The Trip: Scones, support and back-chat on a day out with Rathgar Ladies Club
The idea of a ladies’ club brings Grace Kelly in High Society to mind. But it quickly transpires that the club helps many women who have lost their husbands, have no family in the area or have moved to Ireland. More tea, anyone?
At Emo Court in Laois are Ellen Yendole, Louise Rankin, Ann Luke and Margaret Gilmartin. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
At Emo Court in Laois are Eileen Cassidy and Moira Dyck. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
At Emo Court in Laois are, in foreground, Catherine Hardy and Iseult Kennedy. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
It is one of those rare Irish summer days when you are almost certain the rain will hold off for the afternoon. I’m headed to south Dublin, because I have been invited to join the Rathgar Ladies Club on their annual summer outing.
When I hear I will be spending the day with a ladies’ club my initial reaction is: do they still exist? In my mind, a ladies’ club consists of a group of attractive women in their 40s and 50s dressed in white lace and pearls, sipping tea from china cups. Think Grace Kelly in High Society.
The invitation tells me the bus will leave Rathgar at 12pm. I saunter up with 10 minutes to spare and quickly realise I’m one of the last to arrive. Rena Geoghen, the club’s former president, ticks my name off a list and hurries me on to the packed bus.
As I’m directed to my seat, I can see Rena and the club’s newly elected president, Virgilia Corrigan, shaking their heads disapprovingly as the late arrivals scurry towards the bus (it’s 11.58am). Apparently, someone has arrived without having signed up for the trip: totally unacceptable.
“She can sit in the naughty chair up front,” says Lyla Kennedy as she settles herself beside me.
The minibus is filled with well-dressed women aged in their mid-60s to mid-80s. Virgilia takes the microphone and introduces us to Mike the bus driver, who looks overwhelmed by all the ladies packed into his vehicle. We are told the air-conditioning has been set on full blast due to the scorching temperatures (it’s 20 degrees).
“If they’re not feeling well, they better get off the bus now,” says Lyla, before launching into a well-informed account of the club’s history.
My preconceptions about ladies’ clubs are all wrong, it turns out. The group, which was founded in 1981, hosts a variety of talks, concerts and workshops. Musicians, authors and historians from around Dublin visit the Church of the Three Patrons for the weekly meeting.
I notice an older man sitting farther up the bus. Isn’t this a ladies’ club?
“That’s Louis Dixon and his wife, Stella,” says Lyla. “He brings her to all the club nights and always collects her afterwards.”
In a Newbridge minute
We arrive at Newbridge Silverware shortly before 1pm. As the ladies step off the bus, assisted by the chivalrous Mike, Virgilia calls after them, with desperation in her voice: “Don’t spend all your money.” It’s clear from the mad rush for the gift shop that her warning has been ignored.
I walk inside the showroom and see a tall woman eyeing the Christmas decorations.
Mary O’Connell tells me she is originally from Co Meath but recently returned from the US after living in Chicago for 24 years. “I made my life there,” she says. “It was a huge change coming back.”
She joined the club to meet women of a similar age. “I would never know any of these people if I wasn’t in the Rathgar Ladies Club, and they’ve certainly brought an enrichment to my life.”
She says the club is an outlet for women who have lost their husbands or who have no family in the area to develop friendships and socialise. However, Mary is worried about the drop in membership. “Our membership is shrinking now that women are at work. It’s a different scenario,” she says.