“We’re more like 13 sisters at this stage.” This is how Mrs. Mary Murphy,Chairperson of Ernedale Women’s Group, explains the dynamic of this mighty group.
Joining one of their weekly Tuesday meetings in Ballyshannon Day Centre, the strong bond that connects this group of women is clear.
With four original members still at its heart, they celebrate 25 years of being together on October 10th with a day’s celebration from 10am to 5pm in the Pastoral Centre.
It all began in 1989 in the home of Caitriona Dilworth and Sister Kathleen O’ Brien (sadly deceased) in Ernedale Heights.
Local women were invited to come along, to meet outside their homes, and begin to build relationships with each other. Mary explained that it was a big step for women at the time. “We knew each other but we didn’t. We were all very quiet that first week. Some of us had never socialised before, never went out of the house, never did anything at all until we joined the group.”
When 20 women turned up at the house on the second week, they knew they needed a premises and the group was officially born. The first project undertaken was a six-week assertiveness course that changed the lives of the women who participated. They were learning to speak their minds, find their self-confidence, and open up to new people and experiences.
From the outset, the group made a big effort to have something new to do or discuss every week. Over the years, hundreds of facilitators have been invited in to deliver workshops in subjects as diverse as tai chi, first aid, aromatherapy, flower arranging, computers, yoga, DIY., cookery, painting and every craft you can imagine.
The group pays for all their facilitators but it has become more difficult. Mary explained: “There used to be some grants available. It’s sad that funding has dried up for groups and facilitators.”
When you see the importance of groups such as this to the community, it is an outrage that funding has been cut, not just to Donegal, but also to women’s groups nationwide. “These women are determined to keep going, however, and would love to hear from facilitators who would like to discuss potential workshops with them.”
Whilst the new skills learned from facilitators are a fantastic element to the group, it is the friendship and support that they offer each other that truly matters. Mary Egan told me what it means to her: “Everybody here is caring and sharing. The support we have for each other has kept us together. And the friendship. It was so good this year, we didn’t even take a holiday.”
When you ask what the secret to their success is, Mary Murphy shares their ethos: “Respect each other. Listen to each other. Don’t judge anybody. We’ve learned a lot from each other in this group; as much as we’ve learned from any facilitators who came through the door.”
The women are confident that things improved since they first began meeting but they would love to see more equality in politics. Mary Doherty addressed this point: “There’s only a handful of women in the Dail or on the Council whereas it would be nice to see more women in public life with a say that could change things.”
Together they achieve a lot. In preparation for the 25th year celebrations, the women have worked together on ’Sarah’s Quilt’; a beautiful patchwork that will be raffled at the festivities (alongside two additional blankets made by Agnes McGuinness and Bernie Loughlin) to raise funds to support a young local girl who is losing her sight. There will be also be entertainment on the day from Farah Bogle and John Meehan, Mayor of Ballyshannon and a display of some of the work the women have created down through the years. They would love to see you there.