Report by: Kevin Walsh.

To meet together in a spirit of good cheer, to be with friends, build confidence and achieve enhanced communication, leadership and listening skills, to have a couple of very pleasant and happy hours together with very nice and lovely people, it was in celebration of all these joys that are at the heart of being a member and friend of Fermoy Toastmasters that the club gathered on the evening of Tuesday, November 20th, at the riverside Youth Centre. Our President, Eilish Ui Bhriain, extended warm greetings and words of welcome to the meeting and glancing through the pages of the Holly Bough evoked that rose-tinted festive time of year that is now rapidly approaching.

The chairmanship of the meeting was then passed to Michael Sheehan who steered proceedings forward with great expertise, humour and aplomb. What makes a very good meeting is a live and engaging topics session and this was stylishly achieved by Jerry Hennessy in his selection of themes that encompassed the light-hearted and the great controversies of the day such as the racial bullying recently featured in an edition of Joe Duffy’s Liveline What Happened Next programme, the resilience of the spectators who brave the harsh winter elements to attend GAA matches, the illegal dumping of waste which drew from more than one contributor the view that the upcoming byelaws coming into force in the New Year whereby householders will be obliged to prove that they are disposing of their refuse in a legal and correct way is a move very much  to be welcomed. A complete change of mood followed with contributions on the continuing popularity of Christmas Pantomine with its combination of childhood innocence, topical humour and satire, its enduring appeal as a form of live mid-winter entertainment that flourishes in this era of video games and social media. And it succeeds people both the young and the not so young are prepared to make the effort to rehearse, prepare and learn to achieve something that celebrates the simple joy of life. A little bit like what we do here in Toastmasters. Everything worthwhile requires thought and effort but it is all so very pleasing and fulfilling. Topics sessions are not a discussion forum,  but rather an opportunity for people to exercise their minds instantly and spontaneously when they are asked to ask to speak off the cuff about something there and then for up to two minutes with subsequent one minute add-ons. It is amazing how it so quickly gathers pace and gets everyone in such an eager and receptive mood. The last topic of the night asked where the annual TV licence fee represented good value to which one member responded by saying that it was a lot of money even if you don’t pay it!!!

The middle section of the meeting had a threefold presentation of very fine, thought-provoking and entertaining speeches. The first talk was delivered by Denis O’Brien who took on the challenge of getting to the point and making a speech that was purposeful and designed to stimulate enthusiasm. Denis has a very pleasant and relaxing speaking voice and presence, easy on the ear and gentle to the mind which enables him to convey his message all the more effectively and thoughtfully. He addressed the myriad of distractions in everyday life from satellite television and smart phones which has left so many people with a very limited concentration span. How many times in conversation people ask you something that you have already just told them – they have not been listening. We need to listen more, tune out a lot of the background noise, find more time for each other and for ourselves in moments of quiet reflection which leads to a world that is more compassionate and human. As Denis spoke, we heard music and singing coming from a performance or rehearsal wafting up along the hall which made us concentrate on his beautiful delivery all the more. The sound faded away as drew to his conclusion calling for greater peace and stillness in these overly frantic times.

And it was on a theme of reflection on the recent Armistice commemorations of the Great War centenary that John Sherlock came to the lectern reading the full text of the speech given by President Michael D. Higgins at Glasnevin Cemetery Dublin, recognising the all too long neglected and ignored contribution by those many thousands of Irish soldiers who fought in British uniforms all over the world throughout that dreadful conflict. The worldwide cost was enormous: over 14million dead and millions more injured, while long-established empires came crashing down and the political face of the earth was forever changed. Afterwards many were baffled and perplexed by how such a terrible calamity could have originated in Europe, the cradle of so much of the world’s finest scholarship, culture and philosophy. The solemnity of the speech was counter-balanced in John’s very unique and informal interpretation clad in his shirt sleeves and funky braces that brought a winning touch of lightness and directness telling us that beyond the darkness of war there is always a saving place where we can be human and at ease. After John had concluded, Toastmaster of the evening Michael Sheehan captured the poignancy of these times by reminding the meeting of a woman now in her eighties placing a poppy wreath at the tone’s War Memorial honouring the sacrifice of her grandfather who fell in battle on the Western Front all of a century ago.

Our third and final speaker was Tim Fitzgerald who with his London Irish background, brought his own very illuminating perspective to theme of finding direction in journeys and in life, calling to mind the colourful names and signs of many old English like the Red Lion or the Stag’s Head pubs and taverns that in an age of almost universal illiteracy were a very useful guide to travelers finding their way. Nowadays the satnav has become the new guiding hand to so many of us on our journeys. It is seldom that anyone needs to stop to ask for directions now. But finding our way in life remains as difficult and our paths are as elusive as they have ever been. So many tell of feeling lost and disoriented and looking for a new sense of purpose and meaning, a sense of direction. Tim concluded his timely and thoughtful presentation that we all need to stop our overreliance on technology and communicate and to listen to each other so much more. Listening, communication, using our voices and our minds to share with others, to give and to receive the very best of what we have distilled from our varied experiences of life, is the very heart of everything we do in Toastmasters.

Nothing in Toastmasters is ever free-standing or detached. Every speaker receives a positive and constructive evaluation from other club members pointing up all that has been achieved and recommending suggested further improvements as was so well done by Kevin Walsh, Mary Whelan and Johanna Hegarty. Throughout the evening our Timekeeper Padraig Murphy kept a close eye on the stopwatch and the coloured lights ensuring that the meeting ran smoothly and efficiently, for as our General Evaluator Fanahan Colbert said in his final summation it is vital that meetings should conclude on time so that everyone can go away felt refreshed and happy after a most entertaining and stimulating couple of hours.  And it is always a good time to be happy. We look forward to another great evening on this coming Tuesday, December 4th, at the Fermoy Youth Centre at 8.15 pm where a warm welcome awaits you. For further information, please contact Mary Whelan at 087 7971006 or Kevin Walsh at 087 1228684 or log on to our mobile-friendly website toastmastersfermoy.com.