29 May 1998

Non-sectarian, non-political – thats this WIs foundation

VISITORS went up the stairs to go Down your Way with the Womens Institute. The WI has a first floor exhibition room for demonstrations, the sale of paintings and home-produced goods, and a popular refreshment area serving homemade cakes and scones. Down your Way was the theme adopted by the WI this year with displays of crafts and artefacts depicting the six counties of Northern Ireland.

Traditional craftwork is still a major feature of WI activity encouraged with one-day schools – even an unfinished crafts day – and an award system starting with a ribbon for proficiency in three, and going up to a framed certificate for the mastering the 24 in the syllabus. NIWI is in the throes of producing another book of tried and tested recipes, but the personal development opportunities open to the 10,000 members is not restricted to domestic matters or crafts, arts or sports.

"For me WI has been like a third level of education," says Hilda Stewart who had missed going on to college. "Father had cancer and I was required at home," says Hilda, a former NIWI chairman and the new president of the Associated Country Women of the World, of which WI is a member. "WI is a great confidence builder," she adds.

But it is the social side of NIWI that Hilda and her colleagues Kathleen Doherty, chairman of the national federation, and Philomena MacMorrow who chairs the committee that organises the WI presence at Balmoral, recommend most strongly. WI is about working together in the community, they stress, and WI has always done that. It is non-sectarian and Party politics are strictly forbidden

You can choose whether you want to be a leader or heckle from the back, they say, and whether you are a contributor or someone who just takes what they need. But in any case, there is a lot of fun and fellowship to be enjoyed.

In addition to running their own area, WI members man the RUASs information kiosk and have a presence in the horticultural pavilion. Here, besides selling plants and running a programme of gardening demonstrations, they hold their own pot plant competition. There were 113 entries this year in 11 classes.

"It always amazes me the range and the quality of plants that come out," says Crosbie Cochrane, chairman of the RUAS horticultural committee and steward for the competition.

This year Ballyrashane was the top scoring WI and the special award for the best flowering plant was won by Jean Hamilton of Ballyblack WI.

Horticultural expert Crosbies Cochrane admires Jean Hamiltons Lewisia.

Recommending WI are (l to r) ACWW world president Hilda Stewart, Rosemary Kennedy who was about to give an apple cookery demonstration, federation chairman Kathleen Doherty and Balmoral committee chairman Philomena MacMorrow.