Northern Standard Thursday 12th March 2015 p.35
Blayney Blades Celebrate 20 Years and International Women’s Day
By Michael Fisher
The spirit of the late Sr Celine McArdle was very much present as the Blayney Blades women’s group in Castleblayney celebrated their twentieth anniversary and International Women’s Day with a special event at the Íontas Centre. No doubt she was smiling down on the assembled group of around sixty women, particularly when the Arts Minister, Heather Humphreys T.D., announced that funding to allow the continuation of the various courses and services had been secured. Olive Bolger, Co-ordinator at the centre, said she imagined Sr Celine, who had a love of nature and died in 2013 aged, appeared every now and then in the form of a robin. Or even perhaps a squirrel, as a poem written by Sr Celine and read by her friend Nan Duffy reminded the audience:-
THE SQUIRREL By Sr Celine McArdle (1988)
Today I saw a squirrel, a-skip from tree to tree,
Red nimble little body, tail bushy as could be.
He nibbled here; he nibbled there, and then sat upon his rump,
To examine his collection, then scamper a tree stump.
He hid behind the swelling, upon the oldest tree.
And somehow as I looked at him, he reminded me of me!
A-scurrying through the branches of each day’s busy tree.
Picking up the husks and shells of dreams that used to be,
Dreams of stored up treasure, thirty years from when
I gave my all in ’59 – what happened to it then??
Or is there wealth I cannot see, stored up by God above
The fruit of all my scurrying, transformed by His faithful love?
Today, just like the squirrel, I sit upon my rump
And gather up the nourishment I’ll be needing in the slump.
When days are dark and dreary and my soul’s as dry as dust,
When nothing seems to touch my heart, and my knees won’t bend with rust.
Then may I find the store house, in some crevice of life’s tree,
And know again the certainty of God’s love for squirrels and me.
Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys T.D., said there was no better place to mark International Women’s Day than at Blayney Blades. This day is all about empowerment and positive action and this year’s theme is ‘make it happen’, she said.
The Minister said she had taken part in a Fine Gael event last week to acknowledge women who ‘make it happen’ in their local area. She went on: “We all know inspirational women in our own walks of life. I have no doubt that you could all easily name a woman who has inspired you, who has encouraged and supported you to become who you are today. This room is full of inspirational women. Women who are making it happen for other women in Castleblayney”.
She said the Blades had been making it happen for the last two decades. Since the group was set up in 1995, it had been empowering, encouraging and enabling women and their families in the Castleblayney area, so that they could realise their full potential and play an active role in this community.
The Minister described the range of services provided by Blayney Blades as very impressive; from education and training, counselling, support initiatives for young people and targeted programmes for new communities in this area. “I take my hat off to you”, she said.
Referring to the difficulties over grant aid in previous years, which made it difficult at times to keep the group going, she said she was very pleased to announce that concerns relating to the funding for the National Collective of Community Based Women’s Networks, of which Blayney Blades is a member, had been addressed.
Funding will now be provided by the Department of Justice, safeguarding the future of Blayney Blades and the Dochas Drop-in Centre for Women in Monaghan, and fifteen other projects across the country. The Minister said she had huge respect and appreciation for the work of the NCCWN, particularly the support the network provided to disadvantaged women, so she was very glad that the funding issue had been resolved.
She told the group that the work of Blayney Blades and NCCWN could be summed up in one word: empowerment. A big word, but it could also be a series of small things. A helping hand; a word of encouragement; or a nudge in the right direction. She said that step by step, week upon week and year after year, the Blades had been empowering women and helping them to make a difference in their own lives and in other people’s lives since 1995. You have been making this a better community, she added.
The Minister said her mother Emily had been a great inspiration for her. On the family farm at Drum there was no job a woman could not do. She had taught me from an early age how to drive a tractor and to milk the cows, she said.
She also spoke about the very important influence that two women had on her during her formative years. Both were teachers at St Aidan’s comprehensive school in Cootehill. One was Geraldine O’Brien, her economics teacher, who encouraged students to stand up for what they believed in. The other was Joan Hannon, who taught English and debating. She encouraged students to get out there and make their point known. Both women had sown the seeds for her to enter politics, she said.
Referring to the overall picture, Minister Humphreys said women had made great strides in Irish public life over the last two years. She herself was proud to be one four women sitting around the Cabinet table. Women occupied the roles of Tanaiste, Garda Commissioner, Chief Justice, Arrorney General, Minister for Justice, Education Minister and…of course….Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht! But we still have barriers to break down, she said.
