The Welsh ladies visited Wexford two years ago for the ‘Gathering’ ICA event, so this was a return exchange visit that happily coincided with the WI’s centenary in England and Wales.
The WI is the largest women’s voluntary organisation in the UK, with 212,000 members in about 6,600 institutes (guilds).
“It was a fun-filled visit packed with cultural tours and sightseeing,” says Wexford Federation PRO Joe Keane, one of 22 ICA women on the trip.
She says a particular highlight was a visit to Pembroke Castle, which had links with Wexford through William Marshall, the Earl of Pembroke. He built Tintern Abbey in 1200.
Another highlight was St David’s Church, Dyfed, where Canon Davies, conducted a healing ceremony.
The Wexford ladies stayed in the homes of their WI hosts in Haverfordwest, Fishguard and Eglwyswrw.
“I was up north in Eglwyswrw,” says Joe.
“I was hosted by the president of Boncath Institute. She was a great organiser. They had quite an elderly membership, including a sprightly 92-year-old.”
Joe says the WI ladies they met were “ordinary women like us, up for chat and fun. They face the same challenges as we do getting younger members in. They try to hold meeting in mornings or afternoons to see if that will attract young mums”.
Joe says the Wexford ladies were inspired in other ways too.
“There’s a national WI house in England but the Welsh ladies have their own house in Haverfordwest for Wales [which the ICA group visited]. We were saying wouldn’t it be fabulous for Wexford. the original ICA founder being from here, to have an ICA house.”
The Irish ladies were also inspired by the Pembrokeshire WI banner.
“Every guild had made a little triangular section and on that piece of fabric they’d used words that motivated them, fun, friendship, pride. We thought we could borrow that idea.”
During a visit to Scolton Manor to view the WI Centenary Craft Exhibition, they saw “some fabulous work” – embroidered look-a-like sweets, little cardboard houses – and got inspiration for guild competitions, such as artfully and beautifully dressing a jam jar.
Other high points included a tour of Stockpole Gardens, shopping in Tenby, guided tour of St Dogmaels Abbey and flour mill, and a visit to Fishguard Town Hall to view the Fishguard tapestry.
And the food was wonderful throughout, as was the local music. On one occasion, they had a barbeque, on another a three-course meal in St Mary’s Church Hall, Tenby. “Women were putting on food out of churches and community halls – everything was so fresh and so efficient.”