Presidency the icing on cake for pioneering Frances

Frances Egan has made history by being elected the first woman president of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association which marks its 125th anniversary this year.  She tells JUDY MURPHY about her lifelong involvement with the group and the importance of its faith-based approach to abstaining from alcohol.

Making cakes for weddings and other celebrations is one of Frances Egan’s favourite hobbies.

And right now, the former Lydon House baker would have good reason to make a celebration cake for herself.

Frances has been elected President of Ireland’s Pioneer Total Abstinence Association (PTTA) – the first woman to hold that role in the organisation’s 125-year history.

Originally from County Louth and living in Galway for more than 40 years, Frances has been a Pioneer since primary school.

Back then, children making their Confirmation took a pledge to abstain from alcohol until they were18. However, not everyone managed to hold out.

Frances did, going on to become a fully-fledged member. And since moving to Galway, she has been at the heart of the organisation locally.

In Louth, Frances had grown up in a “strong Catholic” household, where Mass and Benediction were part of life.

“My dad was very involved with the Pioneers and, at 18, I took the plunge,” she says.  She was unusual in doing so, but “my friends were very good”, she recalls of their attitudes.

As a Pioneer, she committed to  abstaining from alcoholic drink, to wearing a pioneer pin and to reciting a twice-daily prayer, known as the Heroic Prayer.

Alongside her faith, baking has been part of Frances’s life since childhood – and is the reason she came to Galway.

She was always fascinated by baking and aged 12, got a parttime job in a family-run business in Ardee.

In those days, “bakery management was a closed shop”, she says of how the industry operated. Frances’s family had no direct links with baking, so she knew she’d have to fight to enter the profession. And she did.

She applied for a post-Leaving Cert course in the Bakery School at Kevin Street College of Technology and her interview was so impressive she got of the few places on offer.

Frances honed her skills there and also learned about bakery management – a transferrable skill, she remarks.

“Management is management – it’s the same basis for everything.”

She won several competitions during her college years, especially for icing cakes. Icing remains a passion.

“I worked hard to win, so I would feature in the [trade] bakery magazine and get my name out there,” says this warm, focused woman.

While in Dublin, Frances was involved in the Legion of Mary and when she moved to Galway after getting a job with Lydon House Bakery, she retained that involvement. She also became active in the Pioneers.

The Pioneer Association – its full name is The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart – was set up in Dublin in 1898 when alcohol abuse was wreaking havoc on families, and it still has a role to play, she says.

Frances has no issue with moderate drinking, but this active Pioneer has “seen how drugs and alcohol cause so many problems”.

And she also witnessed addiction issues while working behind the counter of the shop she ran in Castlelawn Heights for years.

Pictured: Faith has always been at the heart of life for Frances Egan, the newly-elected President of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association (PTAA). PHOTO: JOE O’SHAUGHNESSY.

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