An interview with...

Dolores Farnan was the first winner of our Lifetime Achievement Award this year at our Oscars at National Council. I recently spent some time with Dolores, and asked her some questions; some light-hearted and some thought-provoking. But Dolores is a woman that is ever-prepared, so while I came armed with some questions, Dolores upped the ante and came with a short piece already put together herself.

We sat down for a cuppa and a chat in Dolores’ kitchen and we agreed that she would read me her piece first, and then I’d ask my questions.
Dolores entitled her piece “On My Honour”

This is mad – me receiving this award, but it presents me with an opportunity to transfer it over to you all in Guiding and dedicate it to all the leaders who have selflessly given their time to the thousands of children in our Association. Our reward is the enjoyment the children receive, the fun and friendships, and memories, that is what it is all about. No money, no awards would ever repay us.

We all have lifetime achievements, all different. And my award, at the top of my list, must go to my husband Michael. We’ve been married for 54 years, with four children; three sons and one daughter, and ten adorable grandchildren, all giving me special memories. I owe them my grateful thanks for the wonderful support down the years, I could not have survived without them.

Guiding is a huge part of my life. Guiding, for me, started in 1955 at the age of 11 in Buion Padraig in Eastern Region Head Quarters, Harrington Street. Ten years later, in 1965, I was sacked (for getting married) and I was given a picture of the Sacred Heart as a wedding present from the Exec. In 1969 I was reinstated in Buion Cecilia Leixlip, and my Guiding continued.

Another achievement of mine was being made Chief Commissioner in 1988. At the time it was a huge challenge finding a way for our Northern members to become members of WAGGGS. This was a huge challenge and many tears were shed, but we managed to pull through in the end.

Three trips to Africa, and the music lifted the spirits, as did Mexico and Argentina. Again, the children won the day. We walked 250km in Kenya and raised £7,000 for cancer, St Luke’s in Dublin, it nearly killed us but Padre Pio was with us every step of the way. Mexico was another adventure, I remember climbing the pyramid and being unable to go any further, but Maria Kidney of IGG helped me reach the top (sisters in Guiding). We helped build a school in South Africa, which is also something we’re proud of. There are many more stories of different events all involving song and dance, particularly in Africa.

What keeps me going are the two Cs: Challenges and Choices, and the three Es: Enthusiasm, Encouragement and Enjoyment. These, along with love, fun and friendship are the very bedrock of Guiding. The aim of Guiding is the same as it was when I joined 65 years ago, to develop the whole person to the best of their abilities. And we need to remember, and appreciate, that we all have different skills, talents and abilities. If we keep our Promise active in our every day life, then we make Guiding a way of life.

Delores sitting at a table

When she finished her piece, I began by asking Dolores her first memory of Guides? Fernhill, she said, without skipping a beat. “I was 11 years and 1 day old. The enrolment ceremony in the company was brought forward so that I could go on camp”. Dolores, like so many of us, has many fond memories of trips to Fernhill over the years. She laughed as she recalled the fact that was the first place she’d ever seen metal bunkbeds.

So Fernhill was her first memory of Guiding, but what was her best? Again, she was ready with an answer, undoubtedly when she was made Chief Commissioner in 1988. Dolores has many memories, and stories, of the work she put into her term as Chief, but as we’re constrained by space here we can’t write them all, perhaps we’ll do another article to hear some more!

Something I was keen to hear her opinion on was what does she think CGI do best?

Friendship and Fun was the immediate answer. Dolores went on to say that “the friends you make in Guiding are true friends, we share the same core values and we’re friends for life”. Dolores told me that she was part of a 12-person training team back some 30years ago and that this group of ladies still meet up regularly. How many of us can say the same about groups of friends in any other walks of life? Dolores pointed out how she valued her time in Guiding, and that as a wife and mother this became her time, it was something for her alone as none of her family were involved in Guiding and so it was a sense of freedom and independence for her. And still today, with the Le Chéile section, the fun and friendship theme continues. Dolores is an active Le Chéile member and wants everyone to bear them in mind. If there’s a Le Chéile group in your area why not join them? They’re open to everyone over 18 and who wants to stay involved in some way with Guiding. There are groups all over the country, and if there isn’t one near you, why not consider setting one up? Everyone is welcome in Le Chéile.

Delores at a table clapping

The next thing we spoke about was what did she think, or regret, that we’ve lost? Our spiritual dimension. In an ever-increasingly secular world it’s hard to hold onto this, but Dolores believes that our Promise needs to be valued more in our Units; that we need to stress its importance from when children join the organisation and that it should mean something to us, not just that it’s learned by rote to perform at an enrolment ceremony and then not thought about again.

