Report by: Kevin Walsh.
After the euphoria of our first very successful meeting of the new season on September 11th, all eyes were on how our second gathering would fare on the evening of Tuesday, September 25th. And it turned out to be such a wonderful and most enjoyable occasion which even excelled the high standards set previously. Three outstanding speeches, a memorable topics session, a great and very warm atmosphere suffused with the sounds of people relaxed and enjoying themselves.
Club President Eilish Ui Bhriain immediately set a pleasant tone with a poetry reading that could not have been better chosen for our riverside location with My Home In Fermoy, evoking an exile’s affectionate yearning for the town by the Blackwater and that sense of belonging that makes a place a home, that very same sense of being among friends and at ease with each other that makes participation in Fermoy Toastmasters such a very special and precious thing. Eilish has such a kindly and genial presence that fills the room with a most lovely feeling. Control of the meeting was then passed to our Toastmaster of the evening, Mary Whelan, who quipped that she was so relaxed listening to the richly evocative poetry that she almost forgot that she had a job to do. But as always she rose to the occasion so splendidly and performed her task with charm and grace, introducing the speakers and keeping proceeding going smoothly and seamlessly for the full two hours’ duration. Mary related to us how that afternoon she had been at the Liam Miller Benefit Match at Pairc Ui Caoimh in Cork and came away with such a very positive impression of what had been such a unique and very great occasion when the best sporting spirit achieved tangible lasting good.
Tim Fitzgerald with his ready affability and wry humour took us through a series of scintillating topics that from the outset got everyone actively thinking on their feet and making vibrant and original contributions with two minutes for the initial responder and one minute add-ons to follow. The pool of talent and creative energy in the club is truly remarkable and something to be celebrated. Subjects as diverse as tickets for GAA Finals, the proposed referendum to lift the constitutional ban on blasphemy, the costs of the office of the Presidency and perhaps most intriguing of all, if you were Minister for Education what additional life skills would you like to see taught in the schools. Many suggestions came forward on acquiring cookery skills, on opening bank accounts and financial management which drew astute comments that the practice of encouraging students to take out loans sets young people too early on a lifetime of debt. Another topic concerning rural broadband referred to our over-dependence on technology and the timely observation from Johanna Hegarty that in the complexity and richness of the human brain we have something that is light years more advanced than even the most sophisticated computer systems, and thank God for it.
It is such a pleasure to see last year’s Immediate Past President Kevin O’Neil playing such a hugely enthusiastic role in the club as he stepped forward to the lectern to give a very well-researched and adroitly-presented talk arguing the benefits to society of making all citizens at the age of 18 to give one year’s military service. With some five million people, Ireland’s Army numbers no more than nine thousand with a currently very high recruit drop-out rate, whereas Finland for example with a similar population musters over 25 thousand troops and a substantial reserve through the use of conscription. He argued cogently that such a measure would not only enhance national security but also pointed to greater social cohesion born of a generation sharing in a common experience, in the acquiring of valuable training and skills, giving all young people their first guaranteed annual wage with free bed and board provided. With skillful use of the flip chart displaying an impressive array of facts and figures, Kevin’s argument was highly compelling, a sentiment followed through later by his evaluator Denis O’Brien who gave a very well-calibrated and thoughtful assessment while joking that he was glad however to be beyond the reach of compulsory military service today!
This was followed by an equally detailed, insightful and well-crafted speech from Fanahan Colbert on the never ending scandal of homelessness that confronts our society. He presented stark statistics to us that today over nine thousand people have no home of whom a shocking four thousand of those are children. In the boom years far too many houses were built in areas where no one wanted to live. Then we had the Crash and ever since we have been building far too few homes leading to this colossal social problem. At the same time the density of inner city areas in Dublin and the main provincial population centres necessitates the building of apartment housing but this comes up against a long-held dislike of such accommodation formed by an all too common historical experience of shabby council flats. Then too there are older persons whose families have flown the nest leaving them with empty rooms while others squat in emergency shelters or sleep rough on the streets. They would perhaps benefit from downsizing but very often there are no downsized properties available for them to move into. This presentation incorporated a question-and-answer session in which Fanahan had an opportunity to expand on other related themes, not least how planning laws, environmental controls and the propensity for public objections cause much needed developments to be interminably delayed. A streamlining of our systems and the expansion of our housing stock are the only lasting solutions together with changes in the public attitudes to housing all of which drew warm praise from evaluator John Sherlock.
Our final prepared speech of the evening was a real jewel from Mairead Barry who sitting before the gathering brought us to the poetry and the times of Tom Kettle, lawyer, soldier, poet, Irish nationalist, husband and father, fallen hero of the Great War, whose works were cited by President Higgins in the course of his address at the State Banquet in Windsor Castle some years ago. In a clear and very fine voice, Mairead delivered Kettle’s last poem so movingly that you could almost hear the roar of the guns and visualise the poet writing these lines by candlelight in a trench dugout somewhere on the Western Front, as he recalled his loved ones and those immortal closing lines asking future generations to remember that we ‘foolish dead died not for King nor Emperor but for a dream born in a herdsman’s shed and the secret scripture of the poor’. In a word, he and so many of his comrades sacrificed all for freedom and human dignity. It was so very touching as evaluator Johanna Hegarty later pointed out in her very fine evaluation praising a speech that will long stay in our most cherished and best memories.
There followed a brief overall assessment of the meeting by General Evaluator John Kelly who spoke of his great enjoyment of a truly outstanding meeting and of the wealth of talent that there is in the club so richly enhanced by John’s years of dedicated and outstanding participation and friendship that is such a great source of encouragement and pleasure to us all.
Mary Whelan and Eilish Ui Bhriain thanked everyone for making the evening so very special and particularly to Padraig Murphy as our EVP and Meeting Organiser who works so hard to put together such varied and outstanding programmes. A beautiful floral presentation was made by John Sherlock on behalf of the club to our dear friend Helsa Giles as she embarks on a new very happy and promising phase of life. At the conclusion of one meeting there is a great looking forward to the next that will take place on this coming Tuesday evening, October 9th, at 8.15 pm. We eagerly await the pleasure of seeing you. 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.