Over 100 women from the North Longford area gathered at the Community Hall in Granard to celebrate the lives of rural women in Ireland and to mark the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the very popular women’s group ‘Women in Touch’ based at Lus na Greine Family Resource Centre, Granard.
The self-sustained group has grown in strength since it was formed back in 2009 to address the need for a space where women could meet up one morning a week and share friendships, network, learn new skills, enjoy social activities, personal development and a host of cookery, baking and craft workshops.
Since then the group meet weekly from 10am to 12noon every Tuesday morning. It is open to all and includes women of all ages, cultures, ethnicity, backgrounds and ability.
Speaking at the occasion the Chairperson of the group Patty Fitzgerald explained that “each and every woman brings her own unique talents to the group and as a result everyone is the richer”.
She went on to acknowledge the vast array of work taken on by the membership in terms of volunteering within the community and being the catalyst for other groups such as Granard Art Club, Knitter Natter club and Granard Garden Club. She paid tribute to former members who have passed away and assured their families that their memory lives on within the groups history.
She said the group are proud of their members and their achievements including those who have gone on to full employment or set up their own businesses. She urged the government to sustain and resource women’s groups by providing financial support.
She acknowledged the role that Longford County Council have given the group through the 2019 Community Enhancement Grant Sheme and the work of Longford Westmeath ETB in terms of education supports. Patty also commented on the special relationship the group have with their own Family Resource Centre and St Christopher’s Longford with whom they have partnered on a number of artistic projects.
Guests of honour at the event were Mairead Lavery, former editor of Country Living and Journalist with the Irish Farmers Journal and Catherine Lane from the National Women’s Council of Ireland with which Women in Touch are affiliated. Catherine Lane described the role of the NWCI stating that it is the largest feminist membership organisation in the country with 190 group members and a growing individual membership from across the 32 counties.
The group members are made up from all sorts of organisations, large and small, who all have in common that they are working towards women’s equality.
Addressing the need for women’s group Catherine explained that we need dedicated women only spaces because we understand the impact that gender has and we recognise the different life experiences of men and women including gender based violence, women assuming the main responsibility for unpaid care, women are more likely to live in poverty, women’s health needs are different including issues around maternity, reproductive and sexual health.
Women’s groups and networks provide a safe place for women experiencing different forms of social exclusion to come, to learn, to build links with other women that ultimately lead to being part of a collective identity. She congratulated Women in Touch and paid tribute to the vital role they play particularly for women in the rural community of North Longford.
She noted that the diversity which exists amongst rural women as well as multiple and crosscutting layers of disadvantage/discrimination is not always acknowledged in policy making. Women can experience multiple disadvantages because of their age, class, disability or ethnic status. Women must be named and targeted in all rural development programmes and strategies. Women’s role in agriculture must be recognised.
Mairead Lavery spoke about her own personal journey as a young girl in rural Ireland while growing up and experiencing the loss of her beloved father at a young age. She saw first-hand how her mother had to manage the family farm and the strength and ingenuity she showed to make ends meet.
She also spoke about the tradition of male inheritance of family farms at that time and the fact that if you were a daughter you stood no chance. She acknowledged the welcome change that has come about in this regard and how there is still work to be done in this area.
Her life as a young married woman on a farm in Shanagolden in Co Limerick with her husband and young family was challenging as the family struggled to make ends meet in the recession torn Ireland of the late 80’s and 90’s. A qualified teacher Mairead decided to dedicate herself to sheep farming. With prices for sheep at rock bottom she became an advocate for improved farm income.
It was her work with the Irish Farmers Association that brought her to the notoriety of the printed press and in particular the Irish Farmers Journal where she was encouraged to contribute her views on farming and rural Ireland. Her columns grew more and more popular and eventually she landed herself a paid role in the paper commenting on a wide range of issues. She said her journey wasn’t easy more like climbing the Alps than walking on flat ground, but she learned that no matter what you do or where you are there are always opportunities, opportunities to learn more, to meet new people, to do new things.
She complimented Women in Touch and said it was no mean feat to achieve 10 years of the group’s formation. She urged women to encourage their daughters “assure them they can do anything, anything they want to be”. Commenting on her role in the Irish County Living section of the Farmers Journal Mairead said they made a clear decision to adopt an air of positivity in the paper despite a lot of negativity existing in the country back in 2007 when it started. Positivity she said is a great approach to life.
She said the greatest thing she learned as a young person was resilience and she identified this as one of the greatest assets for women in life.
Zina one of the members of the group, spoke about her joy at being welcomed into the group on her re-settlement to Granard as a Syrian refugee. She loves being a part of the group and she appreciated very much the welcome she received from all the women. Eileen Finan on behalf of Women in Touch and Lus na Gréine FRC extended congratulations to their local ICA members who will celebrate and incredible 70 years of their Guild this year.
The group unveiled their stained glass sculpture which they designed and crafted under the guidance and support of Emer O’Donnell, a stained glass artist and graduate of NCAD. The piece represents the power and strength of women and their unique role in family and society.
It encapsulates the glass ceiling which many women have encountered in society and in the workplace imposing barriers in terms of opportunities for their growth and prosperity.
The power of women working together has helped to reframe that glass ceiling.