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July 19th 2021

David Booth

Today our speaker is David Ellis – How Rotary is perceived by the public.

Forthcoming Speakers and Events
Jul 26th Gavin Walker, Rotary Club Bangor “Lend with Care, microfinance”
Aug 9th Eamonn Allen
Aug 16th Heritage Week
Aug 23rd Alan Gilmore
Aug 30th TBA
Sep 6th Business Meeting

President Alexander was in the Chair last week.

Visitors and Apologies
Hon Sec. Tony had received apologies were received from PP Brian George, VP Delma Sweeney, Eamonn Allen, George Sweeney, Alan Harrison, IPP Alan Davidson, PP Mariandy Lennon
There were 20 Members in attendance. There were 5 guests : Cormac Trant, Thomas Molloy Vasily Ogievsky, Marie Mueller and Jeanette O’Brien..

Rotary Rangers’ Schedule

July 20th Kanturk and Scarr, meet at the Oldbridge, Roundwood.
July 27th Howth Head.
Aug 23rd Pres Alexander Kopf Rotary Fellowships and Action Groups
Aug 30th Alan Gilmore, Designer of the Harry Potter Theme Park in Orlando.
David Horkan gave us the great advice on last week’s beautiful U.C.D. woodland perimeter walk to download the UCD Sculpture Trail Map which gives the whodunit on the 35 pieces that enhance the magnificent campus.

Thought for the day
• Mary O’Rafferty gave the thought for the day. She brought us back 329 years to the day when the Battle of the Boyne left such an indelible impression on Ireland’s history. She lamented how it had divided communities on this island and lauded the people who have been working to bring peace and harmony to the two communities who look on the battle in different ways.

President’s Announcements
• President Alexander congratulated three Rotarians for their 5th, 20th and 30th anniversaries with the club, Delma Sweeny, Donald Gordon and Ted Corcoran respectively.
• He also mentioned that we have been asked if we had any proposals for District Governor for as far away as 2024-2025 and said this would be considered by Council.
• There is a rather lavish celebration of London Rotary’s 111th anniversary in London’s Old Bailey on August 3rd which we are (as they acknowledge, a shade older than they are) invited to. Unfortunately current travel restrictions make our attendance very unlikely.

Members wishing to speak
• Tom O’Neill asked for clarification about our plans for indoor dining in July and August as restrictions relax. He has speakers lined up for the next 4 meetings from Bangor, England, Sweden and Germany and has told them they will (obviously) be joining us on Zoom. But since most of us are now fully vaccinated we should be pressing to get together again. Dublin No 1 club should be just that! President Alexander said that the Grand Canal Hotel needed to install a new ventilation system before letting us back in and thought it safe to say that we would not be meeting there before September.

