It is with a personal sadness that the Diary records the death of Maureen (Mor) Reihill, née Byrne, of Ballsbridge, Dublin, and originally from Kilcullen, on the evening of 26 September, 2014. She was 97.
She is survived by her daughter Orla, and was predeceased by her son Shane and her husband Jim. Mor was the daughter of the late James J Byrne Snr and his wife Mary, and the last surviving sibling of Jim Byrne, Tom Byrne, and Kath O’Reilly.
Maureen’s remains will repose at her home on Monday 29 September, between 2-8pm. Her funeral mass will be celebrated at 10am on Tuesday 30 September in the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace, Merrion Row, Dublin. Her burial will take place afterwards in New Abbey Cemetery, Kilcullen, Co Kildare, at 12 noon.
A moment in time that conjures up sadness and reflection.
My mother Kathryn(“Kath”)’s (http://wp.me/p15Yzr-k7) dearly beloved eldest sister, Auntie Mor’s passing on Friday marked the end of a “Byrnes of Kilcullen” generation, whose precocious talents brought so much conviviality, escapade, involvement, commitment, and true wit to the lives of so many many people, a legacy which, I for one can confirm, continues to percolate through the genes of their children and grandchildren.
I am very happy that Auntie Mor, a true devoted and loyal daughter of Ireland – who loved singing, baking (some of my fondest memories 🙂 ), her many friends and her two precious children, Shane (http://wp.me/p15Yzr-4) and Orla – will be returning home to her final resting place in Kilcullen.
As the ‘International Year of the Child’ draws to a close we find it disturbing that the plight of millions of children working in slave labour conditions has received minimal publicity. The following is the story of some of them.
Like many other ill informed travelers – knowing a little but not enough – I had a certain impression of South America, a land of rhythmic music, colour, gaiety and an almost permanent fiesta. – Yes, I knew there was great poverty, but there isn’t a country to-day without it.
Among the many places in South America I visited Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, with a population of 5,000,000 (five million) people, at an altitude of 8,612 feet, lies almost permanently in a drifting web of clouds, fortress like. Beneath the clouds, however, lies a cosmopolitan city of amazing contrasts both in people and ways of life. The clever modern architecture blends graciously with the old, unbelievable wealth – mostly gained from great mineral resources, and illicit wealth, which is not spoken of, fueled by the drug trade and illegal emerald racketeering.
If the wealth and prosperity of a country portrays itself in the way it treats its underprivileged children – then Bogotá should bow its head in shame.
In Bogotá one sees the sickening contrast of the ultimate in opulence next door to the most desperate poverty – I speak of the slum dwellings on the slopes of the Andes “Resotration” which sprawl down the hillsides overlooking the city’s northern shopping centre. These dwellings are make from stolen bricks, cardboard, sheets of plastic, pieces of wood and disused petrol drums – anything that substitutes for four walls – at any moment the bulldozer can come, sent at a whim by a local landowner or government official. When the rains come they are more often than not washed away.
Bewildered prematurely aged women in the squatter settlements migrate from slow starvation in the countryside, like so many desperate ‘Dick Whittingtons’, hopeful that the city can offer more than their rural life. They bear too many children: In Bogotá the infant mortality rate is said to be 60 per 1,000 live births, while many of those born will die of disease, malnutrition and lack of medicine. For example, last August, in just one Bogotá maternity clinic a lack of medicine resulted in the deaths of 93 babies. Girls, with poor young mothers facing intense peer pressure from husbands and relatives desiring the survival of sons over daughters, are particularly at risk. Moreover, a cultural inclination for the dilution of milk bottles, which invariably are contaminated, over breast-feeding further fuels the risk of malnutrition and disease.
Volunteer workers find that the most common objections to birth control are social ones, not religious, deriving from the male’s excessive concern with ‘machismo’. From this wretched background the wandering homeless urchins street children – the gamines[in Espanola pronounced (gah MEE nays)] are bred, left to fend for themselves on the pitiless streets of Bogotá.
