Fermoy Toastmasters held one of their best and most enjoyable annual Speech and Evaluation Contests on the evening of April 10th in the ever welcoming riverside Youth Centre. It has always been one of the great highlights of our year and on this occasion even greater heights were attained with the remarkably high quality of the speeches, the enthusiasm of the reception for the contestants and by such a very positive and genial atmosphere that made for a memorably special and richly satisfying evening. Calling proceedings to order Club President Kevin O’Neill extended cordial greetings to all after which control of the meeting was passed to Tim Fitzgerald who as Toastmaster or chairman carried us through the programme with an easy and assured style that greatly enhanced its success. Then we turned to the first of several relatively brief but hugely enjoyable and stimulating topics sessions with Topicsmaster David Walsh offering a varied selection of well-chosen and engaging subjects that got everyone actively involved with ready quickness of mind and ready spontaneity fostering a receptive and most positive atmosphere for the main event of the evening.
It is important to remember that brevity is of the essence of Toastmasters at all times but never more so than in competition as the green light comes on at five minutes, amber at six and red at seven which stays on until the speaker is finished. If any speaker goes over the final thirty seconds of grace, they incur instant silent disqualification. It is a salutary and very powerful discipline that brings out the best in everyone. Our first speaker was Kevin Walsh who gave us a refreshing and gently challenging talk on how a stranger can be viewed with concern and even suspicion but equally a stranger might just be a new friend whom you have yet to know. He recounted his own personal experiences of meeting people who instantly and surprisingly opened their hearts and showed warmth, kindness and friendship. Once initial cool reserve has melted warm and genial welcome can so often take its place. We are all strangers somewhere and to other people leaving us but to ask for acceptance that can lead to fascinating discoveries of the real beauty of other people and of life.
Next up was Jerry Hennessy who evoked the ancient art of ploughing by which the soil is made yield up its abundance and fruitfulness, ‘the mist where genesis begins’ as Patrick Kavanagh once put it. The skill and precision of generations of ploughmen following the slow patient shire horses later superseded by the insistent power of the tractor is uniquely celebrated here in Ireland at the annual National Ploughing Championships of which Jerry has always been a dedicated follower. Charting the history of this great iconic event from its modest origins in the 1930s under the direction of early pioneers like JJ Bergin and Sean O’Farrell and its later immense expansion by Anna May McHugh who began her association as a young helpful office girl before going on to assume the mantle of leadership and inspiration. A brilliant and remarkable woman who half a century and more later has brought the Ploughing Championships to a pinnacle of success and a tremendous celebration of rural life drawing tens of thousands of visitors every year, a real triumph of imagination and vision combined with that innate Irish love of the land and nature. Jerry’s speech was a most affectionate and well-drawn affirmation of what has become a great milestone in the annual calendar of life on this island.
Frank O’Driscoll delivered a beautiful speech based around the philosophy of one of his great sporting heroes of the past, golfer Walter Hagen who at a very dark and troubled time in the world between two periods of war and conflict, represented courtesy, refinement and stately accomplishment, his philosophy summed up in his saying ‘never hurry, never worry and always smell the roses along the way’. Frank’s message is timeless: that beyond all of life’s troubles and upsets, there is always something more, something serene, restful and filled with a spirit of peace. It was illustrated in the story of two little rabbits trapped in a vat of cream, one tires and gives up the struggle and sinks down, the other keeps going and tries to go on swimming until the liquid turns to butter across which he runs to make his eventual escape. Keep going, keep trying, never give up, enjoy what delights life may bring in the journey and trust for the rest that all will somehow turn out bright and well. This was the kernel of an expansive presentation given in a gentle, measured, easy-listening style, and yet full of profound truth and insight all the more impressive and compelling for its quiet apparent simplicity, with a genial smile and placid wisdom reaching to the bright shoreline of great promise.
Finally, Mary Whelan gave us a gem of a speech delivered with flawless grace and poise celebrating friendship and kindness as seen in those glowing embers that come out of the past in the form of journal entries recording holiday and Christmas joys, the pleasure of receiving a postcard from someone holidaying in a distant and beautiful place and a few well-chosen words of greeting that give you the sense of being there knowing that the sender has taken so much time and thought to write and post this to you. The card can be saved and looked at again even years later while the text message is fleeting and soon erased. Then too by not throwing out what some might think of as clutter, old letters can resurface years later like a note from a twelve year old boy expressing thanks for a lovely day out. Now as an adult he enjoys great success in his professional field, but in that note he remains forever a boy forever happy and grateful in simple carefree pleasures. Mary concluded by pointing out how our coming together in these entertaining meetings forges the bonds of shared comradeship and friendship in Toastmasters and the wider world.
After our convivial tea break, we then had our second competition of the night in the art of Evaluations where guest speaker and Mallow Club President Helsa Giles, shared with us as her love of fashion and elegance, drawing from a travelling case a whole sequence of some of her favourite dresses, stylish and sophisticated creations that help her to project her bright and vivacious personality to the world. In the pleasure of couture, Helsa proclaims her enthusiasm for life and its richness. Five contestants then left the room to be recalled back one by one to give their widely varied assessments of what they had just heard: Fanahan Colbert, John Kelly, Michael Sheehan, Padraig Murphy and Michelle O’Brien. Each with their own perspective, all united in admiration for a speech so wonderful to listen to and so visually stunning, a truly outstanding and brilliant achievement.
Then after the judges’ score sheets were totted up and the votes had been counted, the results were announced: in the Evaluations, First Place and Runner-Up Speakers were Fanahan Colbert and Michelle O’Brien, while Frank O’Driscoll was the well-deserved and very popular Winner of the Speech Contest with Kevin Walsh as Runner-Up, both warmly congratulated and presented with their prizes. All four will represent Fermoy in the Area Contest in Mallow on Thursday, April 19th, at the Hibernian Hotel Mallow at 8 pm. We then look forward to our next regular meeting in Fermoy on this coming Tuesday, April 24th, at 8.15 pm. 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.