Rotary International, District 1160 (Ireland)

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The development of Probus in Ireland

A history of the Probus Club movement in the island of Ireland written by one of its leading architects Rotarian Edwin Dunlop, Past President of the Rotary Club of Bangor, County Down, and Past District Governor of Rotary District 1160 - Ireland.

He along with Rotarian Wilson Ferguson, also Past President of the Rotary Club of Bangor, established the first Probus Club in Ireland in 1971 and by 1981 had promoted and established 36 Probus Clubs throughout the island.

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In late 1965 the Rotary Club of Welwyn Garden City formed The Campus Club for retired business and professional men. About the same time The Rotary Club of Caterham had a similar idea and formed a club for professional and business men and decided to call it Probus. The inaugural luncheon took place on the 2 March 1966 thus officially forming the first Probus Club.

The name Probus is derived from 'PRO'fessional and 'BUS'iness and the Latin 'Probitas' meaning ‘good honest integrity’. It was thought to be an excellent simple idea and adopted by Rotary International Great Britain and Ireland as a Rotary project and promoted through the Rotary Library throughout all Districts in RIBI. The Rotary Club of Welwyn Garden City had the Campus Club name changed to Probus so the two original clubs were The Probus Club of Caterham and The Probus Club of Welwyn Garden City, both in England.

Ireland – The Early Years

When the late Past Rotary District Chairman Bill Bailie was in office in the year 1970-71 (he was also a Past Chairman of the Rotary Club of Bangor 1961-62), heard about Probus in England, he decided to have it promoted in Ireland. Along with the then Chairman Wilson Ferguson of the Rotary Club of Bangor they approached me (Edwin Dunlop) after a Rotary lunch in February 1971 to ask if I would research with a view to forming a Probus Club in Bangor. After some persuasion I agreed.

I formed a committee of Bangor Rotarians comprising of the late Past Rotary District Chairman George McCartney, the late George Roberts, Past President and Past District Secretary John Stevenson, Past President Jack Small, myself Edwin Dunlop and ex officio Club Chairman Wilson Ferguson. Like any new idea there is the good, the bad and the ugly. Fortunately the good prevailed and the decision was taken to proceed. Rotary Club members were circulated with the relevant information to find prospective members. Several meetings followed and at the inaugural meeting on 28 April 1971 in The Mother’s Parlour (an apt location for the birth of a new ‘baby’) of 1st Bangor Presbyterian Church the following 9 men, now called to higher service, decided to form the Bangor men’s Probus Club.

John Barry; George Campion; Joseph Edwards OBE; James Jenkins; George McClure; Harry McClune; Walter Pollock; Charles Radcliffe and Hamill Russell. The following office bearers were elected – Walter Pollock, Chairman; Joe Edwards, Vice Chairman; Jimmy Jenkins was elected Secretary/Treasurer. John Barry and Charlie Radcliffe were nominated as council members.

Their first decision was to meet at the Winston Hotel, Queen’s Parade, Bangor and to hold their first luncheon meeting on 1st June 1971.

At 29 April 1971 the Chief Executive Officer of a Rotary Club had the title Chairman and this followed through to the number one Probus Club in Ireland, Bangor, County Down. This title in Rotary International was changed to President on the 1 July 1971 but the first Probus Club in Ireland decided, with their own autonomy, to retain the title of Chairman in lieu of President. A fact that the Probus Club of Bangor cherish and they are justly proud to be the only Probus Club in Ireland to have a Chairman rather than a President.

Beyond Bangor

Having been successful with the Probus Club of Bangor, the late Past District Chairman, Bill Bailie, requested I continue and promote Probus Clubs in Ireland. Again I agreed if our Club Chairman Wilson continued to help me.

During 1972 Cork and Dun Laogharie were formed followed by Dublin South and Larne in 1973.

In the early years proposed Probus Clubs were treated with suspicion, especially as the main promoter was a ‘youngster’ like myself. It all sounded too good to be true but with the help of converted disciples (Probarians) Probus Clubs started to multiply. I remember well on one occasion whenever an existing Probus member was asked by a prospective member “What do you do?”, the reply had to be repeated several times to be believed. “We do nothing and we are good at doing nothing”.

