By Colm Croffy, Editor Ballinasloe Life Magazine
50 years ago practically anyone that was an employee could only buy goods: cars, ovens, T.V.s – even bicycles on the “never, never" hire purchase – where you paid a deposit on the item to the shopkeeper and they paid off the price of the item plus interest at a minimum of 35%.
To borrow from a high street bank was a near impossibility for roof repairs, extensions or a couple buying a house or a car. There was a Society in town during this time called the Patrician Society, that involved fortnightly meetings and speakers. Dermot Connolly gave a presentation on a new movement sweeping the cities to help ordinary families and workers get access to modest credit – “The Credit Union Movement".
According to Liam Kelly, a Church Street native – he “only read about it in the Evening Herald the week before but a group of us, the following week were out trying to renovate the surrounds of the Creagh Church – under Fr. Dunne’s supervision when he asked would a Credit Union not be a good idea for the parish?”
Liam has dedicated all of his adult life to the Credit Union Movement. He was the founding Secretary and remained Secretary of our local Ballinasloe Credit Union for 27 years and then served as Chairperson for a further 10 years. The retired Psychiatric Nurse has been synonymous with the local Chapter, which this year’s AGM will announce its Jubilee year of 50 seasons.
The sprightly Octogenarian is in fine fettle by his own fireside, recalling with pristine precision, dates, names, meetings, purchases, log books and meetings while his wife Mary cajoles from her kitchen “sometimes there was more Credit Union meetings in that front room out there – than we had hot dinners in here” – she laughs.
The first Committee meeting to set up the Branch took place in Creagh National School, Liam remembers some of the early pioneers; Jim Reynolds, the Ag Officer from Birchgrove, Danny Flynn an ESB Official, Gus Hynes a nurse, Paddy Counihan a carpenter in the Hospital, Pat Boland – a clerical officer with the P&T to name a few.
“We had to collect 5 shillings each to buy the Book from the foundress of the Movement In Ireland Norah Heherily who set up the first banch in Donore in 1955 - to buy the founding book and register your interest cost a an old pound and we damn near struggled to collect it“, jokes Liam.
After that they set about establishing the Branch with a public meeting in the Parochial Hall with some 30 persons in attendance. They gave the project their backing and 3 men from St. Anthony’s Credit Union in the Claddagh came to Liam’s house one evening to assist with the formal naming and founding of the Credit Union in 1967 .
“We were motivated by the fact that we were all young working men with young families and needs for extensions, cars, renovations and no means of getting reasonable credit, when I started nursing in 1950 there were 870 staff, 17 Doctors, and 2,000 patients in St. Bridgids – 60% might have had a post office account but very few had a bank account and no one had access to credit in the 50s and 60s on reasonable terms”, states Liam .
The branch operated originally from the back room of the Town Hall on Sundays noon to 3.00 p.m where members could save. Then they did a deal with the late Mrs Anne Divilly of Dunlo St. who ran the Don Bosco Boys Club in the Emerald . The Credit Union paid half the rent for the Boys Club and opened the branch on Tue nights for the Committee to do the accounts and then on Fridays 7 to 9.p.m in the late 60s – Friday evening was pay day and over 80% of workers were paid cash in envelopes.
The first loan ever given out was for a £30 large commercial fridge purchase for a new storeowner and by the end of their first 12 months of trading they had achieved a surplus of £5. Part of the strict oversight by the League meant that the books had to be audited by Jim Keane and Liam had to drive them to Galway.
Membership has grown steadily from 10,000 in 1970, 12,000 in 1980, 14,000 in 1990 , 16,000 in 2000, 18,000 in 2010 to over 20,000 today.
They bought Elders (where Caroline’s Hair Salon is now) on Main St. with a loan from the League in 1975 for approx. £1,500 but sold it again when it proved unsuitable and bought a larger premises – Cartys House on River St. for £4,500 in 1976 with the Forestry Service taking a long lease on the top floor to pay the mortgage on the building.
They bought Jack Crosbies on Main Street for £150,000 in 1994 and after gutting and rebuilding, a modern Financial Co–operative premises opened their doors in 1996.
Maureen Grenham was the first employee in the late 70s as their Clerk/Teller with committee members having to do the counter and book work. Their first Administrator was engaged in 1995 – who left his pensionable position with the P& T to rise to the rank of General Manager today.
From the £5 first surplus of 1968 the Branch enjoys savings of €80 million plus and has a loan book of over €37 million and a staff of 16. “Mr. Frank Will, the Manager of AT Cross in 1971 proved to be the best recruiting sergeant we ever had as he agreed that savings deductions could be made from employees pay packets direct – we never looked back after that“, remarked Liam.
Liam’s work for the movement saw him serve on International Missions, be an advisor to the Minister for Finance, serve on the Irish League and helped form Banagher, Portumna, Mountbellew, Moyllough and Ballygar branches.
He is particularly proud of his involvement in getting the National Special Savings Protection Scheme Govt backed for all members.“We needed some support from the Central Bank and Government but what they have been doing to us since the crash is nearly killing the movement; we never gave loans to developers – we never supported speculation but we are being punished for those sins “,states Liam.
“We were also the second ever in the country, after Tallow - to create a Social Economy Fund from the Members dividends; to invest in a variety of Social Enterprise projects – to boost employment – we pumped over €150,000 into the St. Enda’s Enterprise project and it has sustained some 25 businesses in our common bond and helped formed the BACD – which has been positive for the town in the recession”.
“We are a members orientated organisation our ethos is to help each other not anything else" – Liam Kelly
When asked; for him what made us escape the ravages of Credit Union melt down that has affected some?, he grabs both sides of the chair and resolutely declares “the honesty and integrity of our members has kept us out of all that sort of bother, we are a members orientated organisation - our ethos is to help each other not anything else – our Board and Committee members are not State appointed they are elected by us all to act in our common good. We had over 1,000 members in AT Cross and Square D – they all lost their jobs horribly but every cent borrowed was fully paid back!"
He and his wife Mary are looking forward to the year of celebrations for the Branch in 2017.
Ballinasloe Credit Union will be celebrating their Golden Jubilee in 2017 and can be found on Main Street and online - click here to visit them or follow them on facebook:
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