She was born at Ballinagree, Dooneens, Macroom, County Cork, on the 11th of April, 1909. Her parents, Timothy Manning and Mary Ring, had four girls: Molly, Nora, Bridge and our mother, grandmother and great grandmother, known to us as ‘Eileen’ and to her people in Ballinagree as ‘Nell’. There were also four boys: Maurice, Matthew and Charlie as well as Timothy who died in childhood.
When Eileen left home and went to live in Cork City she trained as a nurse and worked at the Cork Mental Hospital.
Employed there was a plasterer, Stephen Tobin, born in Glandore in 1913.
Eileen and Stephen married in 1937.
They had three girls, Ina, Carmel and Irene and five boys, Barry, Brian, Cyril, Stephen and Aidan. Cyril died in infancy and Brian died in 1973.
They have twenty-two grandchildren: Jacqueline, Yvette, Jason; Tina, Timothy, Louise, Charlotte, Gabrielle, Juliette, Patrick, Elizabeth; Samantha, Mark, John, Luke; Lorna, Edward, Joanne; Emma, Beth, Camille, and Oisín.
They have nine great grandchildren: Michael, Kayleigh, Jacob, Abbie, Olivia, Rhianne, Brianna, Kian and Finlay.
Her children have always called her ‘Mammy’. Even the man she married called her that and his family, including Mammy, called him ‘Daddy’.
There was a tenderness in those names which survived their sometimes stormy years together.
Born in 1909 into a family whose older members spoke the old tongue her English included many Irish words that are still remembered when her children talk about her. Ballinagree was a community where love and fun managed to survive in the midst of a poverty now long consigned to history. The Great Famine had not yet faded from memory. Destitution was widespread – she remembered how, aged 10, she had seen two old people lying dead in a field.
Mammy had an unwavering Christian faith and an uncomplicated devotion to Christ and to the Mass, to Our Lady and to the Rosary. She also made use of the services of emergency saints such as St. Anthony when things got lost and St. Jude when things got really hopeless.
Then there was St. Martin de Porres of Peru. Of mixed Spanish and coloured origin, he loved all animals and birds. Possibly the only saint to have opened a hospital for cats and dogs, he appealed directly to Mammy’s love for animals and birds.
However, Mammy was never posh or prim in her use of words and saw no reason why she should not use all the resources of her West Cork language when the occasion demanded!
When the family was very young they lived in Hollymount overlooking the River Lee outside Cork City. Mammy had turkeys, hens, ducks, cows, pigs, goats, four children, a black cat called ‘Pinky’ and Daddy to look after. There was no cocoa because of the war so she gave her children a bedtime drink of Guinness mixed with milk which she heated by putting a glowing red poker into it.
In 1944 they bought ‘The Apple Market Tavern’ in Barrack Street in Cork. Mammy ran it herself until they sold it in 1948. It is now called ‘The Brown Derby’.
In 1946 the family, now with five children, moved back to Hollymount. A van was bought and she learned to drive for a while. She tried breeding guinea fowl but they would not come down off the trees. She tried breeding day‑old chicks until they all died in a fire. Daddy built her a glasshouse in which she grew tomatoes for local shops until it got blown away in a storm. He put in an immersion heater for her but all the clothes in the ‘hot press’ (airing cupboard) got burnt in a fire.
She was young and fit then and often joined in games. Was there ever such ‘hide and go seek’ as when Mammy chased her children around the house with a sock over her eyes? Was pole vaulting ever such fun as when Mammy got a long piece of wood and led her own and the neighbours’ children as they took turns to jump from the top of a wall on to a heap of sand. She would shout ‘Eeee‑yooks’ as she sailed gleefully through the air holding on tight. At such times she was her children’s very own Mary Poppins.
She left Cork in 1950 with six children and spent ten years in Dublin during ‘The Rare Old Times’ when it was quite different from the bustling capital it is today.
She tried to improve herself. There was a piano and she took some lessons and would practice as best she could during brief periods of respite. She enrolled in a course as a beautician and eventually acquired a qualification. She became interested in diet and, despite opposition, some health foods such as yoghurt, wheat germ, and brewers yeast began to appear in the kitchen.
Money was always hard to come by but somehow enough was found to give her children a holiday by the sea every summer. Daddy showed up on Sundays but for the rest of the time Mammy was alone and had to do all the work to keep them fed and clothed.
Those days by the sea gave her children memories that never fade.
In 1960 she came to Cardiff with seven children. Somehow she fitted in, even working behind the bar of ‘ The Model Inn’ in Quay Street for a few years.
In 1968 Daddy bought a house in the seaside town of Bray about 15 miles south of Dublin. Mammy named it ‘Star of the Sea’ and set up a holiday accommodation business there. That lasted until her final return to Cardiff in 1984.
When Daddy died in 1988 Mammy’s life fell apart and a period of slow decline began.
She died in her sleep at St. Winifrede’s Nursing Home last Monday (10 February 2003).
Her long exile has ended and she is home at last.
May God give her endless happy days.
Delivered by Gabrielle Tobin, daughter of her son, Stephen Tobin. The funeral Mass took place at the church of Sant Mary of the Angels, Canton, Cardiff on Monday 17 February, 2003.
At the end of the Mass, as her coffin was being carried to the waiting hearse by four of her grandsons, the song The Parted Years from the CD, The Blue Green Door, was played.
The composer and singer, Tim Dennehy from County Kerry, has very kindly permitted us to include a link to an mp3 version here.
