John Arnold: My sadness at the funeral of Peggy, mother of RTE’s Marty Morrissey

Marty Morrissey's mother Peggy was laid to rest this week. John Arnold who was related to Peggy recalls a beautiful, feisty, loving, caring and faithful lady
John Arnold: My sadness at the funeral of Peggy, mother of RTE’s Marty Morrissey

Marty Morrissey and his mother Peggy.

MY mother, May, was a Castlelyons Twomey. Before they came to the townland of Kilcor the family were in Peafield in Lisgoold.

Family tradition has handed down a story that some time in the mid to late 1700s, a Jeremiah Twomey left his home near Macroom or Ballyvourney and, on the instructions of his father to ‘go East young man’, he came hither and settled in Lisgoold.

We have no Parish, Church or Civil records from that time - mainly, I suppose, because the Penal Laws forbade Catholics from keeping such records.

The story that has come down the centuries is one of ‘matrimonial patience’! The ‘sceal’ goes that Jeremiah came working for a farming family by the name of Forrestal in Lisgoold. Well, by all accounts there were seven sisters in the family and no brother so a ‘man to work the farm’ was needed.

One by one, six of the girls married here, there and yon, leaving the seventh girl ‘home alone’ to wed the bould Jeremiah, and that’s how ‘our’ Twomeys are supposed to have originated in this part of East Cork.

The name Twomey is interesting, with many and various meanings as to its origin. One theory doing the genealogical rounds is that all of us with Twomey blood in our veins are descended from Mathghamain, who was of the lesser known 11 brothers of the famous Brian Boru - the man that beat the the Vikings at Clontarf but got killed the same day.

Brian drew much of his power from his Dalcassian heritage - the Dal Cais were Gaelic ‘top dogs’ in Munster for centuries.

Clans and families often took their name from the geographical district where they originated. So a clan or tribe from the Clare/North Munster region could well be described in Irish as being ‘O Thuadh Mumhain’. Over the decades and centuries it’s easy to see how O Thuadhmumhan could be corrupted to O Tuama and hence Twomey.

It seems many bearing the O Tuama/Twomey name settled in and around mid-Cork where the name still flourishes strongly. We’ll never know what brought them down from Clare but sure, ‘twas a good job they did!

Marty Morrissey and mourners at the removal of his mother Peggy at St Mary’s Church, Mullagh, Co Clare.
Marty Morrissey and mourners at the removal of his mother Peggy at St Mary’s Church, Mullagh, Co Clare.

From Clare to Cork was a fair old trek hundreds of years back. Even today you could say, in reverse, ‘it’s a long, long way from Bartlemy to Clare’ - thanks to Ralph McTell for the original wording.

One hundred miles exactly is the distance from the top of our boreen to St Mary’s Church in Mullagh in West Clare. I made the journey on Saturday last to pay my respects to a great lady - of my mother’s ‘clan’.

Peggy Twomey was a Twomey ‘true and true’ as both her parents bore the same name.

Back in 1926, at St Mary’s Church in Mallow, 22-year old Catherine Twomey, of Richardstown, Doneraile, daughter of John, wed Thomas Twomey, of Millbrook, Mallow, son of William. Thomas was two years older than his bride. Their daughter Peggy was born the following year.

I was never in Mullagh ’til last Saturday. It was a damp and dreary December day and when I departed the Main Road by Ennis, I was in ‘a new country’.

I was looking for a signpost for Kilmurry-Ibricakane but to no avail – I thought that when the local GAA club bore that name a similar village, hamlet or town should exist. I stopped in Inagh and they put me on the right road to Mullagh.

I’d never met Peggy Twomey, but in the last century, whilst doing a weekly ‘spot’ on RTÉ Cork Local Radio, I’d met her son Marty Morrissey.

Marty and Ger Canning and Alf McCarthy were the mainstays of RTÉ in Cork back then. Over the years at GAA games all over Ireland I’ve met Marty so often, a man like me who has a passion for the GAA.

His father, Martin Morrissey, was a proud West Clareman - the Morrisseys were in this part of Clare in the 1830s. While working as a teacher in the town of Mallow, Martin met Peggy Twomey and love blossomed. Amazingly for the time, both were ‘only’ children.

They decided to set off as a couple for America, but Peggy’s parents insisted that any such venture should only be undertaken after they got married! They wed in 1954 and struck for the bright lights of New York and a new life.

Four years later, with the birth of her first child imminent, Peggy Morrissey showed the steely determination that lasted a lifetime. 

Anxious that any child of theirs wasn’t born a ‘Yank’, she made the arduous plane journey back to Ireland. When ‘her time came’, little Marty Morrissey saw the light of day at Mount Alvernia Maternity Hospital in Mallow, close to the ancestral Twomey homes.

With her husband running a successful travel business in New York, Peggy, with her new-born babe, made the trip back across the Atlantic. A decade later, Martin and Peggy Morrissey and their young son bade farewell to the Big Apple. Purchasing a public house in Quilty, a new phase of their life began - truly ‘it’s a long, long way from New York to Quilty’.

Young Marty Morrissey grew up here as his parents became integral members of this football-mad community of West Clare.

I met many club stalwarts on stewarding duty around the church in Mullagh on Saturday, grand men, and so proud of having won 13 senior ‘counties’ since 1999 and two Munster titles, and of course they reached the All Ireland Club Final.

The stories they had of Peggy and her husband and their famous son – in Quilty and Mullagh he’s ‘just ‘one of our own’ - were just mighty!

Marty has no brothers or sisters, no first or second cousins, but his ‘relations’ in the GAA family are in the thousands.

As we shuffled in the rain into Mullagh Church in the fading light, one could hear accents from the four provinces. Many from RTÉ and the hierarchy of the GAA were present, but mainly the ‘plain people of Ireland’ who gathered round one of their own in his time of need.

Peggy’s husband Martin passed away 17 years ago and since then the family of three has just been Marty and his mother. She was a beautiful, feisty, loving, caring, witty and faithful lady. She belied her near 95 years and truly lived live to the full.

Part of a close-knit community, Peggy Twomey/Morrissey was always thinking of others – her son, her neighbours and the wider West Clare ’family’.

At her Funeral Mass last Sunday, Marty asked ‘How am I going to survive without her?’ A plaintive question laced with love and loss. There’s no easy, answer but he can rest assured that the people of Quilty and Mullagh and the wider GAA fraternity will be there to support him and Liz in the days ahead.

I remember crying so much on the day of my mother’s funeral 25 years ago, tears of sadness and despair. A cousin hugged me and said: ‘John, you’re broken and devastated now, but in time you’ll think of your Mam and you won’t cry, but you’ll smile and laugh and recall the good times ye had.”

Her words have come to pass and the golden after-glow she left is now with me every single day.

For Peggy Twomey, it was a long, long way from Doneraile to New York and then back to West Clare. Her journey on this earth is now over - and what an adventure it was.

She and her husband will forever smile on their only son and whisper ‘Keep going, we’ll be with you all the way’.

It was dark on Saturday evening as I turned the car homewards, back through Quilty, Milltown Malbay, Connolly, Inch, Kilmaley and on into Ennis... ah yes it’s a long, long way from here to Clare.

I vowed that, when the fields are white with daisies, I’ll return and kneel and say an Ave there for you Peggy.

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