THE motto of Lions Clubs around the world is ‘We Serve’. Someone who takes that motto seriously is Cork woman, Teresa Dineen, who has already served two terms as President of Cork Lions Club and has now become the District Governor (DG) of Ireland, an area now known as District 133.
So how did this latest opportunity come about?
“I was nominated and approached and asked would I do it. I first thought: ‘Seriously? I don’t know about that!’ It’s a role that covers 32 counties, it’s a voluntary role and I’m still working”, she says of the huge commitment and significant workload involved.
“But then I thought, somebody has to be taking this on. All voluntary bodies are finding it difficult to get volunteers. With Lions, historically it was people who were retired or wealthy and had the time for the role. But I said: let’s prove this can be done while I’m working.”
Work for Teresa is in the area of legal administration (“I’ve been doing it forever”, she says) and she feels fortunate that there is some flexibility if she needs to leave work early to attend Lions events.
There will surely be many such events now that she is D.G. but thankfully her Vice DG, Frank O’Donoghue – based in Dublin – and Second Vice, Bernard Black from Antrim are planning to share the load.
“This should be a team effort to make it easier, more pleasurable, and more memorable and to not have to be rushing from one place to another. It’s about teamwork, although the bulk of it will stay with me”, she explains.
So how often is she likely to be out on the road carrying out her duties?
“Probably four nights out”, she says, although one senses that might be a conservative estimate. “Initially, certainly, you travel as far as you can and as much as you can while the nights are bright.”
While she is concerned about long distances in the dark months of winter and the reality of exposure to dangers on the road, fortunately she has the support of her partner Declan Moon, who often attends events with her.
“Although Declan has not become a Lion, he has done as much as a Lion. In winter he’ll drive and I can do stuff in the car, which is a great advantage.
He’s 100% behind it. If you’re going to get hassle from those around you it’s not going to work and your relationship will suffer.”
Equally the rest of her family — three kids, all in their 30s and living nearby in Ballinhassig — are fully supportive, even if their initial reactions to her new role were of surprise.
“They said: ‘Are you not busy enough? Are you mad?’”, she laughs.
Teresa has been a member of Cork Lions Club now for over ten years, drawn to the organisation out of a desire to give back to the community.
“I went into Lions feeling very lucky. I have a home; I have three healthy children and six healthy grandchildren. Sometimes you can give a lot; sometimes you can’t but being involved gives everyone a different perspective on life. You could be carrying out the smallest task, helping two people – or helping 200 people, but it’s about belief. I constantly believe in what we do.”
Her ethos — is rubbing off on the youngest in her family too, with her five-and- a half-year- old grandson Cian recently stating: “Not everyone is as lucky as us, Gran.”
This stems from his observations at only three years of age when Teresa was doing up food hampers and explained to him the reasons behind her actions.
Teresa made history in 2007 by becoming the first female president of Cork Lions Club, serving a second term the following year.
“The second year I was more confident. I had a better idea of how it all works. Initially, I was certainly more guarded being a female. I was cautious about making too many changes. I didn’t want people to think: ‘Oh here’s this woman; she wants to change the world’. You have to respect the people who had been there and built the club to this level. But people were really supportive. No-one was out to see you fail. I’m very lucky with the club – we’re very supportive of each other.”
She recalls a very kind gesture from a founding member of the club, now deceased: “Tom Maloney was very kind to me. At a meeting he asked permission to make a personal presentation to me. And he gave me the most beautiful brooch. I took it to Chicago with me in my bag. I actually became the D.G. the day before his birthday.”
The aforementioned Chicago trip was Teresa’s recent visit for the International Lions Convention attended by people from all over the world.
“I went to ‘D.G. school’ for four days, from 7.30am — 5.30pm. That was four days before the convention proper, which started on the 30 th of June until the 4 th of July. It was intensive and tiring — but in a good way. There was the Parade of Nations on Saturday, 1 st of July, when 29,500 people marched down State Street in Chicago. The street was closed for five hours. It was the most colourful, vibrant thing I’ve ever been involved in. I’ve never seen anything like it in Ireland. There were seven of us there from Ireland. Declan carried the Irish flag for the length of the parade — and did he wave that flag! It was a very special and lovely moment. It was amazing to get there and meet so many people.”
