Author & Journalist Holly Crawford of Islandmagee North WI shares her story…

Posted June 28, 2022 by WI Staff in Local Areas


Where There’s A WI, There’s A Way!

Nowhere in the dictionary will you find ‘The Woman’s Institute’ used as a definition for any of the following words: Welcoming, organised, dedicated and determined. But they should be, as Holly Crawford, one of the organisation’s newest recruits, explains…

My hands are shaking and my knees are weak. I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet… oh wait, sorry, Elvis Presley said that, originally, didn’t he? But I couldn’t have put it better myself, because, you see, on Thursday 12th May, I was all shook up. Let me explain…

I have only been to The Balmoral Show once, and that was last year as everything was slowly returning to normal following the Covid-19 pandemic, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. The show was great, but I think everyone was cautious and still worried that at any moment, their freedom would be snatched away again.

Not so this year: there queues to get in were long but moved quickly as visitors excitedly handed over their tickets. Once in, they were running about with their faces painted and ice creams in hand, and the children had a great time too!

I was looking forward to the event as well, not that you would have guessed it from my serious expression or shaking hands. That was because, for the first four and a half hours, I would be doing a shift in the WI tea tent. I had joined this wonderful institution just months before, and felt as if I should put in an appearance and represent Islandmagee North.

As a journalist, I am not normally phased by walking into rooms and talking to strangers, but this was different. I would be representing the WI and helping with catering. Let’s not forget that I am someone who considers cooking toast the height of haute cuisine. And anyway, the WI has a reputation to uphold: Members are organised, efficient experts who can turn their hand to just about anything, be it cooking, baking, flower decorating, jam making, catering and just about anything else, and make an excellent job of it.

But God loves a tryer, as they say, and so I hugged my husband, Paul, who, as a farming veterinarian undertaking a PhD, wanted to look at the livestock and network, and walked into the WI hall.

Ten minutes later, I was wearing a fetching WI apron and being shown the ropes by a lovely lady called Heather. The women had obviously been working tirelessly because the whole exhibition space looked beautiful. Tables were adorned with jams, cakes, cards and handmade toys for sale, while the competition area showed off their varied skill sets, with beautiful bouquets and stunning cakes designed to celebrate Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee.

I know the WI has, in recent years, welcomed new members from younger generations, which is lovely, but I must say, I like seeing the traditional crafts and customs upheld, mainly because I can’t even sew a button on, and like to see the wonderful creations of those who can.

The tearoom itself was pristine: The tables were touchingly decorated with yellow and blue tablecloths and flowers.  Everything was serene and everything was ready to welcome guests, who, for six pounds, could enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, a scone (plain, fruit or cherry) and a selection of mouth-watering home-made traybakes. But, as I suspected, behind the scenes, a huge catering operation was in full swing.

There were cake boxes piled high with goodies ready and waiting to go out on plates, cups were lined up in rows ready to be put into action and in one corner, a group of very talented ladies were decorating cakes.

My role was to take customers’ orders and then go to the ‘kitchen,’ select their order from the relevant stand, pick up their cutlery, put in my drinks order and then serve the refreshments at their table.

I was astonished at the tenacity, endurance and organisation that went into making the day run like clockwork. There was not one moment during my shift that we were short of scones to choose from. Kettles were continuously being filled, drinks poured, cakes decorated and washing up completed. Out front, customers were served and tables cleared. And, even more impressive, was the fact everyone kept smiling behind the scenes as well, despite aching feet!

It was an honour to serve the customers and hear how their day was going. Throughout the morning I met babies, toddlers, young children, teenagers, parents and grandparents. I saw groups of friends honouring long held traditions by meeting in the WI tea tent and catching up, while stall holders popped in for some peace and a well-deserved break.

While waiting for tea top ups or similar, I got chatting to some of the lovely ladies who had so generously given up their time to volunteer at the show. Some had been with the WI for decades, others, ‘just’ the fifteen years! But it was easy to see why they decided to join because there was certainly a buzz in the air at the show, a feeling of companionship, camaraderie and of ‘being a part’ of something. Laughter filled the air, as did greetings, enquiries as to how people and their families and animals were, and of course, lots of hugs!

