The new West Cork ICA vice-president doesn’t mince her words: the organisation is dwindling.
“It’s down to 13 guilds in West Cork. Castletownbere doesn’t seem to have a guild, Skibbereen doesn’t, other parishes don’t,” says Brigid O’Brien, who wants to encourage new guilds to set up and to support existing ones.
“We’re beginning to become an actively retired group. We need women with young children to join. I don’t buy that they’re not in it because they’re working outside their homes.”
But for young mothers to join, she believes guilds must have a democratic structure and that potential and existing members must adopt a philosophy of ‘you’ll get back as much as you put in’.
A mum of one, originally from Kilkenny, Brigid is a retired nurse. She joined Aughadown Guild in 1994. “I’d been living in Skibbereen. When I came out to Aughadown, joining ICA was about getting to know other ladies in the area, a feeling of wanting to contribute to the local community, to be part of the parish.”
Until recently, she was Aughadown president and says the 18 members have a lot of fun, yet get some work done. This is an understatement – collectively, they’re a powerhouse of energy.
Their 1999 book, From Ilen to Roaring Water, was one of the first of the rural parish histories and sold well, replenishing the guild’s low coffers at the time.
Brigid set up the guild book club with the support of Skibbereen Library in 2007 – recently the club read and shared opinions on Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House.
Guild members walk twice weekly and many attend Skibbereen’s Sport & Leisure Centre for gym, aqua aerobics and yoga. For the past two years, they’ve had an artist in for six weeks, giving them an opportunity to do calligraphy or paint in oil or acrylic. They presented a sketch with the support of a drama teacher.
Brigid and husband Billy farm in the area. “We’re not fully self-sufficient but I have a poly tunnel for vegetables and two hens to supply household eggs. I think we need to promote horticulture and get families developing small businesses in West Cork. Younger people leave – they don’t see West Cork as a viable option for work.”
She believes in life-long learning. “I attended lectures on the poets Yeats, Heaney and Kavanagh in 2014 and we recently completed studies on Jane Austen’s works at the West Cork College. I enjoy being part of Skibbereen’s very active bridge club.”
Brigid says her commitment to ICA is due to its work in the 1950s and 60s when she was growing up – her mum was a member of Clara Guild in Kilkenny.
“It was a lifeline for many women living in the country who rarely left their homes unaccompanied. ICA was their opportunity to meet other women, to share ideas and learn new techniques in art, crafts, gardening or cookery,” she said.
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