“LET’S make Limerick the capital of French in Ireland,” urged the French ambassador to Ireland, as the Alliance Francaise de Limerick celebrated its 70th anniversary.
Speaking at a reception in Mary Immaculate College, the ambassador, Jean Pierre Thebault, urged more Limerick people to become part of the growing Francophile community, noting the growing number of students who are taking French as part of their Leaving Certificate exams.
While recognising the historic connections between Ireland and France, in particular the exodus of Irish writers to Paris, Mr Thebault was in Limerick to pay ‘un grand hommage’ to a lady who has done much to promote French in Limerick for decades.
“The example of Mrs Marianne Griffin should inspire us all,” he said.
Madame Griffin, 92, a native of Geneva, has been a “stalwart” of the French Alliance in Limerick for 46 years, teaching there since 1968 and was instrumental in its establishment.
Born in Geneva in 1921 to French parents, Madame Griffin later moved to Paris where she worked as a fashion designer, and there she met her future husband, Major Ronald Griffin, a translator with the Red Cross, from Co Limerick.
They married in 1951, but sadly he passed away suddenly after only six years of marriage.
While raising their four children, Marianne at first gave classes in dress-making in Askeaton, but was persuaded to teach French in the local secondary school as she was a “born teacher”.
“Mme Griffin was a formidable force in the lives of so many Limerick people, not only was she a key figure in Alliance Francaise, she also taught French in Laurel Hill secondary school, and served as an examiner for both the Leaving and Junior Certificate examinations,” said the ambassador.
“For more than a generation, Limerick students of French have benefited from her unique combination of intelligence, creativity, and dedication, and have gone on to make a career in the French language, thanks to her influence and encouragement,” he said.
Today, she still prepares thoroughly for her Senacle - a conversation class where some members have been coming for more than 25 years.
Kate Fleming, president of the French Alliance in Limerick, who herself was a student of Madame Griffin, described her as a “veritable institution”.
“She is terribly special to us, and to so many people here. She has helped so many people achieve what they might not have achieved,” she told the gathering. One former pupil who could not be in attendance even wrote to say that Madame Griffin had a huge impact on her life, even leading her to marry a Frenchman. Ms Fleming said demand for their classes are growing every year as “more and more people see the importance of having French as a second language.”
Mayor of Limerick, councillor Michael Sheahan, said he learned French growing up from Madame Griffin some 50 years ago when he was 12 years of age.
“I am honoured to be here with you and mark what you have done. The success you have had is absolutely wonderful,” he said.
She was presented with a framed photograph of another famous granny who visited Limerick – the Giant Granny, which was part of Royal de Luxe, the French theatre company, as she walked past the alliance earlier this year.
At the South Circular Road campus, the ambassador and the chief representative of the Alliance Française in Ireland, Philippe Milloux, were welcomed to the Franco-German house by Dr Loïc Guyon, head of the department of French studies at MIC.
Mr Milloux said the French Alliance in Kimerick has reached a “turning point in its existence”, and they plan to “strengthen the role of language and French culture in the city and county of Limerick.”
Established in 1944 as Le Cercle de Francais (The French Circle), it became the Alliance Francaise in 1969 to celebrate its 25th anniversary and is the second oldest French society in the country, after Dublin.
Based in Pery Square since 2011, the not-for-profit organisation counts over 100 members and 350 students, as the French connection in Limerick continues to thrive, through French language classes and a love of French culture, with a number of creative outlets including a book club and cookery classes at the French Table restaurant. There are some 850 alliances worldwide.