Probus All-Ireland Rally 2017 hosted by the Probus Clubs of Omagh
Wednesday 17th and Thursday 18th May in the Silverbirch Hotel
Preparations for the Rally
The two weeks which preceded the Rally were given over to business meetings during which arrangements for the big day were finalised. Members of both clubs volunteered to welcome delegates on arrival at the bus depot and at the hotel. Others were on hand to assist visitors to check in and register for the Rally. Each was given a “Welcome Pack” sponsored by local businesses and supported by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council. The pack contained a souvenir booklet, complied by club members, outlining the history of Omagh and the contribution of its renowned sons and daughters to music and literature at home and abroad. Much interest was added by literature provided by the council within the attractive covers of its new corporate folder.
Wednesday Evening Reception and Concert
The Rally began at 7.00 pm on Wednesday evening with a drinks reception hosted by Mrs Mary Garrity, Chairperson of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council. Following a formal welcome by Kenneth Collins, Chairman of the Rally Steering Committee, delegates and guests enjoyed a concert featuring St Eugene’s Band and the Omagh Community Youth Choir. The highlight of a wonderfully entertaining programme came when the two performed together and led the audience in an exuberant rendition of “Ireland’s Call”.
Thursday Morning: Guest Speaker – Mr Eddie Lynch
On Thursday Probians who had travelled to Omagh from Probus clubs in the south of Ireland on the previous day were joined by others from across the Province, bringing to 55 the number of clubs represented and to 280 the total number present. The guest speaker at the morning session on Thursday 18th May was Mr Eddie Lynch from COPNI, the Commissioner for Older People, Northern Ireland. Having explained the background of his office, including its legal powers and duties, the Commissioner listed his priorities as being Financial Abuse of Older People, Tackling Scams and Crime against Older People, Quality Care in Care Homes, and Dementia. His office is also keen to promote Active Ageing and The Positive Contributions of Older People to society.
Using an effective power point presentation he addressed each in turn, reporting that 1 in 5 older people are experiencing some kind of financial abuse. Successful prosecutions of family members have resulted in convictions with money paid back. He was saddened to report that the levels of “cold calls” and scams against older people were rising and described the distressing impact of such criminal behaviour its victims. Mr Lynch challenged the negative stereotypes used to describe older people both in society and the media, refuting unfounded claims that older people were clogging up the Health Care System and were a burden on society. In fact, he said, older people are set to contribute some £25 billion to the economy over the next 50 years through volunteering, caring, working and paying tax. Older people have a wealth of knowledge and experience from which younger people can benefit; many are active and engaged citizens.
The Commissioner cited Probus Clubs as being a good example of an organisation which promoted good fellowship with others and enriched the lives of many across Ireland. His talk generated many questions from the floor in a session that could have gone on a lot longer had time permitted.
Thursday: Probus Business and Lunch
In the period before lunch there was time for some Probus business including (1) a report from Ennis Probus Club on the 2015 All-Ireland Rally, (2) the presentation of the Edwin Dunlop Perpetual Trophy to the Probus Club of Newbridge for having come a greater distance with more of its members than any other and (3) an invitation to the 2018 All-Ireland Rally from the Probus Clubs of Tralee, Co Kerry. By happy chance 2017 saw the 4oth anniversary of the founding of 6 Probus clubs in 1977 – Omagh, Londonderry, Strabane and Lifford, Ballymoney, Drogheda and Strandtown, Belfast. This auspicious occasion was celebrated by the cutting of a large iced birthday cake which was then sliced and served with the tea and coffee after lunch. Over lunch diners were entertained by the Bob Quick jazz band with Gerarda McCann, who together provided light background music as people from different clubs refreshed their friendship from previous Rallies down the years. It was a pleasing interlude in the day’s proceedings in advance of the afternoon programme and a warm welcome for the principal speaker, Miss Naomi Scott.
Thursday Afternoon: Guest Speaker – Miss Naomi Scott
Naomi is a former pupil of Omagh Academy who was recruited by the United Nations following post-graduate voluntary service in Malawi to be an Aid adviser in troubled spots in Eastern and Southern Africa. Her talk focused on this period in her life during which she experienced hazard and hardship but along the way encountered some inspirational and memorable people.
The first person she talked about was multi-millionaire Greg Carr who at the age of 41 “retired” to live in a tent in the middle of a neglected game reserve in Mozambique. He had made his fortune by inventing “voicemail” and collecting one cent every time a message is left on a mobile phone. After a decade of endeavour he has created a wildlife reserve now regarded as one of the richest ecosystems in Africa. Her next hero was a game warden who took her deep into the bush and left her alone with a large gun while he went hunting for an evening meal. His name was Carlos Zaide and his instructions were to shoot any poachers seen absconding from a prison working party nearby. He later explained that convicted poachers are given the choice of going to goal for 10 years or working voluntarily for a year in a wildlife preservation scheme. Most choose working with Game Wardens on the clear understanding that they would be shot if they absconded. Some time later Carlos was killed by poachers, paying with his life for the animals he had devoted his life trying to protect.
Naomi’s story of how she got involved in the United Nations programme to tackle the spread of aids in Mozambique amused her audience. In a devoutly Catholic country the distribution of condoms to tackle the contagion was not approved. However in a debate with Bishop Seca, of the Catholic Church in Mozambique she noted a theological loop-hole, being that the use of an item sprinkled with Holy Water is not considered sinful. A short time later Naomi arranged for a truck load of condoms to be driven to the cathedral where the truck and its consignment was sprinkled with Holy Water, a practice which continues to this day in that part of Mozambique.
On a different assignment Naomi was sent to an area where outbreaks of cholera had decimated the populations of several villages. Her task was to promote a programme of environmental health but from the outset her presence was resented. Having received death threats from local chiefs she reasoned that success depended on her being able to win over the Chief of Chiefs. In this she was so successful that she was invited to participate in a tribal ritual the purpose of which was not clear to her at the time. Afterwards she learned that she had been married and had become the sixth wife of Chief Kafulatila. She was relieved to learn that her role was purely ceremonial.
While working in Zimbabwe Naomi met Robert Mugabe on a number of occasions in settings where he could relax away from the pressures of presidential office. It led her to an understanding of his appeal to his people. The same went for Colonel Gaddafi whom she met at a conference of African Heads of State. Despite his reputation she discovered that he still had the common touch that drew people to him.
Naomi’s sojourn in Africa included introductions to two of the world’s richest men, namely Warren Buffet, the American billionaire philanthropist and Nikki Oppenheimer, whose family fortune lay in mining and marketing diamonds. What first attracted her to the these fabulously rich individuals was their unassuming manner and their determination to be unaffected by wealth. In her talk she spoke movingly about meeting Graca Machel, the widow of Nelson Mandella and of her fight for freedom and justice in both Mozambique and South Africa. Naomi’s talk enthralled her audience and garnered many expressions of appreciation.
Thursday: Conclusion to the Rally
The last item on the programme was some Probus business; reports were received from the Northern and Southern Rotary Liaison Officers, Ivan Conner and Aodh Bourke, after which Miss Audrey Hodge, President of Omagh and District Ladies Probus closed the Rally with words of thanks for all those involved in its organisation and all those who had supported it by their attendance in the Silverbirch Hotel. She included in her thanks those who had arranged a tour of the Ulster American Folk Park for guests who had come to Omagh for the Rally but were not actual delegates and therefore had time to look around and take in some of the attractions of the town and its surroundings. Their day out included lunch at Newtownstewart Golf Club, returning to Omagh via a scenic through the Sperrins and Gortin Glen.