So what then would she change about that, if she could? A very simple change, it would be to simply add the word “by”; so instead of having a list of things that you promise to do: serve God and his Church, help other people at all times, be a responsible member to the community and to keep the Guide Law. If you add in the word “by”, it totally changes the meaning of the promise. It now says that you promise to serve God and his church by: and then the list is how you fulfil the promise. She feels that we should really think about our commitment to our promise, and if we can do that, that we’ll fulfil our aim as an organisation.

Given that Dolores had obviously put a lot of thought into this I then asked if she felt there is something that we should stop doing? Her answer was a definitive “No”. However, she does feel that we’ve almost lost our connection to ICCG (International Catholic Conference of Guiding). She feels the ethos of ICCG is one of reaching out to others, to those less fortunate than ourselves, and surely that’s part of our Guiding Promise and that this a worthy thing to be involved in, so maybe we should think about this relationship some more?

Dolores told me that she had joined CGI in 1955, some 65 years ago and I asked if she thought we’ve changed for the better, or the worse? She had to think about this one for a while, but she feels that as an organisation it seems that we don’t really like change at all, and as a result that we are slow to embrace it.

It was almost time for me to wrap up our conversation, so I asked a question that I really wanted to know the answer to, is there something that you think we should bring back? There was a simple, and instant answer, one word: Beanbags! And who can blame her, who doesn’t love a good game of beanbags, and who doesn’t remember the games competitions where some of the leaders were even more competitive than the girls themselves.

So as a final question I asked what is your hope for the future of CGI? Where do you see CGI in the future? Dolores surprised me at this point by saying this is something she has been thinking about for quite a while, and in fact she had written a Vision Statement of her own. Dolores’ Vision is a Federation between CGI, IGG and Scouting Ireland, with each Association maintaining control of its own internal affairs. The aim of the Federation Board would be:

1.To provide for youth – scouting for boys, guiding for girls and mixed scouting when requested, with a strict leader ratio policy.
2.To provide joint new policies on programming, training and development, PR etc, focusing mainly on the safety element of its members, and equality for all.

Delores receiving some flowers from the chief commssionerThe general idea would be for the Federation Board to act as an umbrella body with the three Associations continuing to operate as normal.
In five to ten years’ time hopefully a single Movement, only if desired by all, would evolve, working in cooperation with, and never in competition with, each other for the good of all our youth members.

So that is Dolores’ vision for the future; not the immediate future; but she finished our chat with a nod to the past. Dolores has never forgotten a piece of advice she was given by Maureen Sloan, then Chief Commissioner, on the occasion of her Appointment. Dolores was appointed to a small Unit, and having come from a much larger one, she questioned this, but Maureen said to her “Remember that one child is as important as many, if you can reach and impact just one child, it has been worth it”. Dolores was profoundly impacted by those words and never forgot them.
I’ll close this piece with a quote that Dolores had on a notebook in her kitchen “Do it because you want to, not because you have to” and I think it’s clear to see that though Dolores never had to take on any positions within CGI, or to stay true to her promise throughout her life, that she has done so with grace and good will, and not because she had to, but because she wanted to. And as an Association, we’re all the better for it, for her, and for the many other women like her.

Michelle Finnerty
Assistant Chief Commissioner

CGI Oscars Dolores Farnan receives the Lifetime Award from Chief Commissioner Emily McCann.

For the first time, CGI Oscars were held at National Council to celebrate the hard work of our Guiders. Over 2000 votes were received for the competition in the weeks leading up to National Council and the awards ceremony created a fun end to the day.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners, especially Dolores Farnan who received the CGI Oscar Lifetime Award and celebrated by singing the 'Community Song'.

The Categories and winners:
  • Lifetime Award - Dolores Farnan
  • Volunteer of the Year - Michelle Finnerty
  • Biggest Recruiter - Clare O'Brien
  • Most Active Region - South Eastern Region
  • Exceptional Unit Leader - Brid Barnes
  • Exceptional Cygnet Leader - Nicola Savage
  • Exceptional Brigin Leader - Mandy Derwin
  • Exceptional Guide Leader - Alison Devlin
  • Exceptional Ranger Leader - Nicola Toughey
  • Exceptional Outdoors Leader - Cathy McSweeney 

To see the photos of all of the winners have a look at our flickr page!