Concern Worldwide has paid tribute to the extraordinary generosity and compassion of the Wicklow public after being honoured by President Michael D. Higgins at a special 50th anniversary event at Áras an Uachtaráin.
Over 170 volunteers, supporters and staff were among the invited guests at the event last Tuesday, including one Wicklow resident who has heavily contributed to the charity’s work over the years.
Sheelagh MacNamara from Ashford previously worked as a Concern volunteer in Bangladesh and played a key role in developing the Wicklow Concern Group, which has been an active in fundraising since the early 80s.
A large number of other local fundraisers have contributed to collections and other events over the years, including schools, community groups and individuals.
Sheelagh has also been involved in representing Concern in the local area alongside husband Charlie, who worked as a volunteer in Bangladesh and served for many years on the Council of Concern.
Commenting at the event, Concern CEO Dominic MacSorley paid tribute to the incredible generosity of the Irish public, which has helped the organisation to reach many millions of people over the past 50 years.
“The response of the Irish public was phenomenal. Images of war and starvation broadcast into homes across Ireland tapped into the instinctual empathy and generosity of a nation and this is what has continued to sustain Concern over the past 50 years.”
President Higgins added that Concern has been “to the forefront of addressing the great issues of our time”.
“Through your work you crafted a vital bridge between the Irish people and some of the poorest people in our world. Thank you all those of you who have worked for and with Concern over the years for your compassion, your courage, and your dedication to supporting the lives and building the capacity of the poorest people of the world.”
Founded in 1968 in response to devastating famine in the breakaway state of Biafra in Nigeria, Concern now reaches over 26 million people in 26 of the world’s poorest countries.
From the beginning, a group of volunteers led by young Dublin couple John and Kay O’Loughlin Kennedy had a bold, inclusive vision that brought supporters from all backgrounds and all corners together.
Their efforts built on the legacy of the Irish missionaries and opened a new chapter of ambitious Irish humanitarian relief that was both compassionate and professional, supported by communities and volunteers from all over the country.
In the first year alone, they raised the equivalent of €4 million to send a ship-load of vital supplies to the starving population of Nigeria in what was the largest relief operation to ever come out of Ireland at the time.
MV ‘The Columcille’ set sail from Dublin Port on September 6, 1968 and arrived off the coast of São Tomé 23 days later, where pilots flew consignments of aid into the war-torn country.
Dubliner Karl Vekins was just 16 when he spotted the ship at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and decided to join the crew as a cabin boy.
He recalled: “I was intrigued and eventually I found out that they were looking for crew. I had just finished my Junior Cert and was just going to go on the vessel for six months and continue on with the Leaving Cert then. It didn’t quite work out like that.
“The people who set it all up were so farsighted. Can you imagine nowadays? Just going out and buying a ship, loading it with cargo and bringing it down to West Africa. It was an incredible experience.”
Concern has a number of events planned to mark the 50th anniversary of the organisation over the year, including an international conference on conflict to take place in Dublin in September.