THE members of the Irish Curling Association, past and present, are mourning the sad loss of one of its founding members and Past-President – Fiona Turnbull.
Fiona passed away last week at the age of 76 after a hard fought battle with cancer.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the redoubtable Fiona was the ‘mother’ of the ICA having discussed the idea of forming an association with John Burns during a long car journey home from a competition in 1991.
Once the seed was sown, the official body for Irish curlers soon took root and grew strong and healthy, with, for many years, Fiona front and centre.
With her roots in Northern Ireland and her career as a physiotherapist in the Borders, near to her beloved Kelso Ice Rink, she was ideally placed to move from being an excellent club curler to an international player.
Fiona was part of the first Irish women’s team to take to the ice at Gogar Park in December 1993 when, under the banner of the Northern Ireland Curling Association, she played with Carolyn Hibberd, Liz Knox, and Susan Scotland against a team of Northern Irish men, the men squeaking a one-shot victory.
It took ten years of lobbying by many, including Fiona, to the World Curling Federation before the all-Ireland association was accepted into the fold and in December 2004, born-leader Fiona skipped the first Irish women’s rink at an officially-recognised international championships, in the European Curling Championships B league in Sofia, Bulgaria.
That first squad of five players (Fiona, Marie O’Kane, Louise Kerr, Jane Paterson and Kathie Nixon) were, after a shaky start, dragooned by Fiona into a decent team that got to a play-off for the bronze medal game, eventually losing out to Hungary.
After the high octane excitement of that first Europeans, before the plane had landed at Heathrow, Fiona was planning for the next Europeans in Garmish-Partenkirchen, in the snow-clad Bavarian Alps. A reasonable show there the following year saw the team end up in the middle of the pack in the B League, but having had the European adventure, Fiona decided it was time to play in a World Championships and it was off to the seniors.
As Ireland’s skip, Fiona played in four world seniors from 2005 to 2008, in Greenacres, Scotland; Tårnby, Denmark; Edmonton, Canada and Vierumaki, Finland. Her team for the seniors was Jane Paterson, the late Isobel Fyfe, Kathie Nixon and fifth player Liz Knox.
During those four championships, Fiona’s wingman, third player and confidante, Jane Paterson, shared in the ups and the downs, the on-ice battles and the off-ice banter.
In a personal tribute to her close friend, Jane remembers: ”My friendship with Fiona was forged during our years together in the Irish Senior Ladies Team, where we enjoyed a heady mix of highs, lows and frustrations in the true spirit of curling camaraderie. She was an encouraging skip, skilful tactician and if a shot was needed to save an end, you couldn’t find a more reliable shot maker than Fiona.
“Her range of interests were wide and varied. An avid crossword solver, knowledgeable plantswoman and opinionated commentator on national and world events. Time spent in her company was both entertaining and instructive and I shall dearly miss that. She had a kind and generous heart and showed enormous courage throughout her long illness.
“Her loss will be keenly felt by her family, close friends and the many lives she touched. None more so than the curling fraternity of “The Roaring Game” of which she was so much a part.”
After Fiona retired from both her job and the international stage, after 44 caps for Ireland, she continued to support the Irish Curling Association at the Four Nations competition, when she played for Ireland against England, Scotland and Wales, and also at the annual ‘Irish Weekend’ at Stranraer Ice Rink, where, just last February, she took charge of the raffle and toured the tables in her unique fashion selling tickets to raise funds for the ICA, her eagle eye missing no one!
We will all miss Fiona for just being Fiona…..loyal, cheery, pioneering, entertaining.
She took Irish women’s curling by the scruff of the neck and led us into battle like a latter-day Boudicca in emerald green.
Fiona was well respected and admired in the close-knit curling community of the Borders and the wider Four Nations curling band of brothers and sisters. Our sympathies go to her two sons Andy and Doug, daughter-in-law Roni, granddaughter Kate, her brothers Christopher and Peter and all those who knew her best and loved her most.