Cork woman spends 47 years volunteering with the Girl Guides... and she’s not done yet!

There’s a new woman at the helm: Marion Gleeson has taken up the role as South West Regional Commissioner with the Girl Guides, writes EMMA CONNOLLY
Cork woman spends 47 years volunteering with the Girl Guides... and she’s not done yet!

Marion Gleeson with her daughters Alison and Linda Gleeson who are also Cork leaders of the Catholic Guides of Ireland. Picture: Larry Cummins

A ROCHESTOWN woman who has given 47 years of service to the Guides is taking up a key role as the organisation celebrates its 90th anniversary year in Cork.

Marion Gleeson joined St Theresa’s Guide company in Passage West when she was 11, and nearly five decades later, she has now just been appointed South-West Regional Commissioner.

That effectively puts her at the helm of the group, which has 250 members aged between five and 18.

Marion Gleeson with daughters (left) Linda and (right) Alison Gleeson and family. Marion became the new South-west Regional Commissioner, this month, at a special ceremony in the Rochestown College Friary - which also marked 90 years of Girl Guides in Cork. Picture; Larry Cummins
Marion Gleeson with daughters (left) Linda and (right) Alison Gleeson and family. Marion became the new South-west Regional Commissioner, this month, at a special ceremony in the Rochestown College Friary - which also marked 90 years of Girl Guides in Cork. Picture; Larry Cummins

It’s a big honour, she says, and one she’s really looking forward to.

Marion said she always promised her former ranger leader, Marie Hannigan, that she’d step up to the role when she retired, and had more time on her hands.

Back in January, 2020, Marion took early retirement from the HSE where she had worked for 38 years, since she was 19, as a clerical officer.

“Marie passed away last year so I’m living up to what I promised and I’m doing this in her honour,” said Marion.

The Guides and Scouts have always been a part of her family.

“My older brothers were in Scouts and my mother, Sheila O’Donovan was on the council for the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland. Guides started out in the city and when they came to Passage, it seemed like a natural thing to go along,” she said.

And outside from some brief periods after having her two girls – Alison (26) and Linda (23), she never left!

Marion Gleeson with Brigini and Cygnets from St Theresa's, Passage. Picture; Larry Cummins
Marion Gleeson with Brigini and Cygnets from St Theresa's, Passage. Picture; Larry Cummins

Marion progressed up the organisation to become a ranger, and then a leader working with groups all over the city and suburbs. Basically, she went wherever her experience and expertise was needed.

Currently, she’s with Cygnets in St Theresa’s, Passage West (she went there in 2013 ‘to help’… and is still there!) and Our Lady of Lourdes Brigíní in Ballinlough.

She says the organisation, whose vision is a world where all girls and women are valued, safe and treated equally, is as relevant today as it was when it was set up in Cork in 1932.

Marion said the Guides is a great space for girls who may not be into things like sport, and is a wonderful opportunity to make friends.

“At least 80% of my friends are people I’ve met through Guides,” said Marion.

And while she says they’ve absolutely no problem attracting new members, the challenge right now is to recruit leaders.

There are currently 33 active leaders and a key objective of hers during her time as commissioner is to launch a recruitment campaign.

“We’ve actually lost a few companies since we restarted after Covid, and it’s due to lack of leaders, not members,” she said.

“Life is so busy for everyone now, so we’re asking if people can even give us some time every second week, or even one night a month as we are flexible,” she said.

Marion Gleeson with her daughters Linda and Alison Gleeson and Cork leaders of the Catholic Guides of Ireland at the event. Picture; Larry Cummins
Marion Gleeson with her daughters Linda and Alison Gleeson and Cork leaders of the Catholic Guides of Ireland at the event. Picture; Larry Cummins

“We’d love to meet potential leaders of all ages, and it’s worth pointing out that you never feel old when you’re with the younger members, they bring such great energy. I love doing activities with them, crafts and the like, things I’d have done with my own girls, and I always get an injection of giggles when I’m with them, the things they’d say to you!”

At this stage in her guiding career, Marion is seeing the kids, and even grandkids, of girls she would have had in her groups from years back.

“It can be a bit of a shock!” she admits.

“But it’s wonderful to see these brilliant women again and I really hope we had a good influence on them during their time with us.”

Marion and her fellow leaders work hard to instil respect and even basic manners in their members.

“We have one leader who likes to say ‘it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,’ which sums it up nicely.”

Daughters Linda and Alison have followed their mum’s lead and have been part of the Guides in Cork.

Alison was a leader until recently, and Linda is a leader with a Rangers and Brigíní group.

“I’m very proud to see my girls in these roles,” said Marion, 58.

She sadly lost her husband Liam to leukaemia in 2016 when the girls were just 20 and 17.

“Just 23 months before that, my father John passed away, so they lost the two men in their life very soon, which was hard, but we have happy memories and we’re coming out the other end,” said Marion.

Since retiring, she’s enjoying DIY, gardening and walking – not that she’s someone with too much spare time on her hands!

Karen Devilee SWR Treasurer said: “We are exceptionally proud of Marion’s achievement, she is an inspiration to us all.”

Flag bearers Siobhan Devilee, Chloe Wagner, and sisters Grace and Niamh Hourihan of Our Lady of Lourdes, Ballinlough, Catholic Guides of Ireland at the event. Picture: Larry Cummins
Flag bearers Siobhan Devilee, Chloe Wagner, and sisters Grace and Niamh Hourihan of Our Lady of Lourdes, Ballinlough, Catholic Guides of Ireland at the event. Picture: Larry Cummins

A HISTORY OF VOLUNTEERING

Marion joined St Theresa’s Guide company (girls aged 10-16 then, now 10-14) as a youth member in Passage West.

The Guide and Brigíní Companies were set up in 1974 as part of the Catholic Guides of Ireland’s development drive to the suburbs from the city centre.

Inspired by the local examples of female leadership around her, she went to Carey’s Lane, the Central Unit in Cork at the time, to join Marie Hannigan’s Rangers, where many of the current Guide Leaders of the region earned their stripes and the leadership skills they have continued to pass on to the girls in their care.

Marion continued her guiding career as assistant leader to Catherine Garrett in St Michael’s Brigín Company in Turner’s Cross (Brigíní are aged from 7 to 11-years-old).

She was called from there back to her home company of St Theresa’s Passage West, where she was Guider to first the Brigíní and then later the Guide Company.

Marion has also served as a Guider in St Ursula’s Blackrock, and most recently with the 20 Brigíní attending Our Lady of Lourdes Brigíní Company in Ballinlough and with the 16 Cygnets attending St Theresa’s Cygnet Company in Passage West.

ABOUT THE GUIDES

The Catholic Guides of Ireland is a voluntary uniformed organisation for girls aged 5 or over, with members in both the Republic and in Northern Ireland.

The local South-Western Region comprises the counties of Cork and Kerry. CGI provide challenging, accessible Guiding opportunities within a safe environment to enable girls and women to develop their full potential, instilling leadership skills for the future.

The vision is a world where all girls and women are valued, safe and treated equally.

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