Mary thanks ICA for opening doors to her local community
Grenagh Guild president Mary Conway says ICA was a lifeline for her when she joined in the 1980s. Although living in the area for 27 years at that stage, she didn’t feel part of the community until she joined ICA. “It opened doors for me. It really did,” says Mary, who’s originally from Manchester, though her background is “very Irish”.
She initially joined Whitechurch Guild where she stayed for 33 years. In the early 1980s, Whitechurch ICA had 73 members — by the time it closed it had just eight. “I knew all the girls in Grenagh Guild very well. I go to An Grianán often and the Grenagh girls were always there. They asked me to join them.” Mary met her husband, Kevin Conway, in 1955 outside St Patrick’s Church on Cork’s Lower Glanmire Road.
He was a relative of a friend that Mary had made while working in the US — the friend invited her to visit Cork and Mary’s fate was sealed. “We more or less did fall in love straight away. I met him in 1955 and we were married in 1956.”
A freight driver with CIE, Kevin had unsociable hours, Mary didn’t drive — and the couple also had 13 children — so she didn’t feel free to join ICA for a couple of decades. “My youngest was about 10 when I joined in 1983. Socially, it gave me the chance to do things I’d always been interested in — arts and crafts, public speaking, light entertainment and ballad singing. I got into all of these, which was wonderful for me and I was doing them with lovely people.”
Her musical interests span a wide range. A member of a choir in Killeagh, they recently did a recital in Killeagh Hall. She also sings for tour- ists in Blarney Castle Hotel. She attends art classes on Tuesdays run by Blarney ICA with teacher Anne Carleton, a Grenagh Guild member. “Grenagh Guild has just seven members, yet three have executive functions. Anne is mid-cork vice-president, Ena Howell’s regional president for the South West and Marion Twomey’s An Grianán teachta. They’re great workers for ICA.” Aside from the companionship ICA offers women, Mary says the whole purpose of the organisation is to make life easier for women and she cites ICA lobbying on social issues — from campaigning around Cervicalcheck right back to the days when they called for rural electrification.
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National ICA vice-president for the South and West Ena Howell and Grenagh Guild president Mary Conway.