The modern Credit Union Movement originated in Germany in 1849 during a period of deep economic depression when the Mayor of a small town, Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, formed savings societies which later evolved into credit unions.
The movement spread through Europe and to India. Credit unions were introduced to Canada and the U.S.A. in the early 1900’s.
The first credit union in Ireland was opened in Clones in 1958. As of 5th April 2017, there were 389 credit union’s affiliated to the Irish League of Credit Unions, 296 in the Republic Of Ireland, and 93 in Northern Ireland. In Ireland, over 2.9 million members have recognised the value of credit unions and have savings approaching €11.9 billion.
The principles laid down by Raiffeisen in 1849 are still the basis of the movement:
- Only members can save and borrow
- Loans are made for provident or productive purposes at low interest rates
- The character of the member is the most important security for his/her loan
- The members own, control and administer the credit union
The Claremorris Story
Contacts between commercial travellers and business men, Department of Agriculture Officials working within the county and staff at C.I.E with staff in surrounding railway stations led to a public meeting in the Town Hall, Claremorris, in May 1971 to discuss the possibility of starting a credit union in the town.
At that meeting a study group was formed, The members were Michael O’Reilly, John Waldron, Anthony Skelly, Sean Fitzpatrick, Sal Higgins, May O’Brien, Hilda Connonlly, Jarlath Ruane, Hugh Dawson, Timothy Durning, Thomas McLoughlin, Charles Ryan, Rev. Fr. Moran, W. P. Conlon, Gerard Rynne and Martin Casey.
This group decided to form themselves into a savings group and the first collection amounted to £30.00. At the railway station, the treasurer of the savings group, Michael O’Reilly was already collecting from thirty-two employees who were in a savings scheme with one of the banks. Those savings were now switched into the savings group account and the foundation was laid for St. Colman’s Credit Union.
Having got permission to use the old Boys National School in Dalton Street free of charge, the fledgling credit union opened to the public on Saturday 7th August 1971 and the hours of business each week were 8.00 – 10.00 p.m. Two months later on the 14th October, St. Colman’s (Claremorris) Credit Union Ltd., was registered with the Irish League of Credit Unions. Among the decisions taken for Christmas that year were that emergency loans of up to £20.00 could be granted and because of the expected demand for loans an application was made to the bank for overdraft facilities of £300.00.
A year later it was felt that the credit union needed a higher profile and offices were rented in The Square. As a result opening hours were extended to include Sundays from 12.30 – 2.00 p.m
The late Tony Skelly succeeded John Waldron as chairman in 1975 and vigorously pursued the Board’s ambition to own a place of its own. A premises in The Square was secured and renovated and on Friday the 30th April 1976 was officially opened by John Hume who had set up the first Northern Ireland credit union in Derry in 1961. This was followed by a function to celebrate the opening in the Town Hall to which all were invited.
A landmark was reached in 1979 when the person who became the one thousandth member received a bonus of £10.00 in shares. Growth continued and with the pressure of work on the volunteers who ran the credit union it was decided to go computerised in August 1983. By 1985 another milestone was reached and it was a proud Michael O’Reilly in his Treasurers Report at the January monthly meeting who announced that savings to date were £1,003,850.00 – the magic million £ mark had been reached.
In 1989 opening hours were extended to include Wednesday evenings. By now the offices were inadequate and when queues built up on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings the lines of members often trailed out into the street. Two adjoining premises were bought and under the chairmanship of P. J. McGrath a major extension of the offices was undertaken. The “new” offices were opened on 13th July 1990 by the Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Cassidy.
Following a survey later that year it emerged that the need to open longer was the prime requirement of the membership. New opening hours, which saw the offices open two full days weekly along with the traditional Saturday and Sunday commenced on the 1st February 1991. The time had now come to employ someone on a full-time basis as St. Colman’s, the third biggest credit union in Connaught, had outgrown the voluntary efforts which had made it so successful.
Special celebrations marked the 21st anniversary of St Colman’s in 1992. A special “Souvenir Booklet” detailing the history and growth of the credit union, edited and compiled by John Kirrane, was published. All members were invited to a function in The Dalton Inn at which the special guest was John Hume.
By the mid-nineties the credit union opened everyday of the week. In 1999 the adjoining building at the end of The Square was purchased, a new computer system installed and the offices refurbished.