Local focus is key but there was also To Russia with Love

Alexis Phelan, Maura Grant and Babby Fitzpatrick

By Jimmy Rhatigan

Pics: Donal Foley

IT WAS a magic milestone.

It was a super occasion for brilliant Ballyhale at the heart of South Kilkenny.

And, perhaps most important of all, it was a unique event, yes unique in the real sense and not in name only.

For Ballyhale Women’s Guild that has just celebrated its 50th birthday is now Ireland’s lone such group.

The Reporter could not find even one other such guild so if there is one it is working away without perhaps a pinch of publicity.

Ballyhale didn’t tend to shout its business from the rooftops either over a glorious half a century.

It simply raised its own funds and unselfishly provided a series of services to the parish of Ballyhale as it catered for first communions, confirmations, funerals, senior citizens’ outings and Christmas parties.

The local parochial hall was the hub of activities as local clubs and organisations, including the GAA, soccer, Gymkhana Club and indeed other clubs that may have come and gone over the years.

Fittingly, it was in the same hall that the local community said a big thank you to the women of the Women’s Guild who were safeguarding a proud tradition as they toiled willingly keeping up a brilliant reputation for a club that was founded in Ballyhale in 1968.

A Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated in St Martin of Tours Church by new parish priest Fr Seán O’Connor as the women were lauded for their selfless and voluntary service to the parish for five decades.

There were presentations and refreshments in the hall with entertainment by the brilliant Coastline providing a lively evening for a bumper crowd of men and women who were happy to put on record their admiration and respect for local women of courage and action.

A plaque presented to the guild on behalf of the people of the parish will have pride of place in the hall.

The last official celebration of the guild was 25 years ago when the women marked a quarter of a century.

In the ensuing years the focus continued on local work but the women along with caring and hard-working local woman Carmel Harrington extended the hand of friendship across the world to the needy of Russia.

The ladies knitted teddy bears and clothes for children and the To Russia with Love project proved to be a super success.

At the celebration Mass deceased members of the guild were remembered with a candle being presented among the Offertory Gifts.

Other gifts were a cup and saucer representing the cups of tea shared in joyful and sad times locally.

An exhibition of old photographs of the last 50 years proved to be a smash hit.

The journey down memory lane was a real delight and was one of the highlights of the evening.

Founder members of the guild are all deceased but references were made to the vision and insight of those who had sowed the seeds of a group that was to grow into a cornerstone of a close-knit community.

The guild has always depended on voluntary subscriptions and goodwill of local people. 

The latter came with a heart and a half from generous locals and that along with guild raffles and other fund-raisers ensured that community occasions would be well catered for.

The hall party catering was by the Parents’ Association of the local Naomh Phadráig National School.

There were light refreshments, sandwiches and lots of confectionery.

A birthday cake was perhaps a cut above the rest.

And while there were lots of candles to be lit there was not a word of calling time on something special.

The idea is to pass the baton of volunteerism from mother to daughter to other family relatives in the hope that there will always be a Women’s Guild in a parish that really appreciates it.