Cara Bear sitting on a table covered with purple clothThis year has been different in so many ways, another of which was our National Council. Because we’ve been apart for so long, and getting back together and rekindling friendships is so important, we decided to make a weekend of it this year.

On Friday night the NEB invited all our members with 60 years or more membership to a dinner in the Priory Suite at the Stillorgan Talbot Hotel, our home for the weekend. Unbelievably, we not only had 60 years memberships, but also a 60 years of service member in the room, in the shape of Catherine Lenihan. Catherine was joined in a photo opportunity with two of her past Guides, the Eastern Regional Commissioner, Fiona, and also by a 60-year membership awardee, Joan Farrell. It was a great night of chat and laughter, and of course where we have CGI members we have singing, led by Dolores Farnan and assisted by our National Outdoors Commissioner, Arlene, who’s always ready for a singalong!

On Saturday we had our first Guider conference in a long time. There was a buzz around the hotel from early morning as people began to arrive and the yellow uniforms started to fill the reception space of the hotel, it was a lovely sight.

After registration and the obligatory tea and coffee, our Chief Commissioner, Emily, welcomed everyone to the conference and opened the proceedings. There were four sessions throughout the day and everyone got to attend all four. The thinking behind the session line-up was that we wanted to have sessions whereby people would feel that they were getting something out of being there, but we didn’t want anything too heavy or involved. So, our thoughts were that we’d like something where Guiders could learn something new (SDG session); something just for them as a volunteer (time management and wellbeing); something for their Guiding life (programme planning) and something just fun (drumming).

There was a very relaxed atmosphere to the day right from the start, and it was pointed out that people were welcome to attend all, some or none of the sessions. The main aim of the day was reconnection, rekindling, and there was no pressure on people to be at a certain place by a certain time, which led to a very nice, calm, fun atmosphere the whole day long.

The sessions included a session on the SDGs and how to use them in a youth programme. This session was very well received and in fact some people commented that they could have gone on much longer such was the conversation and the discussion that was had, so definitely one we may have to revisit in the future.

A second session we had was on time management and wellbeing for volunteers. It was great to have the perspective of the volunteer in this session, as so often these talks can be aimed at corporate or educational spaces, this was clearly aimed at our members. Again, we had comments back from attendees saying that they were glad they had decided to sit in on the session, and everyone seemed to come away with something helpful, which is the best result we can hope for.

Our third session was drumming. This was a bit of a curve ball for some people, and when they saw the programme they initially balked and said they would give it a miss. However, happily most people did end up attending the session and if the laughter and chatter that emanated down the corridors from this room are anything to go by, everyone had a blast. In fact, Niall the instructor even had a first, when Linda Gleeson from Cork showed her amazing time-keeping skills as she called out the 3-4 beat. We had some late-comers to the sessions as they heard the laughter and decided to join in, and luckily, we only had one person who was disappointed that she didn’t go.

Our final session was programme planning. This was one we weren’t entirely sure about. We know that everybody groans when they see programme planning on the list and it’s not always well attended. However, we were delighted with the attendance and the interaction in both of these sessions. Led by the Chief Commissioner, Emily, and the Assistant Chief Commissioner, Michelle, the sessions started off with the idea that we’d try to put together 10 programme ideas between the two sessions, so that we’d all have our next term planned out together. We totally underestimated the number of ideas we’d get, coming in at 80+ so far. Lots of people brought ideas with them and gladly shared them; from Siobhan explaining Taskmaster challenges, to Suzanne and Sarah demonstrating a 1-2-3-4 hike, to Carmel telling us how to hold a GAA night; the ideas came in thick and fast and sparked lots of conversation and laughter. The list is currently being compiled and will be emailed out shortly.

On Saturday evening we had a dinner for anyone who wished to attend; some people coming to the National Council the following day came along early and joined in the fun for dinner. We had a great surprise when between our starter and main course, the doors opened and in came the Sea of Change Choir! These ladies are amazing and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. They sang with such joy and such energy, and yet with heart and poignancy, it was fantastic. They entered the room, 30-strong, through both doors, to the tune of Shania Twain’s Man I Fell Like a Woman, and how apt it was for the room they were entertaining! Eileen McCarthy was invited up to tell us about the choir’s book of Remembrance, which they have had since they first appeared on Ireland’s Got Talent in 2019 and they bring with them and pass around their audience so people can write in the names of their own loved ones who have passed from cancer, so they too can be remembered. Eileen dedicated the performance to Betty O’Donovan, Marie Hannigan and to all our members that we have lost to cancer and also to those that we haven’t, to our survivors. It was an emotional roller-coaster for the 40 minutes that Sea of Change entertained us, but it was unforgettable.

