The Irish Countrywomen’s Association in County Monaghan is celebrating its diamond jubilee. The first guild was formed sixty years ago in Ballybay, as reported here last month. Representatives from eleven of the thirteen guilds in the county gathered for a celebration dinner at The Shirley Arms hotel in Carrickmacross on Friday evening.
The guest of honour was the ICA National President Liz Wall. She presented long service certificates to members, some of whom had been in the Association for fifty or even sixty years. They included Mamo McDonald from the Clones guild, who was ICA National President from 1982-85.
The outgoing Monaghan Federation ICA President Patricia Cavanagh welcomed Liz Wall and was among the recipients of a certificate for her long service as a member of Ballinode guild, of which her sister Breege is also a long-standing member.
ICA guilds meet at least once a month from September to June with many guilds meeting on a more regular basis to partake in activities such as arts, crafts, dancing, health and fitness regimes and social outings. In County Monaghan there are guilds in Aghabog, Ardaghey, Ballybay, Ballinode, Clones, Killany, Magheracloone, Rockcorry, Scotshouse, Smithboro, Threemilehouse, Tyholland and Mullyash.
ICA guilds around the county are friends you may not yet have met who have already successfully walked a similar path and have much to offer in terms of support and friendship. ICA also needs people like you who can bring new talent, fresh ideas, and renewed energy to our organisation. The ICA has arranged benefit partnerships with over 200 retail outlets, service providers, and facilities throughout Ireland with members enjoying discounts of up to 20% on their purchases.
The ICA encourages members to support and promote many charities. Last year Monaghan members were encouraged to participate in the Walk in our Shoes initiative in October by wearing funky, mismatched, or self decorated shoes to guild meetings, donating €2 to St Patricks Hospital Foundation in Dublin and also to mark World Mental Health Day on October 10th. Work on upgrading and repairing An Grianán, the adult education college in Termonfeckin featured in a recent television programme with Francis Brennan, is ongoing and fundraising continues in all Federations. The Monaghan Federation handed over a cheque on the night to Liz Wall for €2800 for An Grianán.
The ICA was founded in May 1910 by Anita Lett in Bree, County Wexford, Liz Wall’s native county. It was originally called the Society of the United Irishwomen (UI), whose aim was “to improve the standard of life in rural Ireland through education and co-operative effort”. In 1935, owing to political issues the then called UI changed its name to the Irish Countrywomen’s association (ICA). Around this time the ICA also let go of just improving rural lives and began focusing on all areas of Ireland. Contrary to popular belief the “country” within the ICA’s name stands for the country of Ireland as a whole, as opposed to “country” as in rural areas. The biggest ICA guild today is in an urban area, Blanchardstown in County Dublin.
Since its inception, the ICA has been heavily involved in campaigns designed to improve people’s lives. The ICA was the first organisation to provide access to adult education, well before the VEC. In its very early years, the then UI focused a project based on the health system in Ireland, due to the fact that women and girls were being sent to England to do basic nursing courses. The UI used what they called “Demonstration Cottages” where classes were held on health care, nutrition and hygiene. These classes also provided care to the sick. In 1954 An Grianán was gifted to the ICA. Since then this has been used as an adult education centre teaching an ever- changing wide range of courses.
In the 1950s they campaigned for “better living”, which called for the access to electricity and safe clean water across Ireland. In the 1950s there was still limited access to electricity in some parts of Ireland. To rectify this, the ICA joined up with the ESB to help promote the use of electricity. To do this they made a model of a traditional farmhouse kitchen fitted with all the latest electrical appliances. This was then shown later that year at the ICAs spring show. In 1958 the kitchen model toured the country, now fitted with a dishwasher and microwave, showing people what was possible. In the 1960s some homes still did not have water within their homes and relied on an outdoor pump. To improve this, the ICA began the “turn on the tap” campaign which involved an exhibition and a conference aimed at educating people on how to take action on bringing water into their homes.
In recent years the ICA introduced a counselling service and helpline, offering confidential help and support to its members and their families. They have promoted easier access to breast and cervical cancer screening for all women. They opened “the Sanctuary” in An Grianán offering quiet getaways. They helped lobby to make Irish the 25th recognised language within the EU. They have also joined forces with other organisations aimed at improving lives such as SOS, See Change, COFACE with their most recent goal being to reduce the levels of depression within Ireland.