[Blog Note: In 1978, according to Page 272 of “Gamines: how to adopt from Latin America” [by Jean Nelson-Erichsen and Heino R. Erichsen (1981)], there were 130,000 gamines were living on the streets of Colombia’s cities.]
The children, as young as six years old, are sent out onto the streets by their mother or father or whatever where they compete with the vultures in their daily quest for food among the city’s refuse bins. Ill clad in their torn shirts and pants – often with no shoes, sometimes straw slippers, they form packs, sleeping on quiet streets, in doorways, in local parks and under bridges. It is a well know fact that they can strip a car down to the chassis in five minutes flat. They are fast on their feet, so fast the police seldom catch them – more often than not the police turn a blind eye. Girls of thirteen become prostitutes, their faces reflecting the hopelessness of their lives. Even children earning ₤1 per week down the treacherous coal mines are considered lucky.
Three years ago, when the Pope visited Bogotá the government sent military trucks on to the streets to pick up the gamines, keeping them in the mountains until His Holiness had left, for fear that he would see them or that their plight would be brought to his attention.
To walk on the streets of Bogotá wear even a wrist watch is not just hazardous, it’s crazy. The gamines would pull it off your arm, and if it didn’t come your wrist would be at stake. The same fate applies to handbags or any kind of jewellery.
The Casa de las Menores is a kind of remand home where boys picked up from the streets were sent. They may have committed some small crime or be guilty of the crime of illegitimacy and abandonment, unwanted orphans without any identification papers. Many boys are crammed into limited accommodation, and, certainly in the past, gruesome offences have been committed by the stronger against the weaker.
I heard of a Christmas party given by some social workers for these children. When the children saw the food they went crazy, knocked over the tables and ate like animals. They paid for this misdemeanour by being flogged with thongs by the wardens who accompanied them.
I have been told that the authorities are doing “something” – but “something” is not enough. There are now a number of volunteer projects in motion – Colombian and American teenagers are dynamic in the work that they do for these waifs – but it is only the tip of the iceberg. A complete change in social attitudes is not only necessary but vital if the smouldering discontent is not to erupt into a volcano of violence that the lethargic authorities will be unable to control.
And what of us safely ensconced in the faraway ‘developed’ worlds of Europe and America? What responsibility do our affluent societies bear for the prevalence and maltreatment of Bogotá’s disposable street children? It is clear to me that with Columbia’s drug trafficking cartels seeking to cash in on growing demand in our world for the highly addictive cocaine, more and more the true cost, the victims, of such demand will be the Gamines, the throwaway children.
This article was posted in the Irish Women’s Political Association (WPA) Journal No 14, Winter 1979. It was written by my late mother Kathryn O’Reillyhttp://wp.me/p15Yzr-k7 (or Catherine O’Reilly as attributed by the journal’s editor) who had recently returned from an extraordinary journey to Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela as guests of great personal friends the British Ambassador to Ecuador (John and Jenny Hickman) and the British Ambassador to Venezuela (Jock and Molly Taylor).
During International Year of the Child in 1979 many problems relating to children—slavery, abuse, prostitution, homelessness – which thus far had been rejected out of hand or blatantly ignored by municipal governments throughout Latin America were given an international airing. In her own small, yet determined, way my mother, Kathryn O’Reilly, had hoped her article would draw the attention of Irish women to the wrongful practices of the Bogotá authorities with respect to addressing the plight of the gamines. International pressure, with Unicef actively assisting in the exposure of nationally embarrassing child maltreatment issues, moved previously complacent national government and city authorities in Latin America to start taking steps, albeit piecemeal, to address child protection issues, particularly with respect to homeless street children.
