15 Sep 2014
Learning the secrets of Mary Catherine, bringing joy to her family for 100 years
by Billy Keane ©Irish Independent
MARY Catherine has lived here all her life. One hundred years in the same house, and her family have farmed in Chancellorsland since 1750.
Tara the silky border collie jumps up for fun in the autumn sun. The Tipperary hurling flag butterflies in the warm breeze. The wavy fields are almost ready for the last cut of hay. The farm is a mile from Emly, a perfect Tidy Towns winning village in the heartland of Tipperary. It’s the kind of rural heaven, where you could easily live forever.
Mary Catherine greets us at the door. The bean an ti has the bright eyes of the young girl and her walk is lively and upright. You’d love to plant a kiss on her silvery curls. She wears a lacy white blouse, ironed by herself, and a smart skirt. The glasses are taken off her for the photograph.
“Will you leave on the cardigan?” asks her daughter Esther who enjoys her mother no end. “I will not,” replies Mary Catherine, “Sure I’m dressed lovely.”
We enquire how she got on at the gambling. “I play cards six nights a week all around the area and sure it keeps me going.” She’s not gone on the Progressive 45 though. “It’s a mean game where you hit and rip all around you.”
Last week she won “a good few hundred. I can read their cards without having to look.”
Her son John, a retired teacher, his wife Anne and their children are very good to Mary Catherine.
They live next door and Mary Catherine knocks great sport out of the grandchildren. Daughter Ann is on her way from Limerick for the celebrations. Esther pours the tea in the homely living room where we are eating an apple pie made by the woman of the house. The room where she was born is just off the living room. There’s history here.
She tells of the IRA bringing informers to the Sinn Fein courts through their fields and of nights when her mother fed The Flying Column who were on the run from the murdering black and tans. Mary Catherine keeps up with the events of the day. She believes Ireland is on the way back to prosperity and is a strong supporter of Fine Gael ever since her family took the Collins’ side in the Civil War.
The times were tough but there only lines on her face are carved from laughter. Mary Catherine was feisty and she still is.
“While the men were talking in the kitchen I drove off in the tractor and ploughed a field. I must have only been 18. I was an only child and it was tough on me to get going. I used to sneak out the window to go to dances. I always said if I had a family of my own I wouldn’t be too strict on them.”
Pat died when he was 53 after a very long illness. “He was a vegetable for the last year.” Pat, a fine looking man, was the love of her life. I ask Mary Catherine if she ever thought about marrying again.
“Aren’t you very inquisitive? I am fine the way I am. There’s no one to put me in or out. I can do what I like.”
John tells us “She milked the cows by hand and worked as hard as any man.”
“The neighbours were great,” says Mary Catherine. In comes the postman with a shoal of cards and a bun. Emly is a place where people care and take care.
A specialist advised her to go in to a home a few years back when Mary Catherine was very ill. She was indignant and let the specialist know exactly what she thought of his proposal.
We are here after a chance meeting with our old friend Tadhg O’Meara at a faraway airport. I was here to find out her secret. For you, and for me.
“Freda died suddenly at 40 , from a stroke.”
Mary Catherine was devastated “but I just got on with it.” Freda and Pat are very much in her thoughts today.
Mary Catherine says five novenas in bed every morning and she has an especially strong devotion to the Sacred Heart. “I accept all that happened,” she says.
“I have a bowl of porridge and home -made brown bread every morning.” Her favourite dinner? “Bacon and cabbage.” She still cooks and bakes and Mary Catherine takes a walk of a mile and a half through the farm she kept going in tough times.
There’s so much more to be written about this lady who is one of the transition generation who put family first and reared today’s Irish women to stand on their own two feet.
We said goodbye with a kiss and a firm hug. For some reason my own worries didn’t seem so overwhelming .
There was one last glance in the car mirror.
Mary Catherine Buckley was smiling serenely, as she looked out over the silky grass of Chancellorsland from the front door of her own home, where she brought so much joy 100 years ago today.