Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Dermot Healy, May Mulhall remembered

Many tributes have been paid to the writer Dermot Healy who died during the past week.  He is one of the finest Irish writers of his generation whose best work, I believe, was his memoirs published in 1996 under the title ‘The Bend For Home’.  When I learned of his sudden death I took down the book to re-read the wonderful memoir which documented his upbringing in Finea, Co Westmeath where he was born in 1947 and his early years spent in Cavan to where his father, a member of An Garda Siochana, was transferred. 

On the same day that Dermot Healy’s death was announced news reached me of the passing of May Mulhall of Pairc Bhride.  May, a native of Athy, was one of three daughters of ‘Gauchy’ Mulhall and his wife who lived at ‘The Flags’ just over the bridge on the Kilkenny Road. 

The older generation will remember the tall man who was seldom to be seen without his stick.  The nickname was apparently one earned in his youth when his height suggested a clumsiness which disappeared as adulthood was reached.  Gauchy’ operated a small shop at ‘The Flags’ and towards the end of his life he lived with his daughter May and his son in law Michael.   Gauchy’ Mulhall of ‘The Flags’ had three daughters, Tess, Ann and May and like so many of their generation Tess and Ann emigrated to England.  May remained in Athy and married Michael Mulhall and they would rear seven children Geraldine, Maureen, Stephanie, Ann, Pauline, Kieran and David. 

One of the traditional attributes of a Mulhall marrying a Mulhall is that the female of the marriage is believed to become endowed with a cure for the whooping cough.  It is an Irish traditional belief sharing equal standing with the seventh son of the seventh son tradition.  In May’s case the traditional belief was readily accepted and she was recognised locally as the possessor of the cure for what is a very common illness in children.  May’s recipe for the cure was a specially baked brown bread which with generosity and not a little sympathy she gave to those who sought the traditional cure. 

I knew May as a great supporter of the Shackleton Autumn School which brings lecturers on Shackleton and the Antarctic to our local Town Hall every October Bank Holiday weekend.  While May did not attend all the lectures she could be guaranteed to lend her support during the weekend by making an appearance at many of the weekend events.  She was a great supporter of the arts and was seen not only at Town Hall events, but also supported, while her health was good, events in Athy’s Community Arts Centre in Woodstock Street. 

May also played an extremely active part in youth athletics for a long number of years.  She was Treasurer of the Athy Athletic Club for six or seven years in the late 1960’s at a time when the club was regarded as one of the best athletic clubs in Leinster.  The late George Burrell was chairman of the club and May with George, Harry Mulhall and George O’Toole established the local community games committee.  May was secretary of that committee for almost 11 years during which time the committee co-operated with KARE in organising sports for the disabled.  Her other involvement in the local community came courtesy of her volunteer work with Mrs. Quinn’s charity shop in Duke Street. 

May was a kind and very cultured lady whose husband Michael predeceased her seven years ago.  She had a great interest in the history of her native town and took pride in her links with ‘The Flags’ on the Kilkenny Road.  Many a time I recall May amongst those who joined me on the walking tour of our ancient town.  As a native of Athy she had a great knowledge and understanding of the families who lived in the town and was of enormous help to me in my continuing research into the history of our local community.

May is survived by her seven children and her sister Tess who lives in London to whom our sympathies are extended on the death of a wonderful woman.  Our sympathies are also extended to Miriam McGilly on the death of her brother Dermot Healy whose published works are the treasured legacy of a fine writer. 

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