Despite the nature of this article about the vicious cycle of poverty, desertion, abuse, neglect and children’s lack of access to basic amenities that breeds the gamines, the sight of which left an indelible mark on my mother’s psyche, she considered Colombia a wonderful and fascinating country. In Bogotá she met many inspirational local NGO volunteers and thus had a first-hand knowledge of their outstanding efforts to resolve the many complex, multidimensional, problems that every developing country with limited resources faces – which are mainly the result of a rapid increase in urban populations without the housing and service provisions that such growth demands. For my mother the best things about Colombia were its natural beauty and the warm welcoming attitude of Colombians towards visitors. In fact, given half the chance she wouldn’t have hesitated to go back!
Update: May 2019
If you would like to sponsor a homeless child in Bogotá check out the NGO
“Fr. Javier De Nicolo, a dedicated Salesian missionary, visionary and human rights activist, passed away on March 22, 2016 at the age of 88. He dedicated his life to saving the young people that no one else wanted to help – children living on the streets of Bogota, Colombia. As in the likeness of the founder of the Salesians, St. John “Don” Bosco, Fr. Javier De Nicolo was devoted to helping homeless youth that others refused to approach – many of whom had severe social problems and drug addictions. Fr. Javier De Nicolo developed a system of mutual trust and respect, which became the foundation of success for his street children program. He joined in the activities of the children, sharing in their experiences and even sharing a little bit of money with them. Once respect was established, he invited them into his community where they would be provided with showers, clean clothes, meals and a warm bed. The children were able to come and go as they wished, but most chose to stay. Through various additional steps, the children were introduced to basic education and skills training, and were given the opportunity of a promising future. Fr. Javier’s generosity, dedication and hard work is something that every Salesian missionary strives to accomplish. He gave those children who had nothing and needed everything the chance to live a life of dignity, joy and empowerment. In his more than 50 years of service, Fr. Javier was a faithful disciple of both Jesus and Don Bosco, allowing thousands of children to benefit from his generous heart. May he now rest peacefully. http://www.salesianmissions.org”
A special Mass for Mum will be held at St. Patrick’s Church, Monkstown, Co. Dublin at 6.00pm Saturday 1st August 2020 (two days before what would have been her 93rd birthday). The 1st August marks the eighth anniversary of her passing.
“August 3rd 1927
A cursory look at the newspapers on this day reveals news all about what was going on up in the air:
In Germany two Junker pilots had flown a Junker W33 airplane for a new distance world record – taking 54 hours and 22 minutes.
Here at home on this the eleventh anniversary of Roger Casement’s execution at Dail Eireann (The Irish Parliament) was debating cracking down on the ‘insurgents’, who days earlier had assassinated Kevin O’Higgins, the Vice President.
–For us seated here today the mere fact Dail Eireann was even sitting in August is probably the most revealing part of this story!
An unremarkable day so far?
Well, not quite.
Up at the Goffs Bloodstock Sales in Ballsbridge a horsey friend approached bloodstock auctioneer James Byrne Senior to congratulate him.
James, acknowledging the good wishes with his usual aplomb, thought the man was referring to his recent sale of a fine looking filly (a young female horse too young to be called a mare).
“No James, I am not talking about a horse. Your wife has just given birth to a baby daughter!!
50 miles away in Kilcullen, Mary ‘Min’ Byrne was resting upstairs in Byrne’s Hotel (later famously known as ‘The Hideout’ Pub) having just given birth to our treasured Mother –
KATHLEEN NORA MARY BYRNE
What appears to have been a rather run of the mill day was indeed very special.
Happy 85th Birthday Mum!
Taking on the onerous task of summarising the life of our dearest mother (your Aunt, your friend, my very best friend) here and now will not do justice to the charming, gracious, humourous, beautiful and very loving woman that is Kathryn.
My two brothers (William and Conor) and I know that everyone of you here today holds a very special memory of our mother – with plenty of humour attached.
So, to share the joy that is our mother Kathryn, after the (cremation) service at Mount Jerome, we sincerely wish to invite all our mother’s friends (Our Friends), and relatives here today to come up to our house in Tivoli Close. We have arranged for Cafe de Journal on The Crescent here in Monkstown to provide catering and you will also have a chance to view our mother’s magical garden!!