“You will be aware that next year, we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of this republic. I am leading the Government’s plans for Ireland 2016 – which will commemorate the 1916 Rising – the event which led to the foundation of this State. I want the role of women in the Rising to be fully recognised.
The Proclamation was a visionary document which specifically mentioned the men AND women of Ireland, at a time when women didn’t even have the vote. Women like Constance Markievicz were complete trail blazers. I want us to recognise these women, to remember the bravery of Cumann na mBan, but also to ask ourselves how, in the following 100 years, women were forced into the background. In some cases, they were written out of history”, she said.
She went on: “We now have a situation where we have to introduce gender quotas to increase the number of women in politics. I hope you will join me as we remember the men AND women who brought about the foundation of this State. After all, a true Republic is a country that values all of its citizens equally”. The Minister concluded by wishing everyone involved in the group all the very best for the next twenty years.
Afterwards in a question and answer session, the Minister spoke about the need for the gender quota and said it was very important that women should be at the decision-making table in government. She believed women needed to get involved in politics and she urged some of them to come forward so they could highlight what needed to be changed.
Last year the Blayney Blades along with other women’s community development groups began a campaign to have funding for their projects ring-fenced. Following the announcement by the Minister, they said they were delighted that the campaign had been successful. It would now give the NCCWN long-term core funding, thus offering continuity to projects. The Blades thanked all those who had supported their campaign and the local representatives who had supported them. They said it was very heartening and affirming to have the work of the NCCWN and Blayney Blades acknowledged and valued.
In her speech, Chairperson Noeline O’Neill said the occasion was tinged with sadness as Sr Celine McArdle was not present to celebrate with them. The Sister of Mercy had the foresight and vision to bring us to where we are today, she said. In the early days of the Blayney Blades, she remembered someone asking them if their group made razor blades! They had grown and developed over the years and she outlined the various stages achieved since the first meeting at the Parish Centre in Castleblayney on January 16th 2005. She outlined some of the courses hey had successfully run and now in 2015 they were about to embark on a new journey. She thanked the staff including the four support workers for their dedication despite the uncertainty over funding last year.
Co-ordinator Olive Bolger, a long-serving member of the group, said Sr Celine’s vision and dream for the group had at first seemed impossible to realise. They had made a trip to see some other centres in Cavan and Tipperary and then received a small bit of funding to initiate the project. She referred to the establishment of a community crèche, the first in the county, which had been set up in a house at Henry Street in Castleblayney. Then they realised other services were needed such as a homework club for older children. She explained how the concept of the Íontas Centre had emerged from its original plan as a small resource centre and how it had been established while Sr Celine was still in good health.
Olive then called on Rose Laverty from Dundalk to light candles in memory of Sr Celione and two former members of the Board of Management who had died, Carmel Redmond and Olivia Rice McCarron.
Development Worker Lorraine Cunningham said the past few months had been very trying because of the uncertainty over finance. She thanked the 43 TDs and Ministers who had attended their lobby at Leinster House a few months ago and had helped to save their funding. She praised Olive Bolger for dedicating her life to making the support group function effectively. The Blades had a very supportive Board of Management and unlike statutory agencies, the work they carried out did not stop at 5pm. She presented Olive with a piece of jewellery in recognition of her long service.
The guest speaker was a St Louis nun based in Dublin, Sr Catherine Brennan. She is a former teacher, who has run courses mainly for women’s groups in Inniskeen, Dundalk, Castleblayney and Dublin. She spoke about the inner journey people must make to understand themselves and the explore their potential. In changing ourselves, change happens all around us, she told the audience.
Following her talk, the Blayney Blades presented Sr Catherine with their award for Woman of the Year 2015. The citation said that Catherine was no stranger to Blayney Blades and had been one of the first tutors to work with the group. She trained in Ireland and England in Adult Education. She delivered the NUI Maynooth Certificate Course in Counselling, which some of our members received. Catherine delivered Personal Development courses, Ennegram, Myers Briggs and Parenting Programmes. Catherine was much more than a tutor. She became a great friend and supporter to all Blades and participants from all over the county and beyond. Catherine has a great love for the environment and encourages us all to become aware of the necessity to protect it. We have all benefitted from her expertise.