#HeresTheStory: Influencers of the Movement 

General 3 min read

13 Oct 2020

At the start of any good story, leaders stand up to be counted. In the case of the credit union, there were a so many influential people who helped the movement get on its feet. These influencers started the story and ensured a comfortable life for ordinary people. The start of the story can be read here, but for now, we’re focusing on some of those people who had a huge influence on the credit union movement in Ireland. North and South of the border, men and women stood tall for what they believed in and started the story of the credit union movement.  


Nora Herlihy 

Born in 1910 in Ballydesmond, Nora Herlihy is known as a trailblazer of the credit union movement. She began her teaching career in Dublin, and while teaching, noticed first-hand the effects of unemployment, poor housing, illness, malnutrition and exploitation by moneylenders.  

Nora recognized that this problem was thanks to the scarce availability of finance and poor management of money by people. It was her passion to find a system that would allow people to have more control over their finances. While studying liberal arts in UCD in Dublin, Nora came across the concept of co-operation. She also identified that having access to affordable loans, which not only make personal and community development a possibility, would also create essential social capital for the community.  

Through her trojan work with others, the Irish Credit Union movement was established in 1958. Nora’s contribution to the movement is admirable, especially considering the times she prospered, women were not prominent in Irish society. Among many other achievements throughout the development of the movement, one most notable effort is her contribution to developing the Credit Union Act 1966, which was signed into law by president at the time Éamon De Valera.  

Sean Forde 

Sean Forde from Dublin, was an employee of Peter Kennedy Bakers, Dublin. In 1948 Sean, together with Seamus MacEoin, attended a course organised by UCD in Social & Economic Studies after which Seamus presented a paper on the co-operative movement and it was on this occasion that they met Nora Herlihy for the first time. In early 1954, the Dublin Central Co-operative Society (DCCS) was founded and later that year affiliated to the National Co-operative Council. Sean was one of the founding members of the DCCS. Following the establishment of the Credit Union Extension Service (CUES), Sean was appointed the first Chairman. Out of CUES emerged the fledging credit union movement.  

At the formation of the Credit Union League of Ireland, Sean was appointed Vice-President, with Fr. Paddy Gallagher as President. Following many years of active service at the ILCU and Chapter level his last position as office holder expired when his term as League Supervisor concluded in April 1988. Sean was a great help to credit unions with their teething problems and his forte was providing the close personal support and advice that a new credit union often needed.  

Seamus P. MacEoin  

Born in Connahy, Co Kilkenny, Seamus worked in the Civil Service where he served in the Land Commission, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Social Welfare. During the period between 1948 and 1954 Seamus gave many lectures and read many papers on co-operation thus assisting in the lead up to the introduction of the Credit Union Movement. In early 1954, the Dublin Central Co-operative Society (DCCS) was founded. Seamus and was elected Chairman of the DCCS. In 1957 Seamus, Nora, Sean and others formed the Credit Union Extension Service (CUES). Seamus was appointed Treasurer and PRO and was kept busy in the promotion and publicity areas. Seamus was one of the founder members of the credit union in Dun Laoghaire.  

In 1960 the Civil Service Credit Union, the first vocational credit union on the island, was formed by Seamus who also became a member of that credit union. Seamus served on the League Board of Directors and League Supervisory Committee for many years, during which time he was Liaison Officer to some of the Dublin Chapters. Seamus never tired of meeting with and talking to people, committees, boards and organisations. Seamus was a gentle, considerate and dedicated man, a fluent Irish speaker, and he loved the cooperative movement and particularly the credit union movement. 


John Hume  

A man who needs little introduction, John Hume was a giant of a man whose’s mission in life was to ensure that those who went after him, experienced a better life than he did. His efforts in all aspects of his life led to the history we learn today. Through his peacekeeping efforts, the Good Friday Agreement and his sheer passion for people, John Hume has left an immeasurable legacy on the world we live in.  

He inspired hope for a global community in his work on the ground. His contribution to the credit union movement in Northern Ireland was immense. Paving the way for an affordable life for those all around him, John Hume looked after the ordinary people, ensuring their needs were met through the credit union.  

In a famous interview, John Hume was quoted, “ of all the things I’ve done, it’s the thing I’m most proud of, because no movement has done more good for the people of Ireland, North and South, than the credit union movement”. His passion for people shone through and this passion continues to be the driving force of the credit union today. 


Fr. Paddy Gallagher  

The first credit union set up outside Dublin was in Clones, Co Monaghan, established in 1959 and led by the late Fr. Paddy Gallagher. Fr. Gallagher was a priest serving the community in Clones. Prior to Clones, Fr. Paddy Gallagher had served some time in California and during this time, had come in contact with credit unions there. Seeing first hand how credit unions operated across the waters, Fr. Paddy Gallagher brought a new bundle of expertise to the ever growing credit union movement in Ireland. Fr. Gallagher was a key influencer in the credit union movement as whole. His knowledge of credit unions was a key factor in the success of Clones Credit Union. His knowledge also spread across the country as he was known for travelling all around Ireland in short spaces of time, to aid the foundation of many credit unions. According to fellow credit union pioneer, Sean Forde, Fr. Paddy Gallagher’s influence was huge “this was for us a breakthrough, as we now had the opportunity to extend our activities beyond the pale”. 

Eileen and Angela Byrne  

In 1957 at a presentation in Skerries, the National Co-Operative Council showed a film about credit unions in Australia.  This piqued the interest of two sisters from Donore parish in Dublin 8 - Eileen and Angela Byrne (Aingil ni Bhroin) . Following some information gathering, the sisters decided to see whether their neighbours would also be interested in setting up a credit union, they invited some people to their home on 35 Hamilton St to see if anyone was interested in their idea.  A number of fireside chats were held, and at it was at one of these chats that it was decided to reach out to credit union representatives in the United States, Canada and Australia to gather as much information as possible.   

In April 1958, the group of neighbours and friends decided to set up Donore Credit Union, which is still in existence today serving the community of Dublin 8 and having a huge impact on many lives.  

These infleuncers, including many others, started the story of the credit union movement, inspiring hope for a global community. Today, the values of these pioneers is still seen throughout the movement's ethos and people helping people attitude. We hope to see the credit union continue the story and prosper for many years to come. 

This blog has been written as part of our #HeresTheStory campaign which celebrates the credit union movement in the lead up to International Credit Union Day. This campaign features stories from the foundation of the credit union, key influencers in the movement and why this organisation just works for the people of Ireland.