NEXT Wednesday evening, Doonbeg community hall will host an evening to mark International Day of Rural Women. It will be the first time the day has been formally marked in Clare. The West Clare Family Resource Centre in Kilrush, who are organising the event, has noticed that, despite policies and strategies being produced to improve rural life, there is very little recognition of the contribution of women to rural Ireland.
Esther O’Rourke, who lives with her husband Damien and their two daughters, near Cree village, will be one of the speakers next week. From Irvine in Scotland, Esther has lived in Cree for six and a half years. Similar to many married women who move to rural Ireland, she has found that she has had to work hard to adjust and make friends. Her husband is from Ennis and although he has cousins in Cooraclare and Kilrush, the couple didn’t have a network to fall back on when they moved.
“I met my husband and brought him back to Scotland for six years. Then his work brought him here and that was us back again. You’re continuously trying to network. You’re trying to make new friends all the time,” Esther told The Clare Champion at the Family Resource Centre in Kilrush last week.
Esther worked in a hospital in Scotland and since moving to Clare, works in Liscannor Nursing Home.
“It was completely different for us because we were townies in Scotland. We lived slap in the centre of town. Our local shop was Tesco. We weren’t used to going to little shops and forgetting to get the milk. It was never an issue in Scotland. It was very different. To go from that to suddenly no work, looking after a baby in somewhere I didn’t know, with no friends around about me, was hard. We did have the advantage that Damien’s cousin, Martin O’Gorman, lives in Cooraclare and he also brought a wife in from outside. She had a baby just six months older than mine. She’s my saving grace. Andrea is from Slovenia,” Esther explained.
“Because she had been here before me she had already worked out there is a mother and toddler group here. We’d go to the Vandeleur Walled Garden every week for a walk and you’d meet folk through that. It was through Andrea having a plan in place that I could jump on board,” she added.
Soon after moving to Cree, Esther discovered that hanging around her front garden was a handy way of meeting passing walkers.
“I realised that if I was in the garden and people were walking past, they’d stop and talk to me. They wouldn’t come and knock at the door, so I spent a lot of time in the garden,” she laughed.
Esther is not Catholic so doesn’t attend mass locally. She is somewhat tempted though, as she feels it’s a good way of keeping in touch with what is happening.
“If you go to mass you know everything that’s going on. I go to the Evangelical Church in Ennis,” she said, noting that perhaps the parish newsletter could be made available in local shops.
“Quilty always have the mass notes in the shop and I think that is a really nice thing. Not everybody goes to mass. I always pick up the notes and I bring them to Liscannor Nursing Home where I work. There are people there from the area who love to hear the news. In my own local area, the mass notes aren’t available in Cooraclare, Cree or Kilmihil. Most people get them at mass but we don’t all go to mass. I’m not Catholic but I sometimes feel I should go to know what is going on in the community,” Esther said.
Attending a toddler group in Mullagh and more recently in Kilrush has helped Esther to further integrate. However, now that her eldest daughter Niamh is going to school in Cree, Esther has got to know more local people.
“I love Cree school. It’s fantastic. Initially, I didn’t understand how one teacher can teach four classes. But now that Niamh is there it’s amazing. They do so much with them. They have so many others who come in for different things like sport, cooking and dancing. It’s a huge community,” Esther marvelled.
Mairéad Byrne, community worker with the West Clare Family Resource Centre, is in regular contact with rural women through her job.
“We come into contact with many women in our day to day work, including carers, lone parents, newcomers to the area and women seeking work. One of the things they all comment on is that the work of women often goes unnoticed in rural areas,” she says.
“Celebrating International Day of Rural Women is an opportunity to value the role of all women living in rural west Clare, while also giving women a chance to get together to discuss matters which are important to them.
“The evening will examine ways of improving the lives of women in West Clare which, in turn, of course leads to improving the lives of their families and communities,” she pointed out.
Amongst next Wednesday’s topics will be bringing women together, women moving into rural areas, sustainable living in rural areas and women in business in rural areas. There will be some speakers but the main focus will be on the women who attend.
“There will be opportunities to discuss matters of interest and we hope to have information on different services,” Ms Byrne explained.
The International Day of Rural Women seminar in Doonbeg will start at 7.30pm.
By Peter O’Connell