In 2012, we published The ICA Cookbook, a collection of treasured recipes gathered from ICA members across the country. We wanted to pass on these much-loved dishes to a new generation of home-cooks, to capture in a book the smells and flavours of real Irish kitchens so that they might be recreated in homes far and wide.
As National President of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, I was very pleased that the book was so well received at home and abroad. The enthusiastic response got us to thinking how much more collective practical advice the ICA women have to offer the next generation. Young parents running households today are often shocked to learn that the role is akin to that of CEO of a small company. There’s the budgeting, stock management, planning and organisation to keep on top of. There are the manual and practical demands such as keeping the house well, cooking, cleaning and maintaining your appliances. And then there’s that little bit of magic needed to make the home a happy one – the special touches and clever tricks that seemed to come naturally to all of our mammies.
These days, many young folk no longer live next door to their mother to whom they might call around for advice on everything from how to get a stain out of a dress to the trials and tribulations of married life. My own daughters are often asked for household and budgeting tips from college friends who know their mother is in the ICA. Yet all that advice is there for the asking, in homes all around the country. We decided to put out a call to our 11,000-strong ICA members to share their tips, skills, cherished ‘how tos’ and nuggets of wisdom on how to run a happy, harmonious home. And so The ICA Book of Home and Family was born.
As we sifted through submissions from hundreds of women representing ICA Guilds right across the country, I have personally been inspired in surprising ways (I’m currently planning to invest in a few hens for my own garden) and have learnt many things I never knew. My mother died before I had the chance or indeed the interest to garner her tips and advice about running a home and family. I thought I was always going to have time to learn from her, and then, when I needed to know – when I was setting out to make my own home for my own family – there was no-one there to tell me.
Had she lived longer, I might have a few more additions to add to the book myself (although I’m pleased to see my failsafe method for dealing with smelly shoes appear on page 160!). As it is, I am delighted to be able to rely on the resourceful members of the ICA for nuggets of wisdom and helpful hints on everything from how to clean leather to how to keep your hair shiny.
I love that most of the tips in this book are easy to master and cheap to reproduce, often using everyday household items like lemon juice and vinegar in place of an array of expensive cleaning products. Many of these tips have been passed down by mothers and grandmothers from a time when frugality and resourcefulness were key survival tools, as they are becoming again today for so many.
I have also enjoyed reading personal memories from ‘back in the day’. One member writes about growing up as one of 10 children on the hills near Ballyroan in Co Laois and how her mother knew everything from how to sew and knit all their clothes to how to make up remedies for ailing family members. Another in Kildare recollects her parents bartering with neighbours for milk and potatoes, eggs and vegetables so that they never went hungry despite rarely buying any food.
Life has changed greatly since those days but we can learn so much from them. We are busier today than ever – many of us have full- or part-time jobs outside the home – and yet we still want to keep our home in great shape so that it is somewhere we look forward to returning to at the end of our long day.
Running a home remains a serious job demanding specialised knowledge which we are not all born knowing, and which we are often only ready to learn once we have left our original family home. Making a house a home can be a source of great pleasure, both in the creation and the enjoyment of its harmony. Doing it well is both an art and a skill.
We hope you will enjoy dipping in and out of this book and calling on the help of all the home-makers who went before you. We have much to learn from them in so many ways. Let’s use and thereby preserve their know-how for the next generation to treasure.
(c) Liz Wall, National President of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association
About the ICA Book of Home and Family
The members of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association have a saying: ‘Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin’ (there’s no hearth like your own hearth) and when all is said and done what is more important than home and family?
In their fantastic new book, hundreds of Irish women from the ICA share their practical tips, short-cuts, and precious first-hand experience on how to make a house a home.
Whether you are looking for a tip to remove a stain from your dress, or a quiet word of wisdom on marital harmony; a how-to for the garden, or inspiration for a home-made gift: you know you can trust the ICA’s advice to be practical, down-to-earth and achievable.
Running a home is an important job. It demands the organisational skills of a project manager, the budgeting of an accountant, a myriad of cooking and cleaning skills – together with that little bit of magic which mothers always add. If you’ve ever wished you’d written down the clever tricks, special touches or pearls of wisdom that seemed to come naturally to your mother and grandmother, then don’t reinvent the wheel: let the women of the ICA guide you through home management from beginning to end.
An ideal gift, the ICA Book of Home and Family is in all good bookshops and available online here.