PRESIDENT of Clonakilty Tidy Towns Association and former principal of the local boys school, Noreen Minihan is a force to be reckoned with.
No stranger to volunteering, she helped have the local Community Hall built in the 1970s and her tireless efforts have been contributing to the fabric of the Clonakilty community since the ’60s.
She is retired after 45 years of teaching, but Noreen is still hard at work in her local community, involved in a plethora of organisations, and living by the mantra: “If I can help somebody as I pass this way, then my living will not be in vain”
“In the 1960s, I was an active member of the original ‘Festival of West Cork’,” says Noreen. This was held in Clonakilty annually for a number of years, with sporting events and entertainment as well as dinners and dances.
Noreen was chairperson of the ladies’ committee and hostess at the midnight cabarets, ensuring everyone was seated correctly and the bands and artists that came to play were looked after.
Mrs Minihan was also the founding member of the Clonakilty branch of Cork Polio Aftercare, renamed Cope Foundation, and she is still involved today, often collecting at the church gate for the well-known charity.
A former student of Clonakilty Convent of Mercy, Noreen also helped found the past pupils union for the education facility, organising events for past pupils and fundraising for equipment or facilities that the school may need.
For years, Noreen also did storytelling for children at the Clonakilty Library on Saturday mornings, and she has trained more than 70 altar boys and girls at the local church, the Church of the Immaculate Conception on the Main Street of Clonakilty.
Noreen is also chairperson of the local boys school, Scoil na mBuachaillí, where she taught for more than 40 years.
“When I retired, there was a huge shindig, I went to meet the board of management and there were 200-300 people waiting for me, past pupils and parents, it was lovely.
“They gave me a painting drawn by a local artist, Tomás Tuipéar.”
Noreen went on to be a substitute teacher for many years until her husband Michael became ill in 2008. Sadly, Michael passed away almost 10 years ago.
Chatting about her vibrancy of character and fresh spirit, Noreen said she enjoys meeting people, being social, and swapping stories, and she has made plenty of friends from her work in volunteering.
“There is a certain satisfaction about doing something good, about doing something to help others,” she said.
In the case of the Tidy Towns, by collecting litter and rubbish, “not alone do you give a good example and encourage others to do the same, you enhance the beauty of our lovely town, and as the judges wrote in their commendation ‘make Clonakilty a lovely town to visit and to live in’.
“Meeting other volunteers, you make new friends, you chat amongst the group, you swap stories, you have a laugh, you listen and sympathise with people who have a sad story to tell, and you hope you have brought a little brightness and relief to their lives. The group may go for a cuppa — or something stronger — and you could end up with a most enjoyable sing-song.”
Noreen said she enjoys the spontaneity of volunteering and never knowing who you are going to bump into.
“I find meeting visitors on the street when you’re working is fascinating. You meet people from all over the world. They are interested in what you are doing and also delighted to talk about themselves and where they came from.
“You could end up being a tourist guide as well and planning their next day’s trip for them!”
Noreen is also involved as a member of Duchas Clonakilty heritage group and the annual South of Ireland band championships held every year on the first Saturday in July.
The mother of six said there were times over the years where her volunteering efforts had left her tired and weary.
“I can assure you, it is not always sunshine and roses. You must be committed. There are times when you are tired and weary, or you have a hundred and one things to do at home, but you must lever yourself out of that chair, collect the gear and join the others.
“I remember dark, cold winter nights walking out unlit roads at the edge of the town, collecting money to build the community hall. Sometimes while the rain fell, my frustrated tears only added to the dampness! You must love your town. And I do.”
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed and Noreen was selected as the inaugural Clonakilty Mayoral Council Hall of Fame 2021 recipient.
She also was awarded the outstanding lifetime volunteer award from Volunteer Cork in 2021.
“You have only one life to live, make the most of every day, and try and do something worthwhile,” Noreen said.