Others spoke of re-joining after having been away for years and I can relate to that. I moved to Northern Ireland just before the first lockdown. We were due to get married in May 2022, but of course, that did not happen. However, when Boris Johnson said small weddings could go ahead, we jumped at the chance and tied the knot on Saturday, 18th July 2022 in a gorgeous and intimate ceremony in my home county of Ware, Hertfordshire. I couldn’t stop smiling, having bagged the most gorgeous groom ever!

After our honeymoon, I moved in with Paul and his 200 sheep on his farm in Islandmagee. Of course, farming life has to go on, no matter what, and so that is what we did, which, looking back, was good for us physically and mentally. But it also meant that I didn’t actually start to really get to know anyone until things started to return ‘to normal.’

As soon as they did, I went along to the local WI and was delighted to find it was right up my street! The first meeting saw local historian David Hume give a talk about interesting artefacts from across the decades which told us much about Northern Ireland.

The next meeting was about women at the Somme, a talk given by Carole Walker. I cannot wait until we meet again as there will be a talk about ‘life at the castle’ by Adrian Morrow and after that, Peter Barrett will be joining us to tell us all about ‘the craft of tea brewing!’

Everyone was so welcoming and as the months went on, I began to feel a sense of place. How nice it was to walk into a room and hear people staying, ‘hello, Holly.’ I felt I was making friends on this side of the water too, and it meant a lot. As such, I would like to thank the ladies of WI Islandmagee for making me feel at home.

When we stood to sing the closing song on that first night, I felt a sense of place. I thought about other women in NI groups across the county, the country and over in England, Scotland and Wales, who were also standing and singing at the same time. My thoughts also turned to the women who had stood here in decades past, who faced wars and upheaval, battled against misogyny and fought for their rights, all while caring for their family and friends. The thought made me rather emotional, but proud.

Back in the WI hall, my shift was over and Paul was waiting to meet me. ‘I’ll just serve one more customer,’ I said, barrelling over to him. I was rather getting into my new customer service role. Not to mention the fact I loved the pinny and wanted to wear it for a few minutes more. I have always respected waiting staff, of course, but my admiration for them went through the roof after my stint. They have a hard job, but do it well.

My feet throbbed for a while, and I’ll be serving scones in my sleep but they will be sweet dreams, at least. I look forward to the next WI meeting and cannot wait to find out what new adventures they have in store – hopefully one which involves that snazzy pinny, again!


Written by Holly Crawford, Islandmagee North WI.

Holly Crawford and her husband Paul.



  • Holly’s new book, Stuck In The Middle With Ewe: Or how I lost my heart and found my flock in Northern Ireland is a chaotic, funny and poignant tale recounting how an English journalist fell in love with a Northern Irish farmer, his sheep and a new way of life.   
  • The book is out now in paperback. Copies can be ordered from bookshops and from the websites of Waterstones and Foyles, as well as at this link, as a paperback or ebook from Amazon.
  • Copies can also be ordered from the author via the email address below. It has also received positive reviews on Goodreads.


  • Holly would be delighted to attend WI meetings (in person or via Zoom depending on location,) as a speaker to talk about her book and her adventures since moving from England to Northern Ireland. To discuss, please email her via:


Have ewe heard?!

‘Holly has finally found the man of her dreams. This is good. Unfortunately, he lives 500 miles away over the Irish Sea. This is bad. Never one to do things by halves, Holly decides there’s only one thing for it: she will marry him (during a pandemic) and relocate to his homeland. Having swapped deadlines for dairies and suits for Wellington boots, she’s soon causing chaos as she encounters cantankerous cows, riotous rams and cute lambs while finding out just what it takes to be a farmer’s wife. She has one husband, 200 hundred sheep and not a clue.’



*Photographs courtesy of the Irish Farmers Journal.





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