Mary Keogh Inspirational Volunteer
To mark Daffodil Day (Support Daffodil Day 2020), this month’s Listowel Character is Mary Keogh. Mary has lived all of her 96 years in the town. She is a breast cancer survivor and has been a Daffodil Day volunteer for 30 years. It is hard to find someone as community oriented as Mary, her years of volunteering for numerous groups are an inspiration!
After her husband passed away, Mary’s friend asked her to join the ICA in Clounmacon. Though Mary resisted initially, her friend won out in the end, “She arrived up at the house and she wouldn’t leave!” And so it was with Clounmacon ICA that Mary remained until they finished up a few years ago. She was also involved with the Irish Wheelchair Association for many years.
Through the years, Mary has dedicated her time to numerous charities and organisations in the town. Displayed proudly, just beside her television, is a picture of Mary. She asks if she can show me the framed picture and the little award that stands beside it. “This picture was taken in Killarney when I was involved in Daffodil Day for 26 years”, she explains, “that was taken when I was 92.” What a remarkable thing to be able to say! There is a little Oscar award beside the picture and Mary laughs as she recalls her granddaughter presenting it to her, awarding her for her 26 years of service, “for a joke she bought it, on account of my doing that”. “That” is now 30 years of volunteering her time for Daffodil Day. This is one of the things that is so inspiring when talking to Mary, her years of selfless work is not something she brags about – it is just matter of fact, “That was the most of my life, doing things when I could”.
A breast cancer survivor, Mary collected money for the charity by going door to door, and spent her years providing tea and homemade sandwiches and cakes for the other Daffodil Day volunteers who appreciated something to warm them up, especially on the rainy days! In 2017, Noreen Queally organised that a photographer from the Kerry’s Eye come to Mary’s home to take her picture for the paper. Armed with Daffodils, balloons and donation buckets, Mary posed in her living room with her daughter, Helena and Noreen.
Shoe the Donkey
As president of Comhaltas, Mary met Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina when they visited Listowel to officially crown Ireland’s Tidiest Town. As part of Comhaltas, Mary has taken part in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade for many years. When I asked if she had ever played an instrument, she laughed, “No! I never played an instrument, I used to love dancing when I was young”. At their Christmas concert last Christmas, Mary spotted her friend, and dance partner of years, Mike Connell coming in, dressed in a green blazer, “The next thing I heard an announcement that Mike and myself were going to do Shoe the Donkey! I got up anyway, and I danced it!” One lady was so impressed by her agility that she recorded Mary dancing to show her mother who was “only 84”, and who liked to get out of certain jobs by citing her age. The lady was hopeful that Mary’s youthful vigor would put an end to her mother’s excuses!
Mary recalls the town as being busy with asses and cars when she was young, “fair days and markets with banbhs and pigs, and very few cars”. When she was a young girl, she went to Ballybunion on the 15th of August with her brothers and some of their friends, “We went all the way to Ballybunion in an ass and car, you have no idea of it! Ballybunion was a great go that time, the 15th of August was deadly.” The boys wanted to be home to see “the picture” that night and in the confusion, they ended up taking both ass and cars back to Listowel and leaving the girls stranded in Ballybunion. Mary and her friends had no other choice but to start walking, eventually getting a drive as far as Lisselton, and having to walk the rest of the way home, “I never forgot that anyway” she says smiling.
Though she has had many birthday parties over the years, Mary prefers a quiet dinner and a visit to John B’s after, “Billy always makes a fuss” she tells me, her eyes shining. Some years he has given her flowers, which she suspects have been repurposed from somewhere else, or a mug or book, “he always gives me something”.
Mary would direct visitors to the lovely park and the Garden of Europe, “There was nothing there in my time, everything has changed”. Now, she says there is so much choice for visitors coming to the town. Things have changed a lot since she was a young girl walking home from school, picking haws.
Support Daffodil Day
As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, the decision was taken to cancel the Daffodil Day 2020 collections to safeguard volunteers health. However, fundraising is still urgently needed: You can donate €4 to the Irish Cancer Society by texting CANCER to 50300 or donate what you want on their website at https://www.cancer.ie/ways-to-help/fundraise/daffodil-day/donate
Interview by Allie O’Neill