Report by: Kevin Walsh.
It was such a joy and a pleasure to be at the third meeting of the current season of Fermoy Toastmasters on the evening of Tuesday, October 9th, beginning as always at 8.15 pm. Club President Eilish Ui Bhriain extended warm greetings to everybody with poetic wishes of bright and colourful rainbows in all our lives, that part of friendship that never ends, celebrating the essence of this club as a happy and cheerful meeting place of a brilliant circle of friends. And no one more expresses that beautiful spirit of mutual warm fellow feeling and cordial sentiment than Eilish who instantly makes everyone feel relaxed and at ease, looking forward to the activities of the evening. The vastly experienced John Quirke then assumed the chairmanship of the meeting with style, assurance and charm moving things forward at a smooth and well-judged pace and with the added pleasure of welcoming six guests to our meeting.
In Toastmasters there is no sitting on your hands and everyone is brought in and becomes actively involved. At no phase of every meeting is this better illustrated than in the topics session as we enjoyed with Michael Sheehan stepping up to the lectern with a range of well-chosen and engaging themes getting everyone thinking on their feet and bringing their own unique insights and ideas to the meeting with enthusiasm and zest. The key word of the evening as displayed on the Top Table was Ebullient, meaning cheerful and full of energy, with speakers set the challenge of weaving it into their contributions.
It could not have been more apt and appropriate for energy, cheerfulness, quickness of mind and wit, originality of thought, listening pleasure and the enjoyment of sharing in activities that enrich our lives and expand our personal horizons, sums up everything that Toastmasters are about. Among Michael’s excellent range of topics was selecting your favourite time of the year. This drew many thoughtful and interesting responses, as from Jerry Hennessy who cited Christmas Eve Midnight Mass as a special moment when heaven and earth draw so beautifully and joyfully closer together. Mary Whelan gave a very thoughtful add-on praising the often underrated month of January considered so drab by many as it sees the fading out of the bright cheerful glow of the Christmas lights, nevertheless there is about it such a hopeful and optimistic sense of leaving the past behind and with the dawn of another year embracing the future with all of its possibility and high expectation.
Johanna Hegarty made an outstanding contribution to the concluding topic of the evening concerning the reported refusal of a priest in the midlands to perform a wedding ceremony until a veritable forest of artificial trees were removed from his church. She believed he had acted quite reasonably in insisting this synthetic arboreal clutter being placed outside the church door to emphasise instead the openness and simplicity of God’s grace, for which she won the Best Topic Ribbon of the evening.
At the core of every meeting are the set speeches, some drawn from the manuals designed to fulfill a stated objective, others are off-stage where a speaker sets a personal target of their own. Frank O’Driscoll embarked on a presentation involving the use of in-depth research. We were brought on a memorable journey of unexpected twists and turns beginning with the ardent love of the poet Patrick Kavanagh for the young Kerry student Hilda Moriarty in mid-1940s Dublin. Her influence transformed his literary output from a preoccupation with all things rustic to a celebration of the life of real people as exemplified in that great classic poem of unrequited love Raglan Road.
For Hilda and the poet went their separate ways but she would go on to win the heart of another soon to be famous man, Donough O’Malley, talented and well-connected and supremely sure of himself, but in marrying him, Hilda also inspired and guided him in the path of improving the lives of real people against a background of four out of every seven children leaving school early. Her vision inspired his introduction of free secondary schooling in 1966 when O’Malley had become a radically reforming Minister for Education. Frank concluded that while we have many very gifted politicians today, none of them have the empathy and imagination to follow in that same path of investing in people, in their potential and their future. That is why the health service continues to guzzle vast amounts of money while the waiting lists grow ever longer or why the output of Irish medical colleges remains four times less than what is needed to meet the demand. Later Kevin Walsh as evaluator complimented Frank for having made such an illuminating speech on how the influence of one person can make such a vast difference for the better.
Our next speech from Jerry Hennessy giving a brief history of Spike Island saw our first ever power-point presentation. With the expert help of our Meeting Planner Padraig Murphy, scribbling headings on the flip-chart was replaced by images beamed onto a screen beginning with a splendid vista of Cork Harbour and Cobh Cathedral, then evoking the ghost of the ill-fated Titanic before focusing on the great bastion with its impressive diamond-shaped fortifications built by forced convict labour which stand today in eloquent testimony to the story of the tens of thousands of wretched prisoners transported to Australia mainly for offences such as stealing a loaf of bread for sheer survival. Still used as a prison until the 1980s, Jerry had visited the island very recently when this once austere military stronghold flourishes again as a peaceful and popular tourist attraction. Told with warmth and compassion, Jerry brought a refreshing gentleness and humanity to a story of inhumanity and of much darker times in Ireland, offering a very timely reminder that no matter what difficulties we may face today our country is a so much happier place than ever before, for which he was highly praised by evaluator Mary Whelan.
Finally, David Walsh told us something of the fascinating story of The Humble Spud, that quintessentially Irish vegetable but native to the high Andes Mountains of South America, brought to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors to become a staple diet of the poor, especially here in Ireland where high yields from tiny sub-divided holdings eventually led to acritical over-dependence that led to a population explosion followed by the terrible catastrophe of the Great Famine of the 1840s. But despite all that the potato remains a popular source of nutrition to this day as well as appearing under the guise of waffles, chips and crisps, proving its extraordinary resilience and versatility. David concluded that while he couldn’t bring a spud for everyone in the audience, he did have a bowl of crisps for all to share, which won an appreciative round of applause. Evaluator Kevin O’Neill expressed his enjoyment at this well-informed ramble through the tubers of the ages linking our lunch plates today with the richness of a great history.
After a very fine overall assessment of the meeting by General Evaluator Johanna Hegarty, ribbons were awarded for the Best Speakers, Evaluators and Topics, to Jerry Hennessy, Mary Whelan and Johanna Hegarty respectively. It was especially gratifying to revive this custom as for quite some time it was impossible to obtain performance ribbons from World Headquarters anymore, such is the extent of their fascination with online technology and corporate culture that the truly valuable simple things are overlooked. Through the initiative of Tim Fitzgerald who obtained a year’s supply of attractively-designed ribbons from a local printing firm, this symbolic but tangible recognition of commitment and excellence has restored a highly valued dimension to our meetings.
And so we look forward to our next meeting on this coming Tuesday, October 23rd, at 8.15 pm in the Fermoy Youth Centre. It will be our hugely entertaining annual Humorous Speech and Topics Contest but please note it will not be in in our usual meeting room, but the much larger Youth Centre Theatre, as we will have outside judges and representatives of other clubs in attendance. We look forward to welcoming you all to this very special occasion. 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.