Regarding our mother Kathryn words come to mind which I expect will strike a chord, evoke a memory.
Mum’s husband, our father, Liam. Their engagement was announced on 12th July 1952, and they married six months later, on 15th January 1953, in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin.
Mum’s brothers Jim and Tom Byrne; her sister Maureen; her “adopted” brother Barney Byrne, who living in Hong Kong survived as a prisoner of war in Hong Kong and Japan.
Mum’s schools – Loreto Abbey Dalkey (from the age of six years old, a school she ran away from twice. Following the outbreak of the second world war she recalled seeing German aircraft from her school, which overlooked Dublin Bay, while all the windows at night were covered with heavy blackout curtains. The close proximity of the school to potential bombing raids prompted her parents to transfer her to; Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ) School Newtown Barry, Bunclody, Wexford About FCJ Convent & School Bunclody; a school she loved, and where she excelled in music and sports. As Captain of her school hockey team she was fondly referred to a “Legs Eleven”. She completed her schooling years at Loreto Abbey Rathfarnham, in Dublin.
Fashion– Spontaneously creative, having personally designed many of the striking dresses, blouses, and jackets that she wore with an almost effortless ease, there was always elegance and appeal in the way our mother presented herself. She had trained in “beauty and sales” in Harrods and worked as a fashion model in London (living in St. Mary’s Convent, Institute of the Blessed Virgin, Fitzjohns Avenue, Hempstead, and in Bath), and here in Dublin with Henry White. She also worked as a colour coordinator and fashion and design consultant for the nylon hosiery manufacturer Berkshire Knitting Mills in Newtownards, County Down, Reading Berkshire. Her proud horsey father, James, loved to quip to his daughter that she had “a fine pair of fetlocks” (horsey-speak for ankles)!
Fragrance – YSATIS de Givenchy.
Music – Mum studied music from childhood. Soon after leaving school, in 1946 two nineteen year old ladies were offered life changing opportunities to study singing in Milan. When Mum asked her brothers for the £200 she needed to fund her studies they took the wind out of her sail, fretting over the amorous intentions of Italian men and the dangers of a young woman travelling to a newly formed Republic of Italy still numbed and severely damaged by war. Presumably, as was commonplace for a well brought up Irish woman at that time, she was expected to stay at home and wait for the ideal future husband to come along. A life-changing moment for Mum, given that the second lady sold her pony and went to become Ireland’s ‘Grande Dame’ of singing. My two brothers and I are absolutely delighted that Mum’s life-long friend Dr. Veronica Dunne (“Auntie Ronnie”) is here with us today (Mum and Ronnie were born on the same day, August 3rd 1927).
Entertaining – Mum had a deep and genuine interest in everyone she met – people from all walks of life. She was one hell of a party organiser: Ambassadors, Taoisigh, or just our neighbours. I know you’ll have a smile when you recollect Kathryn’s talent for quickly putting complete strangers at ease whether in Knockbrack, Avoca Lodge, Tudor House or Moorefield.
Painting – Mum loved her painting, especially her classes with Alma (Brayden), Margaret (Margetsen), and Bernie (Lyons). It didn’t matter what the end product looked like (despite sometimes getting up at 3:00am to add a dab here and a touch-up there) – she loved colours and new ideas.
Writing – Mum loved the English language, in her free time writing with a modest yet thoughtful expression which – whether a letter to her dearly-loved children, or an opinion piece for a fashion or societal magazine – always portrayed her deep sense of humanity and compassion. In an article written for the journal of Irish Women’s Political Association titled ‘The Gamines (Los Gaminos) of Bogotá‘ she asked: “And what of us safely ensconced in the faraway ‘developed’ worlds of Europe and America? What responsibility do our affluent societies bear for the prevalence and maltreatment of Bogotá’s disposable street children?” (Source / read more: http://wp.me/s15Yzr-2593)
Interior decorating – Mum’s eye for fashion, intuitive sense of style and her ability to create/recreate were subject to a constant stream of compliments, regarding the way she designed our family home and how good her taste was when it came decorating and updating old furniture, undertakings which she loved.
