This Cork branch of the Irish Country Women's Association is the oldest in the country and is celebrating 60 years

It’s said to be the longest running guild in the country — and Tower Irish Country Women’s Association is marking its 60th anniversary. CHRIS DUNNE met some of its members
This Cork branch of the Irish Country Women's Association is the oldest in the country and is celebrating 60 years
Tower ICA members, Teresa Neilon, Marie Tobin, President, Rose Donovan and Liz Murphy presenting bouquets to Eleanor Calnan, President Cork Federation and Lord Mayor, Cllr. John Sheehan, on behalf of Lady Mayoress, at the launch of the guild's 60th anniversary book at Blarney Woollen Mills Hotel.Picture: Mike English

“WE are always there for each other. We are like one big happy family.”

So said one member of Tower Irish Country Women’s Association, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

The Tower group, which boasts 58 members, is believed to be the longest running guild in the country.

President of Tower ICA, Marie Tobin, was delighted that the Lord Mayor of Cork, John Sheehan, did the honours at the launch of their anniversary book Celebrating 60 years of Tower ICA, 1959-2019, at Blarney Woollen Mills Hotel recently. Profits from the book sales are going to local charities.

“That’s for sure!” says Marie. “We are all so thrilled and so excited; it is quite possible one of us could get a heart attack!

“So it was good the Cork City Mayor, John Sheehan, who is a GP, was in attendance for the launch of the book,” jokes Marie. “It was a great honour for us.”

May O’Brien and Madge Ahern are founder members of the guild.

“From the beginning, we were fortunate to have Tower Hall available for our meetings,” says May, who was of the era where when women got married, they were expected to give up their jobs.

“When the ICA started in 1959, I was delighted to join up as it was an opportunity to get out and meet people socially.”

The local ‘ballroom of romance’ was the venue for Tower ICA meetings, admission the princely sum of five shillings.

“Back then Tower Hall was a typical country hall with basic amenities,” says May. “The only heating we had was a Calor Kosangas heater with a gas bottle in the centre of the room. We sat in a circle around it!

“After our cup of tea the cups were washed in plastic basins. Since those early days, facilities in the hall are much improved, including a lovely kitchen.”

Madge recalls groups of three walking two miles from the village of Cloghroe to ICA meetings at Tower Hall.

“Others walked from Cloughphilip and other outlying areas,” says Madge.

The ladies didn’t always travel on foot.

“I remember travelling to one birthday party in Courtbrack,” says Madge. “I was driving a little five hundred weight van with two members, sadly no longer with us, when a pig ran out of a gateway and gave the van a good thump on the side.

“He gave a loud squeal and ran back inside the gate again. No-one was injured in the incident! Happy days!”

Tower Hall, the venue that continues to provide many happy days, proudly features on the back cover of 60 Years of Tower ICA, which reflects the wonderful vibrancy of Tower ICA, with colour photographs depicting the guild’s wealth of activities, including pitch and putt, tidy towns, set-dancing, drama, pottery classes, art, flower arranging, birthdays and social outings. The delicious recipe, My Mom’s Banana Bread on page 43, courtesy of Margaret Burke, is worth noting.

“The book took nine months to complete, with lots of input from all the Tower ICA members. It is just like our baby,” says Marie, who has been part of Tower ICA for 35 years.

“I have received nothing but encouragement and support from past and present members from the first day I suggested the idea for the book.

“A sub committee was formed of Rose Donovan, Teresa Neilon, Marie Murray, Liz Murphy, and myself.”

Marie received lots of other valuable things when she joined Tower ICA.

“I cannot express how much it has enriched my life,” says Marie.

“I had joined only three months when I was elected President. When I went home, my husband asked was I the only one at the meeting! I took on the challenge and I’ve never regretted it. I learnt so much — taking minutes, learning about procedures, crafts, drama, painting, trips to An Grainán, and above all, the friends I have made that have lasted to this day.”

Chatting to the ladies, the sense of camaraderie and good fun amongst them is very evident.

“Are you a member of your local ICA?” I’m asked.

I must admit, when I went to live in east cork age 19, I wasn’t that enamoured when my next door neighbour suggested I go along with her to an ICA meeting.

Liz Murphy is amused.

“Don’t let the title ICA (Irish Country Association) put you off,” says the former midwife.

“This was a name adopted many years ago when towns and villages were small, and many women worked in the home. We are all now modern women.

“If you are resident or new to the area, by joining us it’s a great way to get to know all ages in the community, and have a night out every second and fourth Tuesday of the month.”

Ladies of all ages can be enthused by what the ICA has to offer them.

“At guild meetings we have various demonstrations, make-up demos, gardening demos, craft, jewellery making demos, and health-care demos,” says Liz.

“Ten or 15 of us take part in the mini-marathon every year for different charities. We enjoy ceili dancing, set dancing and line-dancing too. People share their gifts and share their talents.”

Liz admits that the name ICA put her off too, before she joined Tower ICA eight years ago.

“I couldn’t have been more wrong,” she says. “I worked full-time for 35 years and never had much time spare time to join. I never met parents at school gates so only knew people to see.

“By joining Tower Guild, it gave me a wonderful sense of community and a new group of very welcoming friends.”

A well-meaning neighbour introduced Rose Donovan to Tower ICA 40 years ago.

“Joining was the best thing I ever did,” says Rose, who has acted as secretary and President over the years. She likes to act.

“I took part in drama,” says Rose, whose ventures include a Knit and Natter group.

“I performed in a play written by the late Sean Fitzgerald called The Body Is Mine, and we won the Dan Desmond cup.”

Rose was bitten by the acting bug.

“After that, there was no getting me off the stage!” says Rose.

“I loved taking part in drama, light entertainment, singing ballads, and lots more.”

Rose says the friendship is the best part of being a member of Tower ICA.

“We are always there for each other. We are like one big happy family.”

Queen of slogan competitions, Teresa Neilon, who found herself a young widow in her 40s, agrees wholeheartedly with Rose.

“I was in no-man’s land,” says Teresa. “Joining Tower ICA gave me a social outlet and lots of good friends.”

The one big happy family are off to Dingle to celebrate 60 years of unity, laughter, and lasting friendships that embody Tower ICA.

“Last year, when our 60th anniversary was coming up, we spoke about doing something special,” says Marie.

“So now, in our 60th year, we will celebrate with a trip to Dingle.”

“The ICA welcomes all ladies of all ages who want a good social night out, to make new friends and enjoy all our talks and activities,” she added.

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