Passers-by in the vicinity of the Ahamilla GAA complex near Clonakilty last Friday night could have been forgiven for thinking the popular sports facility had been transformed into an elegant eaterie. A steady stream of cars bearing well-dressed passengers laden with food passed through the gates from early evening, and as darkness fell, the assembled crowd then made their way to a warm, inviting dining area at the pavilion, which was beautifully decorated for the occasion.
By 8.30pm the 186 or so diners – many of whom had brought their own delph and cutlery – were sitting at themed tables, laid with snowy white cloths and decorated with flowers, preparing to enjoy a night of good food, and most of it home-made.
The mouth-watering fare on offer included everything from Indian curries, Chinese stir-fries and Moroccan lamb to bowls of potato salad and platters of West Cork ham, tantalising trays of tapas and legs of pork to colourful salads and large woks sizzling with Chinese stir-fry. All followed by animated conversation, socialising, spot prizes and lots and lots of dancing. And all for a great cause.
The event was based around the concept of an American Tea Party – a fundraising dinner in which people, who bring their own food and utensils, give financial donations to a worthy cause, which in this case, was Clonakilty’s Scoil na mBuachaillí.
‘The idea is for people to come together, forget their worries and enjoy a relaxed sociable evening with good food and good music – and it’s all in a super cause,’ said Eileen Collins, a member of the Parents Association of Scoil na mBuachailli, and one of those organising the event. The concept was suggested by Eileen, who, 12 years ago, helped run a similar event in Liscarroll in North Cork on behalf of the local ladies football team.
Scoil na mBuachailli is well known for its unusual fundraisers. Last Christmas, staff and pupils appeared on TV to perform their ‘Butterfly Child’ song, composed by school principal Barth Harrington to raise money for the school and for the Thorn Tree Educational Project in Kenya.
Earlier this year the Parents’ Association, which has for years held a highly successful cake sale fundraiser in aid of the school, decided to change tack and go with Eileen’s Tea Party concept, which she first mooted about two years ago.
The night was a huge success, and when all the money is in, Eileen confidently expects that they will have raised more than €4,000 for the school.
‘The night was very varied,’ said Eileen, ‘with everyone contributing to the occasion. One person might have brought a ham salad platter, while someone else brought mini desserts, others laid and decorated the tables, while still more formed a cleaning crew to clear away afterwards. The idea proved to be an amazing success. Everyone was helpful and incredibly supportive and the entire event was characterised by goodwill from start to finish.’
Preparations for the Tea Party began about three months ago and continued right up to the event last Friday night. ‘It became an amazing community event,’ said Eileen. ‘It was our way of celebrating the school and the staff for the tremendous work they do for the children. As well as being a fundraiser for the school, it was also a great way for parents to meet and get to know each other better.’
Everyone involved put their individual skills to work, with some taking on the task of co-ordinating emails, while others organised raffle and spot prizes – which included a hotel weekend break, spa vouchers and car washes – while more parents helped with the venue and the clean-up afterwards.
The initiative received solid support from local businesses too. ‘It’s been tremendous,’ enthused Eileen. ‘There was a steady stream of raffle prizes donated by parents and local businesses, and the GAA also threw its weight behind the event, by providing the premises at Ahamilla free. Following the meal, diners enjoyed tea and coffee, which was sponsored by one of the parents, before dancing the night away. Here’s to next year!