Shinrone woman Mabel Wallace was honoured for four decades of charity work at a ceremony in St Mary’s Church of Ireland on Sunday morning.
During the ceremony the Royal British Legion (Limerick / Clare Branch) honoured Mabel for almost forty years of service to the Irish Poppy appeal fund, a role which she is now stepping down from.
Colonel Darren Doherty, Defence Attaché in the British Embassy, was present at the service to make a presentation to Mabel to mark the occasion. Colonel Doherty praised Mabel’s charitable spirit and her tenacity. “Sticking with anything for four decades takes a considerable amont of commitment,” he said. He added that the Irish Poppy appeal fund raises essential funds which go towards the very worthy cause of helping ex-servicemen who are in need. He said the appeal fund is strongly supported by the public, something which is touching to reflect upon.
“For many years ex-servicemen who had fought in World War One in the British Army or against the evil of the Nazis in World War Two, were neglected and forgotten in Ireland. As President Higgins pointed out it was a kind of official amnesia. Thankfully, that is no longer the situation. But even during that period of official amnesia people like Mabel kept their memory alive through raising funds for the Irish Poppy appeal fund.”
He added that the shamrock poppy badges have captured the imagination of many in the Irish Diaspora.
“Thank you Mable. We are, and will forever be, grateful to you for your wonderful example and service.” He presented to her the Meritorious Badge, complete with 35 and 40 year bars.
Mabel, who is 96 years of age, said she was delighted to see so many people in the church for the occasion. She thanked Kevin Milligan, Chairman of the Limerick / Clare Branch of the Royal British Legion and David Gibson-Brabazon, Chairman of the Midlands Branch, for being so supportive.
“This a huge and very special day for me, to be honoured by the Legion in this way far in excess of what I deserve. Over the years my fundraising for the fund took me from Sharavogue to Roscrea, visiting many homes. I made many friends in the process. I remember once calling at an elderly lady’s house. She wasn’t in the house but I could hear her calling for help in the nearby wood where she had been gathering sticks and had fallen. She was a good bit heavier than I was but through various clever means we managed to get her back into the house. She subsequently fully recovered and from that moment on her annual contribution to the Poppy appeal fund was substantially enhanced!
“On another occasion a woman was milking one of her cows when I called. She offered me a glass of milk straight from the cow, which I dutifully drank. Warm milk straight from the cow wouldn’t be my favourite beverage!
“I have many lovely stories and memories of my work collecting funds for the Poppy appeal over the years. The four decades were a very enriching experience.
“Thank you again to everyone for being here today. It is a very memorable day for me. Thank you to everyone in the parish for being so supportive.” She said she felt emotionally overwhelmed by the occasion.
Kevin Milligan, who was MC for the ceremony, also thanked the standard bearers of the Midlands Branch for being present with their standards. He said that thankfully Mabel’s niece, Rowena Kenny, will be taking over her role in the future and will continue to collect the poppy appeal funds in Mabel’s place.
The MC read out a letter from the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan sent to Mabel on the occasion of her retirement. The Minister said that thanks to people like Mabel the memory of those who died or suffered in war was kept alive. “As you approach your 97th birthday,” he remarked, “I wish you the very best.”
The MC said he has known Mabel for many years. “She was an amazing person in her RBL work, very hard working in the cause of the fund; very busy and doing a lot of travelling in its cause. I was saddened recently when she told me that it was time for her to retire from the role.” He pointed out that Mabel’s uncle, Lt. John Cecil Kenny, 3rd BN., Royal Irish Regiment, was killed in action near St Quentin, France in March 1918.
Lieutenant Colonel Ken Martin of the Royal British Legion presented to Mabel a Certificate of Appreciation. Colonel Martin pointed out that there are about 40,000 former British Army servicemen now living in Ireland, many of them with various needs, who are very grateful to the essential, charitable assistance provided by the Poppy appeal fund. “These ex-servicemen, some of whom are now in nursing homes, have much to be thankful for to people like Mabel. Thank you so much Mabel for your four decades of outstanding service. You will be sorely missed.” Major Brian Duffy presented to Mabel a framed collection of her awards earned over the years. “The Royal British Legion thanks you tremendously,” he said, “for your exceptional efforts over the years.” Colonel Martin said the RBL is quite active. “Last year we organised three big events in Dublin including lighting 650 graves at Grangegorman cemetery in Dublin. In the coming week I will be attending the funerals of two former veterans. Our work is also educational and we talk to students in schools about our cause and our work. We are quite focussed on raising awareness about the ex-servicemen. Some of the men who need our assistance have only recently served. For example there is one former soldier who served two tours in Afghanistan who needs our assistance.”
Before the ceremony Rev Ruth Gill led a Sunday morning service, for which Mabel chose the hymns. One of the hymns was the charming “If I were a butterfly.” Another hymn was “For the beauty of the Earth”. Fr Tom Hogan was also in attendance.
Rev Gill said it was great to see such a good turnout “for this very special event for a wonderful lady. Today’s three Bible readings all contain references to pride and the damage which it can cause. It damages us and it damages our planet.” Rev Gill said people had the power to transform their characters for the better but things like pride, anger, hate, envy, greed kept their spirits locked in chains. Sometimes these flaws can prove fatal and can lead nations into war. “In these states of being the heart has withdrawn from its Maker. There is a sad, tragic disconnect. When flaws like pride, anger and greed become habits then self-interest dominates and empathy is forgotten. Pride can rob us of the capacity for empathy. The bible reminds us to be on our guard against excessive love of money; it reminds us to be content with what we have. In one of the readings today Christ says people like the Pharisees are only interested in inviting the well to do and powerful to their banquets. Instead, he says they should invite the poor and uninfluential.”
She said red poppies are symbols of remembrance, and the futility and human cost of war.