Report by: Kevin Walsh.
On a night of wintry weather, Fermoy Toastmasters Club once again displayed its very best and most mettlesome spirit by going ahead with the first meeting of the year on Tuesday, January 16th, at the Fermoy Youth Centre. The early signs seemed not entirely encouraging as many members were unable to attend given the very inclement conditions. We waited to see what would happen uncertain as to whether things could proceed. But as the minutes ticked down to starting time some very welcome and beaming friendly faces appeared and with the mutual exchange of cordial New Year’s greetings and expressions of gladness at coming together like this in defiance of the elements, the meeting was called to order by Club President Kevin O’Neill and our New Year and another New Season of immense enjoyment and personal growth had begun.
Whether dear familiar friends and ever so welcome first-time visitors and guests, we delight in making everyone feel at ease and that their coming to us is an occasion of such great joy and pleasure to us all. Mallow President and ever special friend of all of us here in Fermoy, Helsa Giles, came to enhance our gathering by her kindness and warmth, bringing along some perfectly delicious creamed jam scones for the tea and coffee break that she had so thoughtfully and generously made for us.
As in all aspects of life, helloes and goodbyes form an inescapable part of the Toastmasters story also. Sadly we had to bid farewell to Clare Guy who over the last three years has been a most valued member of this club making an outstanding contribution for which we are most grateful. Her career path that brought her to Fermoy now takes her away to Dublin and Meath, but she leaves us with so many happy and cherished memories. It is very encouraging to hear that Clare intends continuing active participation in Toastmasters with all of our warmest good wishes for the future.
Tim Fitzgerald readily agreed to step into the role of Toastmaster of the evening or chairman which he carried through with noteworthy humour and panache together with and an assured lightness of style that imparted such a special effervescence to our gathering. John Sherlock then steered us through a memorably entertaining and original topics session encompassing such themes as the living of a good life which drew a very thoughtful and apposite response from John Kelly on how the early idealism and good intentions of many people are tarnished by self-centredness and cynicism, which can however be successfully overcome through personal development, the widening of outlook, the enrichment of character and the fostering of rewarding friendships, all of which can be so amply achieved through participation in Toastmasters. Then too among so much else members were asked to speak on whom they considered their most admirable celebrities and the weirdest thing any had ever come across in someone’s house and – best of all – every member was asked to contribute a one sentence response summing up their views on the Internet that posed a very engaging and stimulating challenge.
We then were treated to two very fine and uplifting speeches. Tasking himself with an assignment to deliver a talk on a subject that required extensive research and presented in a way that is illuminating and informative, Kevin O’Neill took us on a journey back to the late 18th century when a young English governess on an annual salary of forty guineas assumed the care and direction of three daughters of the Kingston family of Mitchelstown Castle. Mary Wollstonecraft spent a fruitful and absorbing year there, dazzling her young charges with her intellectual powers and her passionate belief in the rights of women to education and a better life, for which she incurred the displeasure of her employers who dispensed with her services. Nothing daunted she maintained her resolve to make her own way in a harsh world where women had so few opportunities and where an improvident father had left her without fortune.
With her outstanding gifts she successfully earned a living by her pen, writing reviews, translations and books advocating a radically different vision of women’s place in the patriarchal and male-dominated society of that time. Kevin displayed a fine picture of this extraordinary woman on the flipchart and in this well-crafted and succinct presentation traced the course of a remarkable life that brought her to eventual marriage and becoming the mother of two daughters. Tragically, Wollstonecraft died from septicaemia as a result of that second birth; however the baby survived and grew up to become famous as Mary Shelley. Exactly two centuries ago in 1818 she published the horror novel Frankenstein, which has haunted the world’s imagination ever since. This was a most enlightening talk on a great pioneer of our modern age. Later evaluator Helsa Giles expressed her admiration for a speech that had so effectively and adroitly captured the essence of an outstanding and unique individual who remains so relevant to our times.
At the centre of the concerns of our times are the likely consequences of Brexit, which Kevin Walsh set firmly in the context of Britain’s imperial tradition and pointing up how that great country is trying vainly to makes its future out of the vanished glories of its past, a past to which it is shackled and enthralled. It is now, he said, as if a century later Germany had won the First World War leaving Britain isolated and exposed having failed to come to terms with its much reduced international status, withdrawing into a fortress state from the challenges of a vastly changed world where China is now the dominant power. Kevin advocated the only true and lasting empire that can now be built is not one of maps and territory but rather based on people, letting go of lost grandeur and replacing it with a vision of a society where everyone is helped to achieve their full potential and their dignity is unequivocally affirmed. Later his evaluator Michael Sheehan complimented Kevin on such a wide-ranging address on a subject of great relevance to all of us.
In summing up the meeting, General Evaluator Mary Whelan with all of her unique charm and grace that makes her such an especially well-loved and highly regarded personality in our circle of friends, spoke of her enjoyment of a meeting that had gone ahead against all the odds and offered great inspiration for the coming season, offering boxes of chocolates to those who had made an especially noteworthy contribution to the success of the evening. And so we go forward and look ahead joyfully to our next meeting on this coming Tuesday, January 30th, at the Fermoy Youth Centre at 8.15 pm., and hoping for better weather and to seeing everyone coming together for a wonderful evening. For further information, please contact Mary Whelan at 087 7971006 or Kevin Walsh at 058 60100 or log on to our mobile-friendly website toastmastersfermoy.com or find us on Twitter @ FermoyT.