THE Lisnaskea Women’s Group has held a special place in the hearts of local people from across the community for the last 25 years.
At the backbone of its success is local woman, Eilish Reihill, who all those years ago was on a mission to educate and change the lives of rural women across the area.
Since the beginning, regardless of background, profession or religion, Lisnaskea Women’s Group has pioneered the way for older women to feel a sense of worth and to explore a life away from what was previously expected of them as merely a wife and a mother.
“It was when I retired, I thought I had to do something for these women, explained Eilish Reihill who founded the group.
“At that time there were no groups for women, instead they were left to stay at home to raise children, while men could go to the pub and enjoy themselves. At that time women had big families and were used for producing children, for cooking, washing and cleaning.
“As their families reached adulthood there were no jobs available so their children had to emigrate. Mothers back then had no free time and didn’t have a chance to get to know their neighbours or make friends. It was a lonely existence.”
After retiring from her health visiting post which was attached to two GP practices in Lisnaskea and Newtownbutler, Eilish formed the group and brought women together from both sides of the community.
“I felt there was a need for women to support other women, to talk and discuss problems,” explained Eilish.
“During the period of the Troubles we crossed the religious divide and invited different speakers to come and discuss different topics.
“We were open to all women, no matter what religion and over the years we have enjoyed many various activities such as swimming at the Share Centre, and painting classes at the Drumhaw Fold, where we now hold our meetings three Wednesday nights a months and some of the residents have joined in too.
“Age was never an obstacle. In fact we had one lady who reached 100 years old and she was hale and hearty and came on bus outings with the group.
“Many of these women never got anywhere previously, so this was a great opportunity for get them out and about.
“Our women have learnt a lot down through the years, especially through the various speakers that we invited to our meetings, which gave the women some idea about life and what it should be about, not sitting at home doing nothing and I hope that will continue.”
While the outbreak of Covid-19 put the brakes on getting together and organising events, Eilish always dreamt of marking the last 25 years in a book and believed lockdown was the perfect time to “revive” this dream by spurring members on to get involved and write.
“We’re entering a new age altogether now and I don’t know what the following years will bring as many of our members are getting older, but we wanted to mark the last 25 wonderful years in a special way,” said Eilish.
“Members got involved and there’s quite a lot of reading to it, along with pictures of outings and charity events that we have helped support down through the years.”
Speaking to the Herald about what the group has meant to members over the years, Valerie Brown, secretary of Lisnaskea Women’s Group said, “This group has been a lifeline for older women who came together to prevent isolation and loneliness in a rural area. We respect each others cultures and religion, and travelling the length and breath of Ireland together has been very educational and also great fun.
“Over the years members have enjoyed holidays that they would not have otherwise been able to go on. Often we sourced funding to enable those on lower incomes to equally afford the holidays and we spent great holidays in places like Malta, Corrymeela, and Ballycastle for a retreat weekend.
“It’s a friendship more than anything, and now that we are not meeting due to Covid everybody misses each other.
“We have visited Stormont, met MLA’s from all parties and we went to Aras an Uachtarain twice to meet the then President of Ireland, Mary McAleese.
“It’s just a great meeting place and we have a great committee. Some of us are professionals, some have never worked and many others are now widows and this group offers great support to them.”
Valerie added, “Covid was very tough for those living on their own but we have a Whatsapp group and are in constant contact with one another.
“During lockdown we were also supported by the South West Age Partnership, who sent us craft kits for programmes that they had organised on zoom. These are things that women would have never done before and a lot of our ladies are now computer and mobile phone literate which is great for women.
“The last 25 years have been all about getting country women to embrace new change, everyone is willing to learn and I hope it will continue.”
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