Last Week’s Meeting
Last week’s speaker was our honorary member Alice Leahy, introduced by Tom O’Neill. Tom said that we all had known and admired Alice for so long that she needed no introduction. She is a well-known personality in the media and in our newspapers and for over 30 years she has been tirelessly highlighting the plight of the homeless in Dublin and welcoming them to her centre for a little respite and words of kindness and encouragement.
Alice started by saying how happy she was to be back with us, although only virtually, and how delighted she was to be, once more, an honorary member of our club for another year. She regards Rotary International as a hugely important organization. She was speaking to us from her office in Iveagh House where we can see on the wall behind her a collection of photo portraits taken in 1982 of a large number of the people who have come to her door; a reminder of times past and those no longer with us like Colm McCabe and Catherine Pearson one of the highly committed Quakers who made such a difference by regularly showing up at the centre with homemade pancakes and even arranging visits for homeless people to their ‘forgotten’ relatives.
As you can see by visiting her the Alice Leahy Trust website they were set up in 1975 as a befriending, social and health service for people who are homeless. Alice didn’t particularly care for the name but her board felt it was important that the Trust had an easlily identifiable name so as not to be confused with other trusts of one kind or another. She does not look for money and she’s vey ably assisted by JeannetteO’Brien who looks after all the administrative details. Just that very morning the had appeared in front of an Oireachtas Committee on homelessness. She had been appealing for early intervention as one solution to homelessness. There is something tragic and avoidable about inter-generational homelessness and poverty where she has known four generations of the same family experiencing great difficulties and pulled down by feelings of low self-esteem and lack of confidence. These lead to broken relationships and mental health issues. These problems so often lead to drug or alcohol abuse which cause a range of behavioural problems which make people very hard to live with. Often people take no notice until someone like Johnathon, who she not only knew but also knew his family, died recently in a doorway near Leinster House. It is so much more complicated than just finding someone a bed and Alice keeps highlighting the value of giving time to listen to these tortured souls. She read in the New York Observer ‘Do not waste time on things which do not produce results’, but her response was putting together a collection of 50 submissions from people concerned about homelessness ‘Wasting time with people?’ (This should be on every Rotarians’ bookshelf –ed.)
Hers was one of only two agencies which remained open right through the pandemic, only closing for 2 months – after which one visitor who had been camping in Phoenix Park declared he hadn’t been able to wash in all that time. She has had people from 13 different countries. Their temperatures are checked before they come in and then hand washing is supervised before they are offered a bowel of porridge. After a shower they are offered new underwear and socks, sometimes a change of clothes. Alice provides skin care, especially footcare. Having a shower and new clothes can be the first step to going to see a doctor or re-engaging with their families. Some are real outsiders and don’t easily engage in conversation. Once our Jono Pym was sitting with a particularly quiet one when it turned out that they both came from the same town and he suddenly opened up. They don’t ask questions about their names or where they slept the previous night. They encourage them to get vaccinated but maybe they are safer than many of us because they stay away from people as much as they can.
Any of us could be homeless if a series of things take a wrong turn. It’s easy for us to say ‘change your life, get a grip,’ but people need time to get back on their feet. They have looked after people from 27 different countries and many have come up against racism. It is similar to the marginalised Irish immigrants in London and New York. Some people ask Alice what they should do when they see someone claiming to be homeless, begging in the street. First of all, she suggests we should acknowledge them with a smile and then maybe ask if they have anywhere to sleep. Pass on the Freephone number for emergency accommodation 1800 707 707 or tell them to try the Harp Centre, 6, Cunningham Road, Dublin 8. Actually a lot of ‘homeless’ beggars are not homeless. In January 2020 they saw people from 17 different countries, and now they have people from 13 different countries. In the month of January 2020 they gave 290 consultations, contrasting with 136 this year. But always Alice is so grateful for the support that comes in from so many people. There’s the woman who always brought in fresh duck eggs until the pandemic started and she has started coming again. There are those that bring in scones and so many little things that make a difference. The people who use her services are just people like ourselves but through the circumstances of where they were born or how their road map has turned out find themselves in difficulties.

Ethna Fitzgerald asked why we do not see as many homeless in the streets these days. Alice said that many have been able to stay in hotels during the various lockdowns and are understandably reluctant to move out. One woman she knows got a hotel room while her husband was in prison for two years but as soon as he came out she was asked to move out and they became homeless. More and more will find they are going to have to move out as the pandemic recedes.

President Alexander asked what we can do to help people we see begging in the street. Acknowledge their presence, said Alice, and don’t avoid looking at them. Ask if they need the homeless Freephone number number. It’s OK to say you aren’t carrying any coins as many people don’t these days.

Both David Booth and Frank Bannister wondered if it was about time the government took a different approach to drug use and instead of criminalising it and having drugs only handled by vicious gangs what was Alice’s attitude to legalizing certain drugs. Alice said we need to have a real debate on what that would mean. Why should a little old lady have her handbag stolen just to feed someone’s drug habit? While drugs can make people feel good they can also lead to mental health issues and destroy lives. People are dying from drug overdoses. Do the people who take cocaine know about the gang warfare it inspires on its way from South America? And yet we have to be honest, we don’t have enough beds to rehabilitate the drug users we have at the moment. If we want to get people off drugs we need a much greater support system than we currently have It boils down to drug education to the young and more beds. Bring on the debate. If we want people to stop using heroin is having them addicted to methadone for the next 20 years the solution? Frank said he was aware of the long term ill effects of drug use and that with cannabis what is now sold is a hundred times stronger than what was around in the 1970s when it looked like the legalisation of cannabis was just around the corner and tobacco companies were thinking up names of packets of weed cigarettes.

Jono Pym said he noticed the difference a shower seemed to make and asked us all to see if we could supply him with any used clothes thsat he could bring down to Alice. The problem is that so many of us are so well fed that our clothes won’t fit the leaner bodies of the homeless. Alice thanked him for his efforts and said that actually all clothes were welcome, all shapes and sizes, but particularly casual clothes. She gave a special thanks to Paul Martin for all his colourful T-shirts over the years. Any they don’t use they pass on to the Liberty Recycling Rooms. Yes, a shower is important but there is one pigeon-lover woman who is a regular, intelligent and kind, who used to work in Brussels and only stops by for underwear, socks and the occasional rug that people leave for her. Never a shower. Alice asks the guards at Pearce St Garda station to keep an eye on her to make sure she’s OK.

