Prof Mike Cowan

Wednesday 6 March 2019.  Prof Mike Cowan:  Topic  “A Scotch – Irish Odyssey”

[L – R] Probian, Eamon Cunningham, President, Oliver Loughran, Prof Mike Cowan.

Mr Cowan was introduced by Probian, Eamon Cunningham, as a distinguished American academic and visiting professor at both Trinity and Oxbridge. Rather teasingly Prof Cowan stated that the purpose of his talk was to trace a line from King William of Orange to President Trump. In 1720 four Cowan brothers emigrated from County Down to settle in the Appalachian Mountains along with other Ulster emigres. Proud of their protestant roots and bound by a strong sense of community they called themselves “The Billy Boys of the Hills”. They were the first “Hillbillies”. Whereas Irish Catholics from the same era were keen to become a part of new world society, the “Hillbillies” never really availed of the opportunities which existed to get up, get out and get on. As a result, they languished at the bottom of the economic ladder working in the mines and in the heavy industries drawn to the coalfields. In this situation they acquired any number of unkind nick-names – Rednecks, Honkies, Oakies, Coonasses and Trailer Trash. In a series of slides Prof Cowan illustrated patterns of poverty in Appalachia, which mirrored patterns of ill-health, especially “Black Lung” – a condition resulting from working down the mines and inhaling coal dust. This in turn corelated with other socio-economic indicators which when overlaid with voting patterns in the last Presidential election showed that “hillbillies” voted solidly for Mr Trump.  To demonstrate the hillbillies’ contribution to country music Prof Cowan ended his talk by singing a song about coal mining, accompanied by local guitarist Patrick Bradley.

Mr Aiden Bunting

Meeting of Wednesday 27 February 2019.  Speaker Mr Aiden Bunting. Topic “The Health Service”

Mr Aiden Bunting [Left] with Probus President, Oliver Loughran
In a wide-ranging presentation, Mr Bunting spoke about the range of services provided by the Health and Social Care Trusts  in Northern Ireland including Health Promotion, General Practice, Hospitals, Mental Health, and Family and Children’s Social Services. Over 55,00 persons are employed in the delivery of Health and Social Care, including doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives, and support service such as physiotherapy, audiology, podiatry. The list also includes the ambulance service and those employed in the social, clerical and administrative services. Having outlined what the HSC is trying to achieve in terms of promoting good health and treating those who are ill, Mr Bunting turned his attention to the challenges facing HSC such the impact of an ageing population, waiting lists, staff shortages, and financial constraints. He then examined Disability and Mental Health Services showing how these contributed to Western HSC Trust expenditure of £704m pa. One of the many statistics provided is that in a typical year the Western Trust carries out over 250,000 X-Rays, CT Scans and Ultrasounds and that the Ambulance service has over 58,000 call-outs. Following Mr Bunting’s presentation, members were keen to engage in discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the Health Service, while praising the hard work and dedication of those who whose up-hill task it is to keep the population fit and well.

Mr Gerard Turbitt, Ironman

Wednesday 20 February 2019, Mr Gerard Turbitt; Ironman


[L – R] Probus President, Oliver Loughran,  Mr Gerard Turbitt, Probus Vice-President, Michael Cooney

Mr Turbitt was invited to speak to Probus because of the awe he inspires in the local community as an Ironman.  This is an extreme endurance event in which competitors take part in a Triathlon that starts with a 3.8 km swim, followed by 180 km cycle ride and finishes with a full Olympic marathon of 42 km.   Race officials usually allow competitors 17 hours to complete the event before ruling participants “out of time” and classifying them as DNF [Did Not Finish]. Gerard has completed 5 Ironman events, his time in each being between 12 and 13 hours.   Overall time is a factor of the conditions; courses can involve cycling up mountains, running in hot weather and swimming in open water.  Recently in Wales while competing for Ireland he was first in his age group and earned the right to compete in the world championships in Hawaii in October 2019.   Currently in training for this he spends hours each week swimming in Omagh pool, running on local roads, and stamina building regimes at home and in the gym.

Mr Turbitt began his talk going back to his childhood in Omagh and Castlerody National School in Tycur, which looked very much like the Primary School now preserved in the Folk Park.  From there he progressed to Omagh CBS and onwards to Queen’s University, Belfast where he studied Dentistry.  Gerard talked about the many changes in dentistry during his career and despite having loved every minute of it he felt ready to retire in 2015.   His reminiscences of walking the Camino, skiing in the Alps, running the London, Dublin and New York marathons kept members engrossed for the entire session and prompted much discussion about his outstanding achievements in retirement.


