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Mary O’Meara, from Killaloe, the overall winner of Volunteer of the Year for 2021 at the Clare Older Person Volunteer of the Year Awards with Karen Hennessy (Clare Age-Friendly Programme Manager), Patricia-Ann Moore (chairperson of the Clare Older People’s Council), and well-known Ennis musician and song writer Mike Hanrahan. Photography by Eugene McCafferty

Community champion with ‘heart of gold’ is honoured

Mary O’Mara said she was stunned to be named winner of the older people’s volunteer of the year

DECADES of volunteering for different community organisations ensured a Ballina woman “with a heart of gold” won the 2021 Clare Older People’s Volunteer of the Year Award.
Nominated by the Killaloe Ballina Family Resource Centre, Mary O’Mara, (68) was completely taken aback when she announced as the overall winner at a function in the Temple Gate Hotel, Ennis on Thursday.
“I knew I would get a certificate after I was shortlisted but when my name was called out as the overall winner I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Mary received an engraved glass trophy and a One4All voucher from Mike Hanrahan, Stockton’s Wing, Clare’s Age Friendly Ambassador.
Staff in the centre were thrilled to learn the mother-of-four who has 11 grandchildren had won this award.
Family support worker, Marie Moroney said Mary is a very worthy recipient of this honour.
“We are absolutely delighted to see Mary winning this award. She has done so much work behind the scenes for numerous organisations. She has a heart of gold. If I ever pick up the phone to Mary, she is always there to help out or give advice.
“I treasure her experience and knowledge. She is a great link and asset for the centre.”
The function was hosted by the Clare Older People’s Council and was supported by Clare County Council.
Opening the event, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, Councillor P J Ryan, spoke of the importance of voluntary work to local communities and of how this work contributes to the resolution of challenges faced by those communities.
The keynote speaker, Dr Rose Galvin, Associate Professor at the School of Allied Health, University of Limerick (UL), and senior member of UL’s Ageing Research Committee, spoke of staying active and healthy as people age and the importance of maintaining intergenerational relationships.
Mike Hanrahan, congratulated Mary O’Mara and all the 14 nominees, who received a framed certificate of recognition.
He also praised the Clare Older People’s Council, for the development of Age Friendly policies and practices within the county.
A native of Murroe, Mary moved to Ballina in 1977 and quickly joined the Ballina Killaloe ICA guild within a year.
Socialising with other women in the area helped her to settle in much quicker in a new community.
She believes passionately in people in the twin communities on both sides of the bridge working together for a common cause.
While she was involved in Killaloe Scouts about 25 years ago a member of the clergy asked her why she didn’t run events for young people from Ballina in their immediate locality.
At the time, three quarters of the Killaloe cubs actually came from Ballina. She outlined it wouldn’t be viable to have separate scout units on both sides of the bridge because they would be too small.
She also pointed out Killaloe children were coming over to Ballina for Taekwondo and Irish dancing.
“Every group is joined together as Ballina Killaloe because neither side is big enough to operate on their own.”
When Mary’s eldest son, Sean was eight he joined Killaloe Scouts, which prompted her to getting involved with organising social activities for children.
In fact, her voluntary work with Killaloe Scouts stretches back 39 nine years covering a wide variety of roles from cub leader to unit leader and licenced bus driver. Her wealth of experience means she can hire a bus from Brendan Foley, eliminating the need for Killaloe Scouts to recruit another driver.
As an official leader, she can go on the bus with another leader, which meets the two leader requirement.
She also has a 43-year association with the Killaloe Ballina Old Folks Society, organising Christmas parties for a large catchment area including Killaloe, Ballina, Ogonnelloe and Birdhill as well as annual holiday trips to a house in Lahinch.
“I went to Lahinch for a week’s holidays with the Old Folks Society for the first time in 1984. It gave great joy and excitement to people who were beginning to go on holidays.
“All the older people who came to Lahinch had a great bond with each other. We specified the seating arrangements in the house. We would have four farmer’s wives sitting on the one table because they could talk abut the farm. The town people also sat together because they had no interest in farming.”
Her first cousin in Newport encouraged her to join the St Vincent de Paul branch after questioning her about the needs of a local family. She attended a branch meeting and 27 years later is still helping those in need in the local community.
Her work included visiting families who requested financial support to complete an assessment of their means, bank repayments and mortgages and expenses, which is brought back to a branch meeting where a decision is taken whether or not support is merited.
She has derived great satisfaction helping out genuine hardship cases through St Vincent de Paul over three decades.
Last Christmas, Killaloe community activist Eddie O’Gorman set up a Santa Claus Grotto at his home and in the process received a large number of financial donations and presents for charity.
He left all the donated goods with the Killaloe Ballina Family Resource Centre. The centre enlisted the services of Mary, who delivered the Christmas hampers and vouchers to a list of worthy recipients in her role as Old Folks’ representative.
She enjoys delivering a cooked chicken dinner and plum pudding on Christmas Eve to people living on their own who aren’t in a position to go to other family members on Christmas Day.
Her unpaid work in the Killaloe Ballina Apostolic Society sees her knitting blankets and jumpers, which are sent to Africa via the head office in Ennis.

by Dan Danaher

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