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19/10/2021

Remembering Miss Mac - Margaret McSweeney

Gerry Moran Kilkenny

Every so often Miss Mac came to tea in our house and always it was an occasion PICTURE: Jill Wellington from Pixabay

I regularly visit the resting place of my parents, Jim and Brigid Moran, and my dear departed sister, Eadie, all of whom lie together in Foulkstown Cemetery.
I stand at their graves and say a silent prayer that they may be at peace.
Afterwards I sometimes stroll about Foulkstown Cemetery, stopping at the graves of my relations and friends where once again I bow my head and pray for their peace and happiness.
One particular grave that I always seek out is that of my mother’s best friend, Margaret McSweeney.
Margaret’s grave receives few visitors as no one belonging to her lives in Kilkenny and she was a single woman all her life. When I stand at her grave and silently mouth my ‘prayer’ I always remember the following piece that she inspired and which was one of my first broadcasts on RTE’s Sunday Miscellany.
Tea in Miss Mac’s
I knew her only as Miss Mac, the name my mother always called her.
In fact I was so young and naïve then that it never occurred to me that Mac was short for anything. Her full and proper name was Margaret McSweeney and she was my mother’s best friend.
MISS Margaret McSweeney, a very single, very gracious and very elegant lady. Indeed, for as long as I live, my concept of a lady will be that of Margaret McSweeney.
Miss Mac Sweeney was tall and thin as a whip. She walked carefully, proudly, her chiselled face, held upright and straight, her wispy hair sometimes in a bun, other times covered with a silk headscarf. And always she seemed old to my childish eyes, old and fragile as a piece of antique furniture, her thin features, hollow cheeks confirming the notion in my mind.
Miss Mac and my mother had worked together as bookkeepers in Smithwick’s Brewery. They were the best of friends. They suited each other like a hand and glove. Miss Mac a good listener, my mother a good talker. Miss Mac, the placid one, my mother the fiestier of the two. Even when my mother married and went on to rear a family of five they never lost sight of each other and always kept in touch.
Every so often Miss Mac came to tea in our house and always it was an occasion. The best delf was brought out, the good tablecloth laid and the food was always that bit more dainty and interesting.
An even greater occasion was going for tea in Miss Mac’s. This, my mother did once a month or thereabouts and would bring in tow one of her brood of five.
Being the youngest, my turn didn’t come for quite a while but when it did I was not disappointed. Dressed like a new pin my mother and myself set off one fine evening for tea in Miss Mac’s.
It was enchanting – her tiny sitting room, full of personal effects, bric-a-brac, old photos, fine china, tawny lampshades and plush armchairs spared from the tossing and tumbling of a family of five. The table was elegantly set, starched white linen tablecloth with gleaming cutlery, iced-cakes, biscuits and little triangular-shaped sandwiches. It was a feast in more ways than one – the delicacies, the soft lamp light, the cosy calm and the exotic surrounds all made for a warm, intimate magical experience. The magic, of course, faded as I grew older and hurling on the green proved more alluring than tea in Miss Mac’s. She never lost touch, however, and nearing my wedding day I drove my mother and herself to Dublin to kit themselves out for my ‘big day’.
Later I had tea with Miss Mac and my mother, this time in the plush surrounds of some fine hotel. A few glasses of sherry, some ale shandies and ham sandwiches found us in a jovial, reminiscent mood. For a few brief moments we could have been back in that snug sitting room of hers.
Miss Mac, as it happened, was most definite about her wedding present for me and wife-to-be: a good old-fashioned clock for the mantelpiece. One that chimed. She was adamant that it had to chime. When I pressed her as to why, she gently squeezed my arm and said: “So’s you’ll think of me whenever that clock strikes the hour”.
That clock hasn’t chimed in a long, long time, I’m afraid, but we still have it. And whenever I look at it, perched high on a bookcase, I think of Margaret McSweeney, Miss Mac, and those magical tea-times in her cosy room that has long since yielded to ‘progress’ and the voracious JCB.

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