Company director – Her father-in-law Dr. MW O’Reilly observing Mum’s capacity for “listening” appointed her to the Board of Directors in two of the many companies he established in Ireland.
Cooking – The Coffee Cakes, the Guinness Cake, and, of course, the Brown Bread. Mum derived enormous pleasure from her delicious cooking. I plan to spend a lot of time studying her all-embracing cookery book collection, which stretches back to the days of her grandmother.
Gardening – As you can see from the photo at the back of the Mass pamphlet, our mother, born under the sun sign of Leo, loved gardening (the garden was where she felt closest to God). She could reel off the Latin names of the flowers and shrubs which emblazoned her magical garden – and her Eden was always alive in a myriad of colours and chorus of chirping birds.
Travel – Honeymoon in Paris, Nice and Italy; UK, especially London, and Berkshire where her boys went to school; Mauritius (de Froberville and du Maurier families); Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela (British Ambassador John and Jenny Hickman, British Ambassador Jock and Molly Taylor) – [In Ecuador she was also a guest of elder statesman Galo Plaza Lasso (former President of Ecuador), and developed a deep interest in the many unknown tribes of the dense rain forests of Oriente region of eastern Ecuador]; Florida and New York; The Hague, Bonn, and East Berlin (British AmbassadorJock and Molly Taylor); pate, cheese and wine Tour de France (Mum driving, Niall navigating); China, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore (Niall).
Rugby – A forthright armchair supporter and at times severe critic of the Ireland and Leinster rugby teams, especially when seated in front of a glowing fire on a cold winter’s afternoon armed with a mug of Barry’s tea.
Family Nest– Her welcoming“Moorefield” (Our home) – her ‘red room’, books and the warm cozy fireplace, her time-honored glowing Christmas, replete with tradition, her love of antiques, Muffin I and II (the family dogs), her car…
Devotion – Mum’s absolute devotion to God and Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.
Family – Our Mother’s primary love, her reason for being, was her family.
Husband – A devoted wife to our dear father Liam who passed away on Tuesday May 8th 1973.
In one of our numerous conversations about her formative years, before she married Liam, Mum told me both a medical student as well as a doctor friend proposed to her within the period of a week, and in her innocence, not wishing to upset them, said “yes” to the both of them. She didn’t even know they had being courting her. Of course, when her mother Min found out there was holy war!
Following the death of our father Liam, 39 years ago, Mum devoted herself to the sole purpose of ensuring the well-being of her children. Throughout this period she endured many hardships and impediments, but kept persisting through fear, confusion and loneliness, always placing her children first. Life was hard, but Mum was harder!
Right to her last breath – HER BOYS WERE HER LIFE!
Kathryn was simply a wonderful mother, true friend, and close confidante, indispensable in every way. She loved her community of dear friends from all walks of life, and it is this trait that brings us all here today to celebrate the life of our mother on her birthday.
Finally, William, Conor and I wish to extend our genuine and heartfelt appreciation to all the staff of the Blackrock Clinic, as well as two fantastic family friends – Kevin O’Donnell and Maura Fennell – and Father Maurice O’Moore (Chief Celebrant at Mum’s funeral mass) for all your devoted and steadfast support during these very sad days.
Mum, heaven was made for you!
May you rest in peace!”
The gap left in a home from the loss of a mother just cannot be replaced.
Sources: A few words about our Mother as written and delivered by me at the Requiem Mass to Celebrate the Life of Kathryn O’Reilly, at St. Patrick’s Church, Monkstown Village, Saturday August 4th 2012, 10 am.
– Kathryn O’Reilly Curriculum Vitae as handwritten in the early 1980’s.