Mrs. Mai O’Callaghan Belonged to a Generation of Remarkably Resourceful Women

The late Mrs. Mai O'Callaghan, Tralee Road, Castleisland.
The late Mrs. Mai O’Callaghan, Tralee Road, Castleisland.

I went over to Cordal on Saturday morning for the month’s mind mass for a neighbour from a generation of remarkably resourceful women. You’ll see why I describe her so when you read the story of her life as told by her family in the obituary below. I don’t think I ever knew her first name as you – or I – didn’t dare to use a christian name when addressing your elders back then. Mrs. Mai O’Callaghan ran one of seven shops on the Tralee Road between The Market House Corner and Tom Horan’s mill – eight if you count in ‘our side’ of The Market House. There was Andy Moynihan’s, Hannie Cullinane’s, Nellie Murphy’s, Frank O’Sullivan’s, Mrs. Murphy’s just up Pound Road, Paten Murphy’s and O’Callaghan’s. We had two pubs, The Market Bar and Donal Cronin’s. We had a babrers’ shop, Tom Brennan’s; a garage, Michaelo Breen’s and petrol pumps at the afore mentioned Horan’s mill. Of course we claimed the northern half of the railway yard and Steveen Corkery’s Bicycle Repair Shop at the Back of the Forge. We had a mini-bus service and a dance band in the house in question in this article. We also had our own mid-wife in Nurse Culloty and all in the compact space of a couple of hundred yards. Further back the road we had our own ESB power station from which the people in the rest of the town were also allowed to light their houses. Weren’t we innocent.

O'Callaghan's Shop Advert from the 1950s.
O’Callaghan’s Shop Advert from the 1950s.

We had everything in Tralee Road. Need I mention colourful neighbours:  Steveen Corkery, Jerry Twomey, the Murphy brothers and their immaculate dairy to which people came back from town with their gallons in the mornings.

From the same house we had Kitty Murphy who had a shop on Main Street and who made paper cones or toisíns to put your sweets in.

And then Jack Mitchell landed into our midst with his own amazing brand of colour and devilment. We had the sports mad farmer and close neighbour, Denis Leane  and Jamesie Geaney who would play the box for All-Ireland’s in our house when Kerry was involved and sometimes during the games if things were going bad – and always with the same abandon whether we won, lost or drew.

Known with great affection as 'Steveen' his little bicycle repair workshop at The Back-of-the-Forge was another example of the industry of the road.
Known with great affection as ‘Steveen’ his little bicycle repair workshop at The Back-of-the-Forge was another example of the industry of the road.

In amongst all that I still remember O’Callaghan’s shop and the Paraffin Oil barrels and the jugs and the funnels and the people from Pound Road coming down with their cans. And Paddy O’Sullivan – who worked in the Pitch & Putt club – being delighted one fine evening outside the shop on his way to the Astor Cinema on finding a collectors’ card he’d been waiting for ages to get in his Sweet Afton cigarette packet. Mrs. O’Callaghan’s month’s mind was an outstanding tribute to her industry and to that of her husband, Michael. The occasion may have given the family an opportunity to come to terms with the loss they have only recently suffered – as celebrant, Fr. Flor explained. It was also an occasion of which she could be justifiably proud. She provided the priest and the organist for the celebration of her own mass in both Fr. Flor and Catherine Nash. Her grand-daughter Katie Nash played the fiddle on an occasion that simply called for a musical inclusion. Heavenly is the only word to describe the piece and the playing. Catherine herself took a lot on her shoulders on a morning she knew would be tinged with emotion and sadness. On the final hymn from home the occasion got to her but – being mindful of the old adage –  the show must go on the rest of the family sang up – as many the time before – and Catherine’s melody was flawless in its final flourish.

Mrs. Mai O’Callaghan 13/03/1920 to 04/01/2015 – The Obituary

Mai O’Callaghan was born in Ballymacpierce, in 1920, the oldest and last surviving member of the family of Flor and Katie Burke. She was predeceased by her sisters Kitty, Hannah, Maggie, Chrissie and her brother Mundy. In 1948 she married Michael O’Callaghan. He was her lifelong companion until April 2003. They set up home in Castleisland where they reared their family. Mai lived there for the past 66 years. Mai was a strong, capable, independent, compassionate and generous woman. She loved company and the conversations she had with friends and neighbours, often late into the night. She had a good sense of humour and gave good advice which impacted significantly on many lives. She often opened her home to welcome those who needed a welcome. Many lovely and moving stories have been imparted to her family since her funeral. Mai with her husband Michael worked hard and gave generously of their lives to their nine children: Ned, Fr. Flor, Sr. Anne, Michael, Gerard, Patrick, Catherine, Robert and Colette. The proper upbringing and education of her children was the focus of her life. Mai used her knowledge of the smart economy to achieve these goals for her children.  As the financial demands of a large family increased so too did her industry. She had for instance, three sheds built in the back yard of their house. Here for several years, she kept up to thirty pigs at a time. These were bought as bonhams and reared to be sold towards the end of August in time to cover expenses as the new school term began. While that was going on at the back of the house, she opened a grocery shop in the front room and traded there till the early sixties.  Many families benefited from Mai’s use of a credit book which enabled them to feed their children during lean times. Mai had a kind, unassuming and compassionate nature. She was also industrious with the sewing machine and knitting needles and she enjoyed and supported the love of music which permeated the lives of her whole family. She liked to dance and did so for pleasure and at times in competition. At a later time in her life Mai travelled to many parts of the world, often to visit relations, including her uncle Paddy, in faraway places like the US and Australia. Returning to her own ‘corner’ in Castleisland was always vital to her. In Mai’s life God was very present, active, recognised, acknowledged, and welcomed. Prayer was very important and every night the rosary was said. That rosary sustained Mai all her life but especially in the last years when it supported her and cradled her without fear to eternal life. With pride and gratitude her family honoured her in her years of aging and physical deterioration and it was very reassuring for her to be in her own home from where she went to God on 4th January 2015. She had a long life, a full life, a good life and we honour her love and sacrifice and now commend her to God with confidence and hope. May she rest in peace Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis. Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.