened a conference in Monaghan on Recovery, organised by the Solas Drop-in Centre Monaghan. It was an example of the work the ICA does to promote mental health.
With over 500 guilds throughout the country and around 10,000 members, Liz is very anxious to keep in touch with the members at grassroots level. She finds out their views by sending out questionnaires during the year. These included the Mental Health Survey, the abortion questionnaire, the audit of lace work in Ireland and a rural communities questionnaire.
The ICA National President recently added her voice to the Save Rural Ireland campaign. “If rural Ireland dies, we won’t be able to bring it back”, she told me. “I think it’s a very important campaign. Unless someone puts down a marker to do something, nothing will happen.” The campaign includes groups such as Muintir na Tire, the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers Association, the Irish Postmasters’ Union, Macra na Feirme, and the Irish National Flood Forum.
The issues raised at its launch include the need for high-speed rural broadband, the continued threat of rural post-offices closures, the theft of scrap metal, the unavailability of insurance in flood areas, and the need for more rural GP cover.
The number of post offices has fallen from 2,300 in 1984 to about 1,100 now. “When the post office goes, the shops go, the chemist goes and then the public bus service goes,” Liz Wall says. “Our members feel that rural Ireland is being totally destroyed. It needs help before it is too late for rural communities.”
She paid tribute to one of her predecessors, Mamo McDonald, who helped her cut the cake at the diamond jubilee dinner. She had played a very big role during her term as National President, Liz said.
Before taking on the role of President, Liz Wall served as National Secetary of the ICA. She has visited guilds all over the Republic and has clocked up over 110,000 miles on her car. Last weekend, including the visit to Carrickmacross, she would cover 1500 miles and visit Dundalk and Galway before returning home to Ashford in County Wicklow. She is married and has three daughters who are university students and a 17 year-old son who is in Leaving Certificate year. Before the night concluded at The Shirley Arms Hotel in Carrickmacross, a cheque was presented by the Monaghan Federation to the National President for €2,800 towards the restoration of An Grianán, the Association’s residential college and conference centre in Termonfeckin, County Louth.
ADDRESS BY OUTGOING ICA MONAGHAN FEDERATION PRESIDENT PATRICIA CAVANAGH
A Uachtarain Naisiunta agus a chombhaill. Ta athas orm faílte a chuir roimh go leir chuig an ocaid speisialta seo anocht.
Madame President, fellow members and special guests, I am delighted to welcome you all here this evening. This year Monaghan Federation ICA celebrates its Diamond jubilee and as part of our celebrations, tonight we will receive our long service certificates for those who are 15 years or longer in ICA in Monaghan. Many thanks to our National President Liz Wall for agreeing to come and be with us on this very special occasion.
Sixty years ago as Rosa Patterson cycled to and from her work as a primary school teacher in the Ballybay area she stopped and spoke to the local women as they went about their many daily chores on the farm and in the home and realised the need to form a women’s group in the area where women could come together, socialise, learn new crafts and generally discuss items of interest that was common to them all. She maintained that every woman had their own individual potential and skills and encouraged the use of them. Ballybay Guild opened in January 1954 and in June 1955 Monaghan Federation held its first meeting in Hatton’s hotel Ballybay with at least six guilds in the County at this stage. Rosa Patterson became its first President and from there we ventured forward to make our mark in the world of ICA as we know it today.
Monaghan can be proud that two National Presidents were elected from its midst. The first was Josephine Carroll 1972 -1975. Josephine worked tirelessly for the Save Monaghan Hospital campaign and was a skilled craftworker and craft teacher with a keen interest in country markets. She was responsible for the setting up of two branches of country markets, here in Carrickmacross and in Monaghan town. Secondly Mamo McDonald, who joins us here this evening. She became President in 1982.
There have been many events and gatherings over the years and many women have gained so much from being part of this wonderful organisation at all levels. In 1993 Monaghan ICA was alarmed by the introduction of probate tax in the budget which was going to involve the surviving spouse where joint ownership did not exist facing a new tax. A resolution was passed and brought to National Council calling for its abolition which was then brought to government. An alliance was formed with other interested parties which led to many exemptions being secured.
In 1994 when the teachers’ centre in Monaghan was in danger of being downgraded, the ICA got behind the campaign and petitioned for it to be retained. In 1996 Monaghan Education centre was upgraded to a full-time education centre. At our last Federation meeting we discussed the downgrading of the library service in County Monaghan, where we are going to be amalgamated with County Cavan library services. Once again we hope to petition against this. I could speak of many of our events and achievements, but at this stage I would like to pay tribute to members who are no longer with us. We hope that into the future that ICA will remain strong and vibrant and continue to support women to support each other on their journey through life.
I will finish with this short poem written by a member of Threemilehouse Guild, Kathleen Kieran, who sadly is no longer with us:-
As we celebrate our 60th,
Let’s cast back our thoughts today,
To the women of foresight and courage,
Who founded the ICA,
They gave women a stance in our country,
The voice that was silent now heard,
To speak out for fair play and justice,
That the wealth of our country be shared.
A BUSY THREE YEARS AS FEDERATION PRESIDENT
Patricia Cavanagh from Tullyvogey in Tydavnet was one of the founder members of the ICA’s Ballinode guild at a meeting in the community centre in Otober 1983. Her sister Breege Lenihan also joined. She has had a very busy three years as President of the Monaghan Federation. It is one of five areas in the country that has seen a growth in members, whereas other counties have been in decline. There are around 260 members in the thirteen guilds in the county. The work the Association does to encourage crafts was one of the reasons Patricia joined. Learning skills that can be passed on to a younger generation.