It is a historical year for the Lions Club International, with the organisation celebrating its 100th anniversary, while here in Ireland it is also a significant year as the country is now recognised as a single district of its own, having previously been part of a multiple district, with Great Britain known as District 105-I, with a headquarters in Birmingham.
This means Teresa is the first D.G. of this new district (133) and only the second female D.G in Ireland following in the footsteps of Swords Lions Club’s Marion Connelly, who sadly passed away nine weeks ago. She is also the sixth DG from Cork in the past sixty years.
She initially plans to iron out all the finer details of the business and administration, such as insurance, health and safety and the Lions constitution, before settling down to look at where all the organisation’s projects are going.
“The thing I love most of all is going to the different clubs, meeting the people and seeing the work they do in their communities and the passion with which they carry it out. It’s very humbling. The work they do is absolutely staggering and 99 per cent of the time it is under the radar.”
As Teresa Dineen begins her role as D.G. another Cork woman has just taken over the presidency of the Cork Lions Club. She is only the second female in the club’s 60-year history to do so, but Aisling Barry takes this in her stride.
“The gender side is incidental. We’ve had some fantastic presidents”, she says.
Still, it was only in 1987 that the constitution of Lions Clubs International was amended to allow for women to become members, so in that context surely it is a noteworthy achievement?
“I suppose in a way, yes it is. Quite a number of years ago it was all men but that changed. And wives and families were always part of the club; they always play a big part in our events and we couldn’t run any events without them.”
Aisling joined Cork Lions Club, along with her marine engineer husband Mark McCarthy and another friend 12 years ago, when their friend Simon Stokes was president and was keen for new members to sign up.
When she joined did she ever think that one day she would be president of the club?
“No, certainly not”, she insists. “I’d been secretary for a number of years but this wasn’t something I was planning. I didn’t think I’d have the time to commit – I had to think long and hard about it - but it’s an honour to be asked.”
Aisling, a trained architectural technician, has been working as a property planner with Sherry Fitzgerald for just over two years. She is also mum to Megan, who will soon turn 17.
She knows she wouldn’t have been in a position to take on her new role when her daughter was younger.
“I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it before. Timing is everything. But that’s the joy of the club: you can be as involved – or not - as you want. You can do things in the background, whatever suits you.” During her year at the helm, Aisling hopes to gather some new fundraising ideas to add to the established ones, and she’d also like to enhance the social side of the club (which members fund entirely by themselves).
Aisling, originally from Clonakilty and now living in Rochestown, lists swimming among her hobbies. Does that mean she will be participating in the Vibes and Scribes Lee Swim this Saturday, with proceeds going to the Lions Club?
“I have done on previous occasions and it was my intention to do it this year, as the first sitting president to do so. But I haven’t been in fresh water yet this year – which is very different to salt water – so I don’t know. But I will certainly do the Sandycove Challenge, a 1.8km swim around Sandycove Island.”
Cork Lions Club is also well known for its Patricks Hill Ball Run, its Trabolgan Holiday Project for senior citizens and carers, its City Centre Defibrillator Project (a plan to have 12 readily accessible at various points throughout the city – with five installed to date) and its Christmas Food Appeal, which distributed 700 hampers to deserving recipients last year. All money raised locally stays local.
For more see www.corklionsclub.ie or www.facebook.com/corklionsclub.
Lions Clubs International is a secular, non-political, non-profitable, voluntary group founded by Melvin Jones in Chicago in 1917. It has over 45,000 clubs and 1.3 million members in over 200 countries around the world, including 116 clubs in Ireland alone.
All money raised goes directly to worthy charities, with recent beneficiaries in Cork including The Haven Centre on North Gate Bridge, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and Cork Life Centre.