Photo: ‘Home’, the old house, built in 1795, where Mammy was born and grew up.
‘Home’ was her only word for that shrine of memories.
Perhaps no one has better expressed the experience of being at the funeral of one’s mother than the poet Seán Ó Ríordán (1916 – 1977) in his classic elegy, Adhlacadh mo Mháthar (The Burial of my Mother).
That great man was born in the Irish‑speaking area of Baile Bhúirne / Ballyvourney, about twelve miles from Ballinagree. One of my mother’s grandmothers, a Mrs. Twomey (Ó Tuama), is buried in Saint Gobnait’s Cemetery in Baile Bhúirne where the remains of the great poet also lie.
Tales of Yore, a book of stories from Ballinagree, by famed storyteller Jerry Neilus O’Connor, was launched in Macroom in June, 2005.
Jerry is the son of the late Neilus O’Connor, who died in the 1980s.
A few minutes with Jerry Neilus O’Connor.
In this Youtube clip Jerry tells the story of ‘Tailor Duggan’s Barber Bargain’.
It is an extract from a broadcast by Kerry Radio in 1995 recorded at the time by Kathleen Mac Sullivan, Rea Berrings, Blarney, County Cork, who very kindly gave me a copy.
Mammy in Ballinagree
This is an amateur tape recording in mp3 format (928 KB; ©: Barry Tobin) of Mammy laughing fit to burst as she listens to Jerry Neilus talking about an unsuccessful Christmas shopping trip to Macroom when he was young.
Mammy used to recall Jerry’s father, Neilus O’Connor (Cornelius O’Connor), coming to help out at busy times when she was still living in the house where she was born.
He was a favourite in the house, in the yard and in the fields because of his fund of song, story and keen wit. He could sing all the day long without ever singing the same song twice!
The Kilnamartra Exile
An amateur tape recording in mp3 format (2.1 MB; ©: Barry Tobin), made on 22 August 1972, of Neilus O’Connor singing this classic song from the Macroom district in County Cork.
Photo (©: Barry Tobin): Neilus O’Connor in the 1970s.
Photo (© Alan O’Rourke): The headstone at Neilus O’Connor’s grave in Macroom.
N.B.: ‘Neilus’ is pronounced ‘nail us’.
Those not familiar with the Shangrila that is Ballinagree should know that it was and is a “land of smiles”, a place of laughter, a hidden valley “of infinite jest and fancy”.
In addition to the audio files above this may also be seen from this photo of the late Paddy Quill having his hair cut by Huger Murphy in the shed across the road from his house. I am indebted to Alan O’Rourke, Annagannihy, for this and other photographs as well as so much more information about Ballinagree.
The photo was taken on the 14th of September, 1990 by whoever gave it to me some time later – I am sorry to say that I have forgotten who that kind person was.
Paddy Quill, a nephew of Thady Quill, was one of Mammy’s first cousins. He died in the year 2000 – may he rest in peace.
One of Mammy’s aunts, Paddy’s mother, was married to Thady’s brother and one of her uncles, Bill Ring, was married to Thady’s sister.
Mammy’s mother, neé Mary Ring, died on the 8th of December, 1948 at the relatively young age of 64. I was taken to her funeral and can still remember all the black horse‑drawn coaches, the crying and the tears and the praying at the grave and then the wholly unexpected laughing and joking afterwards as bottles of ‘Paddy’ whiskey were handed out to the waiting drivers...
Timothy Brian Tobin
Brian died in 1973. This photo shows him in his health and strength about 10 years earlier.
With her son Barry in 1955
Photograph taken in the field at the front of Carrigagulla House, home of her sister Nora (‘Ann Mac’) who died there on Wednesday 27 April 2005.
The house takes its name from an ancient and celebrated stone row in the hills above it.
Bridge, Mammy’s youngest sister, emigrated to the United States in the 1940s. She was last heard from when, as Mrs. Bridge Carden, she wrote from San Diego California, in December, 1983.
The Old House in Ballinagree
This house, built in 1795, is where Mammy was born and grew up.
Charles Manning (1722 – 1794)
The grave of Mammy’s great great grandfather in Canovee.
Photo, ©: Alan O’Rourke, Annagannihy, Ballinagree, to whom we are much indebted for allowing us to use it here.
Inscription on the gravestone.
Supplied by Alan O’Rourke.
The old graveyard at Canovee, Kilmurry, County Cork,
where Charles Manning is buried.
Photo, ©: Peter Scanlan, Kilmurry, to whom much thanks for allowing us to use it here.
Oatmeal and Buttermilk
Summer in Ballinagree wouldn’t have been the same without it!
Old words my parents knew.
A collection of words, largely Gaelic in origin, either used in our nuclear family between 1941 and 1960 or noted down during our parents' final years.
The Burial of my Mother
A wonderful poem in memory of his mother by Seán Ó Ríordáin (1916 – 1977)
He was born about 12 miles from Ballinagree, in the Irish‑speaking village of Ballyvourney (Baile Bhúirne).
He is buried there in St. Gobnait’s Cemetery.
In the same cemetery lie the remains of one of my mother’s grandmothers, one of the ‘seven sisters’ of Killnamartra.
A Prayer at Christmas
The mother of Austrian writer Peter Rosegger (1843 – 1918) died when he was about 30 years old.
In this Christmas meditation he asks the Christ Child to tell her about how things are doing back home on earth.
There is so much of Mammy in it.