Maureen with her cousin Denis Dunleavy, who is now living in Blackrock, Dublin and formerly from Piltown
On September 29 2006, I reported a story for my Southern Scene page of the Kilkenny People about a woman who was celebrating her 86th birthday within 48 hours of the publication hitting the “sidewalks” of the little principality of the Rower.
Tomorrow, Thursday October 1 that same woman will be celebrating her 100th birthday among the staff and a limited number of friends in the comfort and care of the wonderful staff of the Sigma Nursing Home, Irishtown, New Ross.
The woman’s name is Maureen Butler, wife of Marty Butler who sadly has gone to his creator more than a few years ago.
On mature reflection - to paraphrase another notable politician - Maureen Butler was an enigmatic woman, with an engaging personality, a lively conversationalist, and an impish disposition.
In brief, she was an interviewer’s delight. Her life was an encyclopeadia of wonderful memories. She was stone daft on hurling. I still remember her telling me about the time herself and Marty were “walking out”.
“He asked me would I like to go to the 1939 All-Ireland Final with him,” she said. “Sure I was thrilled. I had barely been outside of Kilkenny. I remember thinking that even if he broke it off, I was still going to Dublin, and more importantly going to the All Ireland final against Cork.
“Toby and Honora Kavanagh and someone else were in the car. We left the Rower at 7 o’clock in the morning, and drove on. We got Mass in Inchicore, and as this was my first time in Dublin, Marty was doing the big shot, and took me on a Tour of Dublin to impress me.
“There were still Trolly buses going around the place. The road to Dublin was very twisty and full of deep potholes. If you fell into one of them you would have to swim for your life or drown,” she laughed.
“We met Christy Dreeling and Michael Grace at the match. They had cycled up the night before.”
That was tough going Maureen, I opined.
“Ah not really, sure they had two good bikes and new tyres, so they were OK,” she answered.
The game Maureen?
“The thunder and lightning was frightening. The rain came down as if it was being poured out of churns. It washed away all the lines on the pitch. They were all talking about war being declared, but the only war we were interested in was the war going on out in the field against Cork.
“We won, with the winning point being scored by Jimmy Kelly from Carrickshock,” she smiled the smile of memorable recollection.
This woman knew her hurling, and let me add, her hurlers.
She married Marty in 1948 “after a long courtship”. Marty was hurling with the Rower for years before the amalgamation with Inistioge in 1955.
“The Rower got to the county intermediate final in 1934 but were beaten by St Fiacre’s by 3-2 to 2-3,” she said. “They beat Danesfort in the 1944 junior final. Wattie Grace was playing with Marty on that team.”
All of that without a reference to any record book! She spoke too of the great lads from the Rower-Inistioge who won All-Irelands with Kilkenny. They were all great, she insisted.
“Eddie Keher was king with us, and then we had Fr Tom (Murphy) and his brother Willie and Pat Kavanagh.
“But the winning of the county senior championship in 1968 will live in the minds of our people down here for as long as man talks hurling.
“ We won it once but it was marvellous. The team was all Kavanaghs, Murphys, Walshes, and of course Eddie. Bonfires burned for days. Plenty of porter was consumed. The parish didn’t sober up until Ash Wednesday,” she roared laughing as the memories flooded back.
I was loving every millisecond of this conversation as I remember!
And then there were the greyhound stories.
“There was always greyhounds in Butlers place,” she said. “The excitement when a stake or a classic was won. All the dogs had the Brandon prefix in their names.
“I remember we won the Oaks in Harolds Cross in 1972 with Brandon Velvet. Fr Tom was a young priest in Dublin at the time, and he came over to see us. As Sally (the dog) passed him in the parade, Fr Tom threw some holy water on her. Sure how could she lose then.
“We called into the Green Isle on the way home, but they wouldn’t let us in with the bitch. We explained that she was no ordinary bitch; she had won a Classic. Eventually they agreed, and not only that, but they put her in a corner near us, and gave her a big bowl of milk,” she enthused.
“Marty and myself had great times going around the Country with dogs. We had plenty of winners, and the excitement was huge whenever we pulled off a big one.
“There was plenty of porter consumed, and as neither Marty nor myself drank, it cost us more money than we made with everyone celebrating. But what of it now? There was no harm done,” she insisted.
Before I left Maureen back in 2006, she had one story for the road she felt needed telling.
“Hurling was our game down here. Sure how could we miss when we had the greatest hurler that ever lived in our parish?” she beamed.
“But in 1972 my sister, who is a nun in Los Angeles, took another nun who is from Clare to a pub – Ireland’s 32- to watch the match.
She had two Kilkenny jerseys, and they put the jerseys on over their habits. As they walked into the pub with their jerseys on, all heads turned as these two nuns came in.
“They must have looked a sight. My sister (Sr Monica) was 76 at the time. It’s a great wonder they weren’t taken away in a wagon by men in white coats,” she roared (for a long time) laughing at the telling.
Maybe I should summarise what was written when Maureen Butler celebrated her 86th birthday.
For a while I lingered in Fintan Murphy’s pub in the Rower, having shared the couple of hours with Maureen in her home.
Everyone that crossed my path was vying with each other to express opinion about Maureen Butler. The word ‘respect’ was the glue that kept all expressions of admiration together. All present were loud in their praise for the gracious woman from Carrenroe.
Some referred to the contribution she made to her Rower community, as the Rower was her personal fiefdom. She gave a lifetime of service to the people of her place.
She was generous with her time to a fault - if Maureen could help she never flinched in the face of the Rower necessities. She loved her Rower people, and that love and regard was returned fourfold.
In Sigma Nursing Home in New Ross they are preparing for an occasion that is seldom thrust upon them. Of course there will be a celebration, with the customary cake, the Presidential letter of congratulations, and the “few bob”.
The people of the Rower will remember Maureen’s birthday, and even though visitors will be of a premium due to this awful pandemic, Maureen Butler will enjoy the whole experience.
Of that I am sure there will be no doubt.