WEST Cork’s longest running and oldest Marca na Feirme club, Clonakilty, has just celebrated its 70th anniversary and is looking to the future with confidence.
The organisation, traditionally associated with the farming community, welcomes young people from all sectors and is appealing for new members to join up.
And with rural isolation continuing to be as prevalent today as it was 70 years ago, they say the benefits of being part of the group (open to those aged 17 to 35) are as important as ever.
Its chairman, Colm O’Leary, and the 70th celebration committee, organised a gala night at Fernhill House Hotel recently where they honoured past members and showcased their many awards from down through the years.
‘Clonakilty Macra was founded on Sunday 31st October 1948,’ Colm said. ‘Skibbereen was the first club in the region but this club no longer exists. We were the second club and are now the oldest club in the Carbery region. The first chairperson of Clonakilty Macra Desmond Hill, went on to found the Macra Carbery region itself and was its first chairperson.’
There were 16 original members, compared to 60 now, who set up Clonakilty Macra, just four years after the national organisation was founded in 1944.
They were: Denis O’Hea (first Hon. Sec.), Donal Keohane, Peter Hill, Desmond Hill (first Chairman), Owen O’Keeffe, Jack O’Donovan, Vincent Beechinor, Thomas O’Leary, Denis O’Neill, Paddy O’Connor, Bernie O’Donovan, Thomas Kingston and James Crispie.
Member Carmel Cullinane said: ‘Because Macra na Feirme was all about social and educational activities for rural people, one of the first outings the club organised was to see a film in Dunmanway.
‘The club was founded after mass on Sunday and the meetings used to take place at the old town hall, or as it was sometimes called, the Old Market House on Barrack Hill. From here the club grew and we are now celebrating 70 years of continuous service.’
A primary focus initially was to combat a situation that is still prevalent today: rural isolation.
Member Mary Sheehan and chair of the anniversary committee said: ‘At the beginning the group organised social meetings and outings and that continues today with our club members taking part and winning national awards in everything from public speaking, drama, debating and farming skills. Macra also promotes personal development, positivity and community pride.’
It’s worth noting, despite common perception, that you don’t have to be from a farming background to join Macra.
Colm added: ‘We are all extremely proud of our community here in Clonakilty and the community, we know, is very proud of us. If you’re interested and want to get involved, you can take part in everything from personal development, life skills, education, organisation skills and most of all meet new friends and enjoy the social aspect of the group.’
It’s also been a place where love has blossomed.
‘A girl called Sofia came to Ireland in 2006 from Sweden. She was working for a local family as an au pair. The family’s previous au pair had been in our club and brought her to a Macra meeting and introduced her to Alan Buttimer. They got married 2012,’ said Colm.
He said the club is also helping to encourage positive mental health.
‘For farmers, this year has been a very big challenge,’ Colm said. ‘Between the extreme weather conditions, the fodder shortage and the resulting financial strain, many young farmers are under extreme pressure and we let our members know that they can share their questions and concerns with the group. You never know, members could be able to offer advice and support or may know someone who can.’
At a packed gala celebration in Fernhill House, Clonakilty Macra members gathered for what Mary described as an ‘epic’ night.
Mary said: ‘We displayed a collection of PRO books, which date back to the early years of the club, and give a snap shot of what has been achieved by the club for the last 70 years. We honoured a past member Denis Nyhan who sadly died earlier this year and who was very involved in the club. We also had guest speakers, Tom O’Donoghue, Macra na Feirme’s Munster vice president and former past president of Macra na Feirme Alan Jagoe.’
Colm said they were all looking forward to the future. ‘We now aim to grow the club and to have a strong and positive legacy going forward into the next 70 years and beyond.
‘If I had to give someone a single reason to join Clonakilty Macra, I’d have to say, it’s just great fun.’
*Email [email protected], or see Facebook.