From small beginnings Probus grew and grew in Ireland and now there are 135 clubs, 100 male, 28 female and 7 dual gender clubs with a total of 4750 members.

Helped by Wilson Ferguson we continued in an unofficial capacity for seven years before the title Probus Extension Officer was recognised in Rotary at District 1160 level. Edwin Dunlop and Wilson Ferguson were then officially recognised as District Extension Officers in Ireland for Probus in 1978. I suppose most things are not recognised until they are successful, if it had been a failure it would have been passed by unnoticed. Edwin and Wilson held the official post for a further 3 years from 1978 until 1981 when 36 Probus Clubs had been established in Ireland.

During my most active 11 years of promoting Probus Clubs in Ireland, I have lost count of the number of Probus Club setting up packs I have sent to many locations around the world including Scandinavia, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada and Brazil.

Rotarian Probus Officers

William Ferris, Londonderry, and Charles O’Neale, Dun Laoghaire, followed Edwin Dunlop and Wilson Ferguson as District Probus Extension Officers from 1981 until 1984.

From 1984-1991 the following served for differing periods:-
Bertie Shields, Portadown; Tony Flannery, Dublin; Bob Brown, Belfast West; Jim Henry, Dublin North; Les Duthie, Ballymoney; Jerry O’Mahony, Limerick Thomond.

Joint Probus Extension officers from 1991 until 1994 were Wilson Ferguson back in the saddle along with Noel Manahan, Dublin North. This was a particular fertile period for Probus in Ireland as 22 new Probus Clubs were chartered. Thirteen in Ireland South and nine in Ireland North.

The next three years 1994-97 were covered by Jerry O’Mahony, Limerick Thomond, and Roy MacDougall, Belfast. Roy McDougall continued for a further three years until 2000 along with Dick Tuite, Dublin, Gay Berkery, Dundalk, and Barry Royston, Limerick Shannon, each having served for one year terms. Ian McIntyre, Belfast West, was Probus Liaison Officer North until 2003 with Barry Royston, Limerick Shannon, for a further two years and Donal O’Sullivan, Tralee, for one year until 2004.

Mary Sinnamon, Rotary Club of Carrickfergus, became Probus Liaison Officer North in 2003 and has continued in office until the present time. Hilary Kelly, Rotary Club of Tralee, served in 2004-05 and Jerry O'Mahony, Rotary Club of Limerick Thomond, took over the reins for a third time and is still Probus Liaison Officer South – Mary and Jerry are both still doing sterling work.

New Era

Until 1992 Probus was dominantly a male preserve and the ladies thought what was good for the gander would be good for the goose. The first dual gender club was Limerick Castletroy in 1992. The first all female club was Omagh Ladies in 1993 followed by Bangor Ladies in 1995. Now there are 28 female clubs and 7 dual gender clubs.

And Finally ……

Rotary and the Probus organisation has a lot to be thankful for, in the dedicated work, time and effort so freely given by all connected Rotarians to promote Probus clubs throughout Rotary International District 1160 - Ireland. A huge thank you to all those involved over the last 37 years, including the Webmaster of this Probus Website.

Edwin Dunlop - June 2008  

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Our thanks for this history of the Probus Club movement in the island of Ireland go to Rotarian Edwin Dunlop, Past President of the Rotary Club of Bangor, County Down, and Past District Governor of Rotary District 1160 - Ireland.

Membership Statistics - 2015

Probus All-Ireland
  • 134 Clubs
  • 95 male, 34 female and 5 dual gender clubs
  • 4,700 members
Probus Worldwide
  • 5,000 Clubs - in 22 countries
  • 400,000 members

Although sponsored by Rotary clubs, Probus clubs enjoy autonomy once they have been established. Clubs meet fortnightly or weekly but have no attendance or service requirements, and membership fees are nominal. Members may and do belong to other organizations, including Rotary. Most Rotary clubs retain ties with the Probus clubs they have sponsored, but the ties are informal.