Their trips over the years to the ICA college at An Grianán introduced them to a wide variety of crafts and courses such as cookery, aromatherapy, healthy lifestyle, ballroom dancing and gardening. The Ballinode guild has around thirty members and meets in Tydavnet community centre on the second Thursday of each month. It raises funds annually for different charities and every year their entries feature in Tydavnet Show.
Patricia says the ICA has played a major role in the social, educational and cultural lives of Irish women since its inception. It now aims to attract younger and new members. Any female over 16 is eligible to join. Although it is perceived widely as a predominantly rural group, the “country” in the title stands for Ireland, and the biggest ICA guild is in Blanchardstown, County Dublin.
The outgoing Federation President says she is proud to have been part of the Association and what it stands for. It has brought friendship, fellowship and comradeship, she says. Patricia gained a particular insight into the history of the organisation when she consulted the ICA minute books held in the National Archives in Dublin. Along with a committee, she helped to produce a book “Friendship and Fellowship: ICA, The Monaghan Story” to mark the national centenary in 2010.
During her term Patricia has visited most of the thirteen guilds in Monaghan. As a former psychiatric nurse, one of the highlights for her was when the ICA along with the Solas centre marked World Mental Health Day in 2013 by organising a Recovery conference in Monaghan, which the National President attended. Liz Wall also came to Carrickmacross for a very successful craft day. The ICA has been to the forefront in helping to preserve both Carrickmacross Lace and Clones Lace.
During the celebration there was an example of how ICA members can use their skills to help others. The play therapists at Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin contacted the women’s group to see if any members could make calico dolls. These dolls are used with the young patients, allowing them to colour in and make unique to themselves their illness or condition and to explain to them their treatment. Sacks of the dolls were handed over at the dinner and will be forwarded by the ICA to the hospital. As a mark of thanks for her service in Monaghan, Patricia Cavanagh was presented with a silver oak leaf brooch by the National President at the end of a very enjoyable evening marking the achievements of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association.
HONORARY NATIONAL PRESIDENT MAMO McDONALD CLONES GUILD
Mamo McDonald from Clones Guild served as National President of the ICA for three years from 1982 to 1985. She said it was the beginning of an adventure that was fulfilling, exciting, educational, exhausting and always challenging. In ‘Friendship and Fellowship’, the history of the ICA in County Monaghan published in 2010, the ICA’s Centenary year, Mamo revealed that it was the leadership of another National President from Monaghan, Josephine Carroll, that encouraged her to run for the position. This was at a time when the ICA membership was at an all-time high of 27,000 members.
“Mamo originally joined the Association in Croom, County Limerick, in 1947 and went on to help found the Clones Guild. It was just after the Second World War and there were many scarcities. Mamo recalled: “In one of my first meetings we learned to cure lamb skins and to make slippers and soft shoes lined with fleece. Today my Guild has lots of younger members, many of whom have joined in the last few years. What do they want to learn? They want to learn to knit, sew, make Clones lace and to learn other craft skills. We have come full circle”.
In another ICA publication Mamo said one of the highlights for her was bridging the gap with the radical feminist movement. “Before my time they were considered “the enemy” and it was a huge challenge for both sides to accept each other and realise that we were usually singing from the same hymn sheet and were able to work more together”, she said. During her presidency the different women’s groups grew closer and closer, supporting each other, and the ICA became more a part of the Irish Women’s movement.
Mamo said she believed the opportunity to travel was one the greatest opportunities she got as National President and the other was the chance to sit on national committees and to really make a difference.
“Before I became President of ICA I had been concentrating on raising my large family and the only holidays I got were short visits to An Grianán”, she said. “Then as President I travelled many times to London working with the Associated Country Women of the World, further afield working with the Confederation of Family Organisations in the EU and I travelled to Canada and to Nairobi in Africa as a delegate to the United Nations International Conference on Women. Being invited to join government- appointed committees was also a great opportunity”.
Mamo recalled: “As a businesswoman with a drapery shop in County Monaghan, I knew a lot about the responsibilities that go with the rights of consumers, so I often spoke out about it. I was invited to join the Committee for Consumer Education. As I was travelling widely at the time, I noticed differences in the welcome received in hotels and establishments in these countries that was often lacking in Ireland. After a visit to Vancouver where I had been very impressed with the customer service I spoke out about the failings in the hospitality sector in a speech entitled ‘Céad Míle Faults?’ and was then invited to join Bord Fáilte”.
The great disadvantage during her presidential term, she said, was being away from home and from her family and that proved very difficult at times. “I have eleven children and I always felt guilty when I was away. When I came in as President some of my children where working, some were in university, some in secondary education and even little ones still in primary school. My husband Eugene died in 1979 so during my presidency, I relied on the wonderful support and great friendship of Patsy our housekeeper and wonderful friend; I couldn’t have done the work of President without her. When I was at home I spent a lot of time baking so that there would be loads of loaves of brown bread in the freezer for everyone and then when I was at home, I felt guilty about not being at work for ICA!”
After her term in office Mamo became involved in the politics of ageing. She is a founder member of Age and Opportunity and the Older Women’s Network. When she was 70, Mamo McDonald returned to full-time education and did a higher diploma followed by a Masters in Women’s Studies in UCD. She delights in her thirty-two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren who visit her regularly.
(from an interview with ICA News)