Dairmaid McGarrigle retires from Glebe House
From the road near Kilclief, Glebe House looks like an ordinary country house… but that it is far from the truth writes Jim Masson.
Since the seventies, Glebe House has been at the forefront of community relations work in Northern Ireland, working with groups and individuals, trying to move a step forward through the Troubles and into the post-Troubles era.
Speaking to Dairmaid McGarrigle, a driving force at Glebe House over the decades, I realised that this unassuming community worker had devoted his life to others so they could enjoy a healthy perspective in life.
Dairmaid said: “We worked hard as a team over the years to get to where we are today. We have built a residential block for residential stay overs, and built up the seminar area and did extensive work in the gardens and yard to make it all comfortable for our visitors.
“More recently we have introduced solar panels to be more sustainable. Our garden has produced quite a lot of vegetables and fruit too with a bit of tlc. And we built reed beds to filtrate the sewage when we built up the toilet block. All-in-all, we have developed an excellent facility at Glebe House which will continue on while I am walking in the hills of Donegal in my retirement.”
Dairmaid explained that back in the seventies, the main community relations item was the division between the Protestant and Catholic communities. He said: “Here at Glebe House, they often met people from the other communities for the very first time. And there were times when we had to sail very close to the wind and help families in dire distress when their loved ones were caught up in the Troubles and in difficulty.
“And in more recent decades we have had people come from all over the world to learn about community relations. The activities and experience has therefore become much more diverse and the volunteers that arrive also bring new learning to the situation too which is fantastic.
“The political landscape has changed in Northern Ireland and across the South. The violence is almost at an end. But, never-the-less, challenges still exist such as in the areas of poverty, inequality, segregation, social exclusion, xenophobia, suspicion, fear, historical resentments.
“We believe that everyone can make a difference for the better. We don’t have to be victims all the time. Glebe House will strive to help people of all ages to become positive changers in their own lives and in their communities.
“We have worked closely always with the Irish Voluntary Service and with Helen Walmsley, a leading light. She has been an important connection for us in developing our services to people across the world. Helen has helped us to develop the way we work with volunteers and children, and how we communicate with people outside Northern Ireland.”
Dairmaid said: “It all began for me in the early seventies when I lived in Derry. I was involved in a project there and came to Glebe House with a group of children and they loved it. Then by 1981 I had fallen in love with Glebe House and eventually became the programme manager in 1981.
“Looking back, I had shown huge commitment to the values that Glebe House stood for. I really was the job of a lifetime. I then proceeded to develop different programmes and activities.
“One of the great strengths of Glebe House is how the local people of Kilclief too it to their heart and supported us. There were times when things were difficult, but we got through it all the same with their help and resolve.
“But I must pay a special thank you to Helen Honeyman who has been an absolutely terrific mentor and friend throughout my time at Glebe House.
“She has been a rock and I am very grateful for all the help she gave me over the years. Helen actually retired in 1998 from Glebe House and has still kept up her close involvement with the organisation as a guiding light.
“I would just like to thank everyone over the years who has volunteered and worked at Glebe House to make this project the success it is today and I wish Glebe House every success in its important work going forward.
“I feel really privileged to have worked with so many good people and volunteers. I have developed great friendships over the years across Northen Ireland and globally from America to Malaysia. It has been astonishing.
“I intend to chill out walking the hills of Donegal all summer, but my heart will always be in Glebe House.”
Dairmaid planted a cherry tree in the front garden to a resounding applause of the guests. And they signed the book leaving comments that Dairmaid will feel proud of and will reflect upon as he walks the hills of Donegal for a long, long, well-earned retirement.