46 years ago today I remember looking up from the kitchen window, the stepping (why did he always walk that way to work, or was it just this morning?) over the wire holding up the tennis court net (it must have been nice weather because it was unusual for the grass tennis court net to be set up so early), the walking stick, the wave by Mum and I from the kitchen, his cheerful smile… Then I remember being in our next door neighbour’s — the Breen’s — house, their formal drawing room, which we were always forbidden from playing in, the gilt-painted chairs and chaise longe. All so surreal. The three of them looking at me. Poor Mum in the middle. The story that I didn’t really understand about Dad going to see “holy god” and “heaven”.
The death occurred recently of Kathleen (Kathryn) O’Reilly, younger daughter of the late James Joseph Byrne Snr of Kilcullen and Mary Byrne (Cody), at the age of 85.
Beloved wife of the late Liam O’Reilly (New Ireland/Irish National, died 1973) she is deeply missed and much loved by her sons William, Conor and Niall, daughter-in-law Dervil, her sister Maureen, extended family and a wide circle of friends. Kathryn’s brothers were the late Jim Byrne of The Hideout, and the late well-known businessman Tom Byrne.
She was educated at Loreto Abbey Dalkey; Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ) School, Bunclody, Wexford; and Loreto School Rathfarnham, where she captained the school hockey team.
She was always interested in fashion and designed many of her own clothes. She trained and worked as a fashion model in London, and worked in Dublin with Henry White. An accomplished singer, her life-long friend Dr Veronica Dunne (‘Auntie Ronnie’ to Kath’s children) was also at her funeral.
Kath had a deep and genuine interest in everyone she met and was known to be ‘one hell of a party organiser’, entertaining — at her successive homes in Knockbrack, Avoca Lodge, Tudor House or Moorefield — groups who ranged from ambassadors and taoisigh to many dear friends and neighbours.
She loved painting and especially her classes with Alma Brayden, Margaret Margetsen, and Bernie Lyons. Her son Niall recalls that she would often get up in the middle of the night ‘to add a dab here and a touch-up there’.
Her father-in-law Dr M W O’Reilly, observing Kath’s capacity for ‘listening’ appointed her to the Board of Directors in two of the many companies he established in Ireland.
Her other interests included cooking, and her coffee cakes, Guinness cake and brown breads were always in demand at home. That was also where she indulged her passion for gardening and she could reel off the Latin names of the flowers and shrubs which emblazoned her ‘magical’ garden, an ‘Eden’ always alive in a myriad of colours and chorus of chirping birds.
She loved travel and had friends abroad in places ranging from Paris, Nice and Italy, the UK, Mauritius, Ecuador and Columbia, Florida and New York, The Hague, Bonn, and East Berlin, and Niall recalls an especially fun ‘pate, cheese and wine Tour de France’ with his Mum driving and himself navigating. She also visited China, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Kath was 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.
She maintained an absolute devotion to God and Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.
She died after a short illness, in the care of the staff of the Blackrock Clinic. Chief celebrant at the funeral mass was Fr Maurice O’Moore and this brief account of a life lived to the full is taken from the eulogy delivered by Niall at the Requiem Mass in St Patrick’s Church, Monkstown Village, on Saturday August 4th 2012.
Auntie Kath, rest in peace. BB
This Appreciation was originally published on the Kilcullen page of the Kildare Nationalist.
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)
- Literature –
- 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.
– Official announcement, removal and funeral arrangements: https://notices.irishtimes.com/18518475 , http://www.announcement.ie/18534229?s_source=digi_inde and http://www.rip.ie/death_notices_detail.asp?NoticeID=170127