Wednesday 13 February 2019:  Ms Marella Fyffe & Mr Sean Tracey:   CAMIO [Cooperation against mining in Omagh]

[L – R] Michael Cooney, Probus Vice-President, Marella Fyffe, [CAMIO} Sean Tracey, Oliver Loughran, Probus President

Mrs Fyffe was introduced by Probus Vice-President, Michael Cooney. She admitted that her concerns about mining in the Omagh Area grew rapidly when she learned that bore holes had been drilled 150 meters away of the Glenhordial reservoir.  She was worried that the water supply in the Omagh area could become contaminated. Having lived in Australia and experienced first-hand the impact of mining and mineral exploitation on the environment she formed a local pressure group called CAMIO [Cooperation against Mining in Omagh]. In her campaign to stop mining operations in the Sperrins she got ready support from Mr Sean Tracey, an engineer whose family home is located close to the site of the proposed processing plant near Greencastle. Sean’s concerns prompted him to examine the planning application submitted by Dalradian Gold Ltd to the Government. Contained within its 10,000 pages he found some facts which disturbed him, for example the proposed processing plant will be bigger than the new hospital and the tailing stack for rock waste big enough to cover an area from the Swinging Bars roundabout to the Sacred Church and stand 54 meters high, the equivalent of a seven-storey building. Further issues addressed by Mrs Fyffe and Mr Tracey can be found on CAMIO’s Facebook page

Mr Peter Scott RNLI

Meeting of Wednesday, 6th February 2019: Guest Speaker: Mr Peter Scott, Education Officer, RNLI.

[L – R] 1st Vice-President, Michael Cooney,  Guest Speaker, Peter Scott,  Probus President, Oliver Loughran

Peter was introduced by 1st Vice-President, Michael Cooney, as someone with whom he had spent many hours on the waters of Lough Erne providing emergency cover during boating events and sailing regattas on the lake. Starting out in Enniskillen as the privately funded Lough Erne Rescue Service, recognition was gained in 2001 when it became the first inland RNLI Station in the British Isles. Since then a second state of the art facility has been opened on the Lough at Carey Bridge. 95% of all RNLI personnel are volunteers and all are competency trained in the necessary skills. While the RNLI is justly proud of rescues made at sea and in major inland waterways, the Institution aims to go further with an education programme that alerts boat users, surfers and swimmers to the dangers of open water. Fishermen on jetties, party goers on cruisers and people larking about on the bank all need to be aware of the hazards of being on or near deep dark cold water.

Peter illustrated his talk with video clips and equipment demonstrations before inviting questions. These elucidated that the busiest lifeboat station in Britain is on the River Thames, that emergencies on rivers and small lakes are dealt with by the Fire and Rescue Service and that the RNLI needs £25 m per annum to stay afloat. Vandalism of emergency equipment such as like- belts on piers and embankments is a problem that is being tackled by the Police and Community Safety Partnership as part of a wider programme aimed at keeping people safe around water.

Peter’s talk was very well received and prompted several members to reminisce on the boating, sailing and fishing escapades of their past.

Annual General Meeting 2019

Wednesday 16 January 2019: Annual General Meeting

President for 2019, Oliver Loughran receiving the Chain of Office from the President 2018, Mr Paddy McGowan, MBE, JP

The Annual General Meeting was well attended with 24 present. Members were welcomed by President Paddy McGowan who expressed his pleasure that Club Secretary, Gerry McGonigle was back on the top table to ensure all ran smoothly. Gerry distributed copies of the minutes of the 2018 Annual General Meeting which were taken “as read” after members had been given a few minutes to look over them. Club Treasurer, Albert Allen, then presented the accounts for the calendar year 2018; there was general satisfaction that these showed a healthy balance going forward. The Secretary’s report took the form of a review of the year, highlighting significant events such as the Annual Inter-Club Quiz in April and the All-Ireland Probus Rally in Tralee in May.   At the Annual Remembrance Day Service in October, the inspecting Officer was Dunkirk veteran, centenarian and Probian, Mr Bob Lingwood, MM. In December the Club held its annual Christmas Luncheon to which were invited the widows of past members of the club. Entertainment was provided by the Strule River String Band and the luncheon thoroughly enjoyed by all 62 members and guests.
Out-going President Paddy McGowan, MBE. JP. offered sincere thanks to all who had supported him during his year in office before formally proposing 1st Vice-president, Oliver Loughran as President for 2019.  Having received his Chain of Office and the acclaim of members, Oliver took the Chair and conducted the election of Officers for 2019.   Michael Cooney was elected 1st Vice-President and Hugh Ward, 2nd Vice-President which means that the club can look forward with confidence to the next three years; Michael will follow Oliver into the Chair in 2020 and Hugh in 2021.

Miss Claire Henderson

Wednesday 9 January 2018:  Miss Claire Henderson on her Journey of Faith

Miss Claire Henderson with Probus President , Paaddy McGowan MBE

On their first meeting of the New Year members received an uplifting and inspirational talk from Miss Claire Henderson. Now in her first year at theological college in Dublin training to become an ordained minister in the Church of Ireland she shared her hopes for the future as she moves on from a difficult and challenging past. Claire’s difficulties began when she was student at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. In the run-up to her final examinations she had dismissed a pain in her groin as a sports injury until discomfort necessitated seeing a doctor. A diagnosis of Cancer – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – and admission to Altnagelvin for Chemotherapy made her feel that her world had fallen apart. An adverse reaction to the treatment took her to death’s door and a struggle to find God’s purpose in what she was going through. But throughout her faith never waivered and she turned increasingly to her church for direction. Between bouts of hospitalisation she continued to teach Sunday School classes in St Columba’s and take certificated courses in Church Youth Work. Encouraged by her minister she became first a Parish Reader and then in 2014 a Diocesan Reader, conducting Sunday Services throughout the Anglican Dioceses of Derry and Raphoe. In 2018 finally restored to good health and fitness she responded to God’s call to candidate for the ordained ministry. In a vote of thanks to Claire Probus Vice-President Micheal Cooney remarked on the spring in her words and the uplift all had received from her testimony.