Nonie retires after 35 years’ service

Barna Guide Leader Nonie Hickey has retired after 35 years at the helm of Sí Gaoith Guides – the Unit she founded in 1982.

Around 70 people attended a special retirement party for Nonie in The Twelve Hotel, Barna, on 24 February, including current and former Guides and IGG Leaders. Among the guests was Hildegarde Naughton TD, IGG Chief Commissioner Helen Concannon, IGG Assistant Chief Commissioner Áine Divilly, National Programme and Training Commissioner Evelyn Hayes and Therese Joyce, IGG Chair of Finance and Leader of Sí Gaoith Guides.

Nonie reckons that 1,500 girls have been through Sí Gaoith Guides since she set up the Unit 35 years ago. Nonie had herself been a Guide while growing up in Drimnagh in Dublin and, having valued her time as a Guide so much, she was pleased to have the opportunity to pass on her enthusiasm for Guiding to generations of local girls.

“In 1982 I was approached by two parents of Brownies to know if I would attend a parents’ meeting and explain what Guiding was all about,” said Nonie. “They had learned I had been a Guide leader. I was delighted and within 24 hours I had become a Guide Leader once again.

“To be back in Guiding was just magic,” she said. “My eldest daughter was one of my first Guides and, when I attended my first meeting in 1982, it was as if I had never left. The spirit of Guiding was just lying dormant and, to be able to work with the girls doing all the things I enjoyed, was great. There is something special about Guiding – the sense of adventure, of learning new skills and building confidence in girls through the programme. And you can go nowhere without hearing the word ‘friendship’ mentioned.”

Nonie had been a shy child and had found that her involvement in Guiding helped bring her out of herself. “I really believe that Guiding broke down that shyness and built my confidence,” she said. “There was never any pressure to do anything, you progressed at your own speed and did the things that interested you. We had great Leaders who were interested in everything to do with the outdoors and I am sure that is where my delight and joy in camping was born.”

Nonie appreciates the many opportunities that have been afforded her during her years as a Leader as well as a Girl Guide. “How many people get the opportunity to go canoeing down the Danube, climb mountains in Austria and Switzerland, visit India and be able to embrace the beautiful culture and do a little bit for children less fortunate than ourselves?” she asked.  “Guiding has afforded me all these opportunities but, most importantly, working with the girls has been a great joy and I have made so many good friends through Guiding. Leaders’ trainings, Branch Weekends and conferences are platforms for making long-lasting friendships.”

Camping has been the highlight of Nonie’s Guiding experiences with Sí Gaoith Guides. “Over the 35 years we camped every year, sometimes two or three times,” she said. “We attended five international camps and enjoyed seven trips abroad. We are very lucky to be located close to a wood and the seashore and, over the years, have been able to use these facilities for outdoor activities.”

As a Leader, Nonie has enjoyed seeing girls develop in confidence and progress through the Guiding programme. “When a girl joins Guiding she will be in an environment that is safe and has no pressures,” she said. “She will be with girls of her own age and make lots of new friends. She can develop her own skills and learn new skills through her badge work. She will get the opportunity to camp and enjoy the outdoors in a safe and friendly atmosphere. As a Patrol Leader, she will develop her people skills and organisational skills, which will stand to her throughout her life. She will have the best time of her life!”

Nonie has many fond memories of the Guides who have passed through her Unit, including the current IGG Chief Commissioner Helen Concannon. “Helen was an amazing Guide,” said Nonie. “Nothing was too difficult for Helen and, if we had a challenge, she would be the first person to say, ‘Yes, we can do it’. She was a great friend to the girls as she got older and would always be very aware of the new Guide and make sure she was part of everything. She has a very positive outlook, a great sense of fun and responsibility and that is why she has been so successful.

“She was one of our first Gold Award Guides and, at that time, there was no formal ceremony for presentation of Gold Awards. The local Scout Unit had been to Dublin for their big award and she was aware of this and she felt that IGG should be doing something for such an important event. She asked me to write to Margaret Dunne (who at that time was Chief Commissioner) and we drafted the letter on the way to the panto in Dublin and the rest is history.”

Nonie has no hesitation in encouraging parents to enrol their daughters in IGG. “There are so many pressures in life for young people today,” she said. “Guiding is the perfect setting for a girl to be herself and, even if she only stays for a short time, the spirit of Guiding will stay with her and be of benefit to her when she least expects it.”