As the Clare branch of NCBI celebrates its 75th anniversary, we give here a brief account of the branch, extracted from the forthcoming history of NCBI and the Blind of Ireland — a comprehensive list of those who served the branch will be given in an appendix to the history.
The Clare branch of NCBI was established at a meeting in the Old Ground Hotel, Ennis, on November 15th, 1933. This was the third county branch established and it was founded primarily through the efforts of Mrs. Fogarty and Mrs. Glynn.
The inaugural meeting was chaired by Mrs. Vere O’Brien and Denis Barrett, long-time Chairman of NCBI. Alice Armitage, founder of NCBI, and Barbara Knox, first general secretary, travelled from Dublin to address the meeting.
Initially Alice Armitage sent Home Teacher Helen Macaulay on loan for two weeks, this was extended for a further five weeks in which time Helen and her guide visited many people in the Lahinch, Ennis, Kildysart, Kilrush, Kilbaha and Kilkee areas, giving instruction in handicrafts and Moon reading.
By 1936 the branch was visiting 113 blind people in the county. This grew to 200 by 1939 and rose to 319 by 1945. During the war years Mrs. Glynn’s willow plantation supplied willows for the handicraft classes (there were 145 willow plantations in Ireland at the time, most of them unmanaged). When Miss K. Darcy was appointed as Home Teacher in October, 1945, she paid 306 visits to people in the scattered areas of Corofin, Cooraclare, Crusheen, Carrigaholt; Doonbeg, Ennis, Ennistymon, Kildysart, Kilkee, Kilrush, Kilmilhil, Knock, Labasheeda, Lisdoonvarna, Miltown Malbay, Mullagh and Newmarket-on-Fergus. “Owing to the appalling weather conditions the number of visits has been limited as her bicycle is her only means of transport, except when people are kind enough to give her lifts”. Eileen O’Connor who succeeded her did the same but was luckier in that Mrs. Charles Glynn, who had recovered somewhat from illness, drove her about the county on many visits.
By 1949 Eileen O’Connor was visiting over 600 blind persons, many of them living in scattered isolation and ignorant of any benefit to which they might be entitled. Again, on several occasions, Mrs. Glynn drove her to places which would otherwise have been inaccessible. As late as 1960 a blind orphan boy was discovered living with his uncle who was also blind. Arrangements were made to send him to school in Dublin. In 1961 Eileen O’Connor drove a distance of 101 miles to get in touch with a blind girl who had only her aged father to look after her since her mother died several years before. She brought her blankets and an armchair and food parcels and enlisted local help to care for her.
Apart from the generosity of Mrs. Eileen Glynn, others who were of great assistance to the branch were Lord and Lady Swinfern, Spanish Point, and Miss O’Connor of the Old Ground Hotel, Ennis.
Eileen Glynn died in 1978 having founded and served the Clare branch for forty-six years. Up to a few weeks prior to her death she continued to express her unfailing interest in the branch and its people. Because of transport difficulties she had travelled on foot, by bicycle and even on horseback; crossing streams barefooted to reach isolated cases, carrying material to teach craftwork. Her home was always open to the blind of Clare. The Annual report for 1978-79 said of her “They will miss her very much. She was to them in the truest sense ‘light in a world of darkness’. To the Social Worker she was an inspiration, counsellor and friend. May her gentle soul rest in peace”.
We thank current Clare branch Chairman Margery Normile and PRO Gemma Galvin for assistance in compiling this account.