By Charlie Keegan
THE Graiguecullen area lost one of its native daughters with the peaceful passing on Thursday 20 August at St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny of Mary Byrne, Pacelli Avenue. Mary had undergone open heart surgery in the Mater Hospital, Dublin some two-and-a-half years ago and her death followed a long battle with indifferent health.
She was treated at a number of Dublin hospitals, including St Vincent’s Elm Park, The Beacon and The Mater as well as in St Luke’s, Kilkenny and the Sacred Heart Hospital, Carlow.
Mary was widow of Denis (Dinty) Byrne, the former outstanding Graiguecullen and Laois Gaelic footballer, who died in June 2009 at the age of 67.
Born on 19 April 1941, Mary was the daughter of the late Hugh and Mary (née Scully) Keating, St Fiacc’s Terrace, Graiguecullen.
Following her school days, Mary went to work in Governey’s Boot Factory, Castle Street, Carlow. She and Dinty became ‘an item’ and Mary left for England to work in the late 1950s, with Dinty following her. They lived in the Harrow area of London, where Mary was employed by the Kodak camera company. The couple married in England in September 1962 and shortly after returned to Graiguecullen, eventually settling in Pacelli Avenue. On returning to her native place, Mary went back to work in Governey’s Boot Factory until it closed in the mid-1960s. She put the expertise gained in Governey’s to good use in later years when she would set to work on the sewing machine she kept in the shed, working on garments for family and friends
Mary then worked for Erin Foods. She also did voluntary work in St Fiacc’s House from 1982 for a number of years. Mary and Dinty adopted two children, son Malcolm and daughter Edel. She loved all of her grandchildren and would always have the chocolate cake, sweets and Walker’s crisps in the press for them. Mary was a lover of all sports – Gaelic football, hurling, rugby, golf, tennis, horse racing. During one confinement in St Vincent’s Elm Park, she collected money for other patients so they could have a flutter on the horses.
She was a follower of Arsenal in the English Premiership and would have been very happy with the trophies won by the Gunners over the summer months. When she was a patient at the Sacred Heart Hospital, Mary had a surprise visitor in the form of the Heineken Cup, which Leinster had won, and it was brought to the hospital by her nephew Neil. It made a celebrity of Mary.
Mary loved writing letters to her friends and family in Ireland, London and America. She loved receiving letters and cards in the post and would check the letterbox a few times every day. She would have all of the birthday, anniversary and other special cards written for months in advance.
She was a handy woman about the house, prepared to undertake any DIY work such as wallpapering or painting. Mary also made lovely patchwork quilts. An excellent cook, Mary was noted for her lovely Madeira cakes and apple tarts.
An avid traveller, Mary journeyed all over Europe; she went on three cruises and even ventured to China and Thailand. She travelled with family and friends. Every summer she went to stay with her sister Bridget Baker in London, bringing the two children. She would not, however, forget husband Dinty, leaving plenty of food in the pantry.
Mary played bowls every Thursday with her friends in The Dome and if someone was celebrating a birthday they would order a cake and party food. Mary would always have a disposable camera in her bag. She loved taking photos and would get them developed straightaway. She hated when digital cameras came out and would say: “Sure I never see the photos – nobody gets them printed.”
Every Friday she loved getting her hair done with Theresa and then would meet her friends for a long lunch, which could last three or four hours.
Just over a year ago she wanted a dog and got a little Yorkshire terrier. She called him Hero and she used to say “my little Hero is going to make me better”.
During her illness, Mary’s friends and neighbours called on a weekly basis, giving her all the news of the area and enjoying a cup of tea in her company. Also, her next-door neighbour Donna and family were so kind to Mary and were there for her day and night.
Mary had a lifelong devotion to the Poor Clare Sisters in Graiguecullen and wrote to the nuns on a weekly basis, following an example set by her mother. It was a great source of consolation to the Byrne family that the Poor Clares sang the hymns during her funeral Mass in St Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen on Monday 24 August, at which Fr John Dunphy, PP, Graiguecullen-Killeshin, was celebrant.
Fr Dunphy led prayers in Carpenter’s Funeral Home, Graiguecullen, when Fr Seán Kelly, a former curate in the parish, was also in attendance to offer his sympathy. Fr Kelly had a long friendship with the Byrne and Keating families. Fr Dunphy, Fr Lawton and Eucharistic ministers from the parish brought Communion to Mary at her home when she could not attend St Clare’s.
Mary was hospitalised for the last couple of weeks of her life. It was a very distressing time for her and her loving family that hospital visits were not allowed during that time due to the Covid crisis.
The readings at Mary’s funeral Mass were by Sineád Farrell Townsend (niece) and Denis Byrne (nephew). Prayers of the Faithful were recited by her nieces and nephews and son-in-law Darren. Granddaughters Eva and Anna brought forward the Offertory gifts. At Mary’s request there was mention of two people in particular at her funeral Mass: her home help Geraldine Glynn, and Thomas Dowling, a grandson of one of Mary’s best friends. Mary had a special bond with Thomas.
The funeral was restricted by the Covid-19 health regulations. Following Mass, the cortège travelled via Church Street, Pacelli Avenue and Colclough Avenue en route to Sleaty New Cemetery, where Mary was laid to rest with husband Dinty, with Fr Dunphy reciting the final prayers at the graveside.
Mary is survived by her son Malcolm (Hacketstown), daughter Edel Cooney (Cois na Coille, Pollerton, Carlow), siblings Francie (New Oak Estate, Carlow), Nell Farrell (Askea Lawns, Tullow Road, Carlow), Annie Scully (Ballyhide, Carlow), Teresa Murphy (Riverside, Hanover, Carlow), Pauline Meaney (Colclough Avenue, Graiguecullen), Bridget Baker (London), Betty Collins (Ballyhide, Carlow), by her cherished grandchildren Lee, Conor, Eoin, Eva and Anna, son-in-law Darren, daughter-in-law Linda, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews and her large circle of friends.
The Month’s Mind Mass will take place at 6.30pm on Saturday 19 September in St Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen – where Mary worshipped all her life.