When the dinner had concluded and the night was winding down, Michelle our Assistant Chief Commissioner took to the stage, ably assisted by Nicola, to pass out our “Star” awards. Michelle reminded us that the last National Council we had together we had handed out Oscars to some members, but this year Oscar was having a heated discussion with Chris Rock and Will Smith, so instead we handed out our Star awards! It was a light-hearted way to finish the evening, acknowledging people for things from the sublime (Frontline Star – Sarah Browne) to the ridiculous (Star Chocolate Sculptor – Mairead Quinn) each one given and received in the spirit in which it was meant. For some, the night then drew to a close, but for others it was only just beginning.

Sunday morning the hustle and bustle of National Council hit Stillorgan and there was a great air of anticipation around and the excitement of being together again after so long apart. After we registered we went into the room and at each seat we had some goodies; we had a little pot of honey and a quote from Winnie the Pooh; a candle; a reflection and some communication aids from the EDI team.

Emily, Michelle, and Rachel at the top table

The day opened with the Guide prayer and reflection, led by Fiona O’Dwyer the Eastern Regional Commissioner. We quickly adopted the agenda, had no matters arising from the minutes from last year so they were adopted too. We then moved on to the Financial Report, comprehensively explained by Rachel Murphy, National Treasurer, and duly adopted by Council. Next up was the Chief Commissioner’s Address, which you can read at the beginning of this edition of the Link.

Next up we elected scrutineers, we ratified amendments to the constitution made last year and we discussed and voted on resolutions and amendments this year. We used to vote again this year. We had to use it last year as Council was completely online, but this year we tried it again and it worked brilliantly, and it was possible for everyone to see how many people had voted and what the results were, in real time.

We had our in remembrance section next, and thankfully this year there were not too many names on the list. As we were running a little ahead of schedule, and mindful that it had been a long weekend and people would want to get home as quickly as possible, we were able to move two presentations to before the lunch break; one from Karen Devilee, representing the newly formed in 2021 EDI Team, where Karen gave a brief overview of what the team have done to date and their upcoming plans and also a call for anyone interested in joining to get involved. Next up, Maria Travers, National Development Commissioner, gave a presentation on what the Development Team had accomplished during the year, with an emphasis on the Recruitment and Retention week and all the wonderful resources that we now have thanks to the initiative; and Shauna Whelan-Buckley, the new Lead of the Storrows, gave a presentation on what they had been doing over the past year and their plans for this coming year too. These presentations, from just two teams, had so much content and serve to highlight the amount of work going on in teams within CGI, which is phenomenal.

Next we had lunch, our final meal of the weekend at the hotel, and our last chance to have a catchup with old friends and new, before we got down to final pieces of business and made our way home. The first session after lunch was our guest speaker, Mr John Lonergan. Previously the governor of both Mountjoy and Portlaoise prisons, he gave a very entertaining talk. He reminded us that there is goodness and kindness in everyone; he told us to lead by example; but maybe the most powerful statement he made was that Connection is better than Correction!

John Lonergan holidng a microphone giveing hs speech

The final portion of the day was the elections. We welcomed a new International Commissioner in Gillian Garvey and we then had a vote on the position of Chief Commissioner, with two very good and worthy candidates; Suzanne Lenihan and Julie Donnelly. Presentations were made to outgoing members of the Board and finally our new Chief Commissioner was announced. Our new Chief Commissioner, Julie Donnelly said a few, emotional, words and then the meeting was closed.

Emily congratulating Julie after becoming the new Chief Commissioner

The weekend was a great success, but couldn’t have been so without the hard work of our National Office staff, Nicola, Eoin and Rob, and a massive thanks, as always is due to all three. Nicola was there all weekend making sure everything was running smoothly; Eoin and Rob were there for National Council on Sunday, but their work was on display all weekend in all the amazing artwork, logos, videos etc that they have produced for us, and then on Sunday they were also tech support.

Thanks to everyone who attended any, or all, of the weekend. Thanks to everyone who put themselves forward for elections and to step on to the Board, and to those stepping down. We are all volunteers, but without these ladies stepping up into the leadership roles, we wouldn’t have an association, so thank you all.

And finally, after five years; five unprecedented years; on behalf of all members of CGI, I would like to express our thanks to the lady who has been our Chief Commissioner, our leader and led us through Covid, through lockdowns, onto zoom, through social distancing and opening back up again. Through it all she has led the Association with “kindness” as her mantra. All of our past Chief Commissioners have left their mark on CGI, and Emily is no different. We are “about the girl” and Emily has overseen the setup of the Storrows and the Youth Forum, about our girls. So, on behalf of all of our girls, young and not so young, we say thank you for everything Emily and we wish you well.