All-Ireland event part of worldwide movement with 500,000 members

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Probus Clubs here and around the world organise and promote activities for people who are, in the organisation’s own words - “at a time of life when it is easy to become complacent and self-centred”.

From Argentina to Zimbabwe - and in many greater and lesser countries in between - Probus members can enjoy ongoing programmes of events, activities and talks that are breathtakingly wide in scope and variety.

If you’re currently member of Probus you could be exploring the coastline of the ‘the Land of the Long White Cloud’ (New Zealand); you could be taking part in a competitive knock-out contest of Pallankuli or Pallanghuzi (a traditional ancient Tamil board game); you could be savouring a ‘Natter Platter’ (meat and cheese with assorted condiments) on an old dining-carriage pulled by Melbourne’s famous Puffing Billy, a 1926 Bayer-Peacock Garret Steam Engine; you could be enjoying a panoramic skyline ramble along the majestic French Alps, or you could be in County Tyrone for this year’s All-Ireland Probus Rally in Omagh!

The first Probus Club specifically for active retirees was formed in 1966 by the Rotary Club of Caterham, England. Today there are an estimated 1700 Probus Clubs in the UK.

In some towns demand is so great that there are several; Cheltenham, for example, has ten Probus Clubs, and there are two ladies’ and men’s clubs in Omagh.

There are currently around 140 clubs in Ireland north and south, over 95 of them male, about three dozen of them female, and half a dozen mixed gender clubs - all in all that’s nearly 5,000 members.

Probus worldwide boasts nearly half a million members in 5,000 clubs in 22 countries.

Today and tomorrow, the packed programme for Omagh’s All-Ireland Probus Rally in the Silverbirch Hotel includes a Council-reception and concert this evening, with welcoming speeches and guest speakers tomorrow, along with meetings, reports, presentations, a visit to the award-winning Ulster- American Folk Park and a scenic tour of the Sperrins.

The worldwide Probus movement all started as “a simple idea” in late 1965

Founder Fred Carnhill was an active and well-known member of Welwyn Garden City’s Rotary Club.

“I used to meet a few retired men for morning coffee,” Fred reminisced in a magazine article “mostly ex-commuters to and from London with professional or business backgrounds and with a wealth of experience behind them.”

One of the group was an architect, responsible for many public buildings throughout the UK.

Another of Fred’s chums was an ex-Borough Council Treasurer; there was also a former railway official, a retired headmaster, an ex-journalist, an ex-newspaper editor and a former secretary to a Prime Minister.

When they met together their conversation was always “brisk and entertaining” Fred recounted.

He had an idea, “really a very simple one,” he recalled.

He telephoned 33 friends that night and suggested they all get together regularly

“They all said, ‘put me down!’” Mr Carnhill explain “and thus the Campus Club - because it faced the centre of town called The Campus - was formed.”

Around the same time Rotarian Harold Blanchard of Caterham Rotary Club instigated the Caterham Probus Club. In his memoirs entitled ‘The Birth of Probus’ he outlined “one of our more erudite members came up with the idea of Probus: Pro-fessional and Bus-iness. He assured us that Probus was a Latin word from which ‘probity’ was derived, and the name was adopted with enthusiasm.”

The two organisations started by Fred and Harold became popular, and more clubs were promoted by Rotary in nearby towns.

In 1971 the first Probus Club in Ireland, Bangor Probus Club, was formed by the Rotary Club of Bangor. In 1974, Probus expanded into New Zealand and by 1976 the idea had spread to Australia.

The first Probus club for seniors in North America was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Galt in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada in 1987.

Although Probus membership has its greatest concentrations in Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, clubs exist today in all parts of the world, including the U.S., Belgium, India, South Africa and several other countries in Africa and Asia.

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 can belong to other organisations, including Rotary. Most Rotary clubs retain ties with the Probus clubs they have sponsored, but the ties are informal.

Rotarians Edwin Dunlop and Wilson Ferguson established Ireland’s first club in Bangor, having been inspired by the late Past Rotary District Chairman Bill Bailie to form a committee of prospective members.

An inaugural meeting of nine men was held on 28 April 1971 in First Bangor Presbyterian Church.

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

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

Until 1992 Probus in Ireland was predominantly a male preserve.

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 around 30 female clubs and seven mixed clubs.

If you haven’t joined or booked-in for Omagh’s All-Ireland Rally today and tomorrow you’re too late but full details of Probus are at www.probus.district1160.org