Mary O Thanked Alice for the incredible works she does with such a good heart. It makes such a difference. She spoke recently to a homeless man on the Rosie O’Grady Bridge who was drinking and admitted he was an alcoholic. He would not go home out of respect for his family until he could control his drinking. All he had was one kit bag and a group of drinking friends whose company he enjoyed. He was young and healthy but Mary wondered how difficult life would get as he got older and his health declined. Alice explained that many street people have a support network of friends who are in the same position and are often reluctant to leave them and get a more normal life. Many university graduates cannot get job placements and yet there is an immediate need for more support nurses and social workers.

David Horkan gave the vote of thanks. He has been aware of Alice’s work ever since he joined Rotary and always highly impressed. He would recommend us all to drop in to visit Alice’s centre even for 5 or 10 minutes. The support she gives is awe-inspiring and we wish her continued success in changing lives.

The following is reprinted from Tony Keegan’s book on our Rotary Club ‘First in Service’ and used with his kind permission

Turbulent Years 6

As the 1920s wore on the club became more involved with the charitable work that is its hallmark today. In January 1925 twenty-five motor cars carrying twenty-two members of the club and the cast of the Gaiety Theatre Pantomime set out for Glencree in the Wicklow Mountains.

Rotarians face snow to entertain Dublin children

Members of the Dublin Rotary Club and many artistes appearing in the pantomime at the Gaiety Theatre visited Saint Kevin’s Training School Glencree and entertained the boys. They travelled in twenty-five motors and set off from the Russell Hotel, starting at 3pm. When Enniskerry was reached it was found that there had been a heavy fall of snow. From the village to the school a snowplough had been put into operation, and with the help of the boys, a fairway had been made through eighteen inches of snow. Despite the prevailing thaw the country at the high altitude of Glencree remained snow covered. Here the first contingent of visitors was received by the Very Rev. J. Hughes O.M.I. manager of the school and members of the community. A few cars had minor casualties on the way but these arrived safely later.

In the dining hall of the institution Fr. Hughes expressed appreciation of the visitors in providing the treat for the boys and remarked that ‘ it was a very happy thing that their visit coincided with the change of the name from Glencree Reformatory to St. Kevin’s Training School. If the object of Rotary was more recognised there would be less trouble, jealously and war and more happiness in the world’.
Mr. J.W. Beckett, President, replying on behalf of the Club acknowledged the welcome.

A Star Bill
The concert programme consisted of a ‘star’ bill, amongst those contributing being, Mr. Joseph O’Meara who sang tenor, Mr. P. Gillespie, Feis Ceol Gold Medallist, who, with others, was deservedly recalled: Mr. Sealy Jeffares (humourist), The McNaughtons, Scholey & Scholey, Varney & Butte, Sakers’ Jazz Band, The Moselle Sparkling Eight dancers also performed. Mr. Herbert Bailey took charge of the stage arrangements and Rotarian Ashley James of the Gaiety Theatre directed the artistes. Mr. Frederick Warden the well-known producer attended. The boys were entertained to tea and gifts were presented.
A short tug-of war contest took place, first between the schoolboys and then between the lady visitors. Their wives and lady friends who assisted in entertaining the community and the boys accompanied many of the Rotarian members. A good day was had by all.
Other activities at this time included the provision of entertainment for poor and crippled children in the Mansion House, a concert for the patients of Peamount Sanatorium and donations to St Mary’s hospital Cappagh, Temple Street and Harcourt Street hospitals and the Sunshine Home in Leopardstown.
Later that year R.I. opened a European office in Zurich, Switzerland.
In 1925 also Council decided to invite Rotary International to hold its annual Convention in Dublin 1927. An illuminated Invitation was designed by Miss McConnell featuring a shamrock in the middle of the Rotary wheel with the Dublin crest at its centre. The Invitation was signed by the President, Past Presidents and officers of the club and by William T. Cosgrave who had succeeded Arthur Griffith as President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State. The Lord Mayors of Dublin, Belfast, Londonderry and the Presidents of those clubs also signed it. R.I. made inquiries re venues and hotels and the Irish Tourist Board and the Royal Dublin Society became involved in providing information on facilities. Although Pat Montford (President in 1933/34) addressed the Cleveland Convention in 1925 outlining the benefits of holding the International Convention in Dublin. R.I. decided against the invitation and opted instead for Ostend in Belgium.

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