Looking at the Charities Aid Foundation World Giving Index since 2010, Ireland consistently features in the top ten most generous countries in the world and is the most generous nation in Europe. The World Giving Index takes into account not just money donated but also time spent. While the UK may give more money, Ireland clocks up more volunteer time.
What is extraordinary is that when Ireland was running on strict economic austerity measures and many people were feeling public spending cuts, including cuts in unemployment benefit, Ireland still ranked the third most generous country in the world, according to the Travel Anthropologist blog.
Perhaps memories of tough times have given the Irish heart less compassion fatigue. However, generosity seems to be part and parcel of Irish culture. I see people volunteering in charity shops to aid hospices, cancer and heart research, the Red Cross, or Romanian orphans. For many years after Chernobyl Irish homes opened their hearts and hearths to sick Russian children in the aftermath of the nuclear meltdown. When I go to a supermarket in Enniskillen there is a trolley where you are invited to place an item to be donated to the local Food Bank.
Every Saturday you will see shopping districts full of people rattling donation tins, often standing in the rain, accepting the loose change from passerby’s pockets. I have attended coffee mornings with delicious homemade apple tarts and other goodies to raise funds for Marie Curie Cancer care nurses.
On Facebook, I note people who climb Anna Purna in India for sponsorship. Or they might cycle around the island of Ireland. There seems to be no end to the originality of thought put in to asking people to part with their money for a good cause.
It’s infectious. This June a friend inveigled me to get with the generosity program and raise funds for Sligo Cancer Care. It took some chutzpah to do it. But last year my sister-in-law was diagnosed with metastatic bone cancer, a neighbor was treated for breast cancer, a friend for cervical cancer; another friend passed away after a very challenging journey with the disease.
What were my inhibitions in the face of what each of these women experienced? Yet another friend, who had asked me to join her the previous year, also experienced a recurrence of cancer. That did it! I signed up in February to do Sligo Dip in the Nip 2014.
Public nudity is illegal in Ireland. The exception is Dip in the Nip. Four years ago it began with some women stripping on a Sligo beach to raise funds for cancer charities. Now there is not only Dip in the Nip Sligo, but Dip in the Nip Cork, Dip in the Nip Dublin and soon, Dip in the Nip Newcastle, in Northern Ireland.
It is all done very early in the morning. Registration was 7:15 am on a Sunday morning at a secret location you only learn of by text message the night before the Dip. Voyeurs are not welcome. The Irish police, the Gardai, make sure of that. No one is arrested either. Everyone in Ireland has had a loved one with a cancer journey.
The beach was over an hour’s drive from home. We arrived to see a motley crew of people sporting pink wigs, feather boas, and all manner of ‘Think Pink’ fancy dress, which, of course, would soon get stripped for the Dip in the Nip.
It was all very discreet. There is a men’s section of beach, a gap of several hundred metres for the Couple contingent, and the then more space for the very large women’s group of Dippers.
I have to tell you that the North Atlantic in June is cold. In fact, this stretch of Sligo coastline that hosted this year’s Dip, is also Surfing Heaven. The surfers wear wet suits. We did not! And some dippers don’t dash into the waves. It has been known for Dippers to sedately progress over the sand with the aid of a Zimmer, or walking frame. You also see evidence of treatment, the chemo crops and mastectomy scars. That is humbling. What are my inhibitions or self-consciousness about my body image in the face of what cancer has done to these women?
We did a little Zumba gig on the beach to ‘Happy’ to warm up, counted down from ten, dropped our dressing gowns and rushed into the sea! There was lots of squealing but there was also proper swimming out. I jumped six waves before the cold began to bite and I turned back. I also raised nearly €200 from sponsorship for Cancer Care.
It was comradely and we were given hot drinks and a sausage sandwich afterwards. The sun, wonder of wonders, shone and soon had Dippers all warmed up again. We felt a sense of accomplishment and exhilaration.
Ireland may be one of the most generous nations in the world. But they are also very imaginative about the way they will raise cash for good causes. They also know how to inject some fun and to not get too precious about doing a bit of good.