15 Aug 2022

Anna Crotty, Thornbrack, Kilkenny


Rest in Peace

The death occurred on February 12 last, after a prolonged illness, of Mrs. Anna Crotty, née King, widow of the late Tom Crotty, who was mayor of Kilkenny on two occasions.

I knew Anna Crotty a little during my teenage years, as her brother-in-law, Ray Crotty, the farmer turned economist, best remembered to-day for his opposition to Ireland’s membership of the EEC and later of the EU, was married to Biddy, my father’s youngest sister.

Later on after I joined The Kilkenny Archaeological Society, I became better acquainted with both Tom and Anna. The former served for many years on the council of that society while Anna was a keen supporter of the work of the KAS. She attended many of their fund-raising functions and outings.

Over time too, I met Anna and Tom with some of their children at Crotty weddings and funerals, as we had first cousins in common. My mother, Eilenn, and Anna were always pleased to meet.

They were fond of each other and had a mutual respect for the worthiness of the other. They often discussed Fine Gael politics and also to the ‘radical’ proposals of the family economist. Both were only children.

Later on in the 1990s we did not always see eye-to-eye and indeed held opposite views as to the future of the Rothe House complex and the role of the Society in its day-to-day management of this unique Irish complex.

She supported the creation of the Rothe House Trust which a number of members were utterly opposed to, and which in due course led to the dismantlement of much of the Kilkenny material which had been on display in the house, since it opened its doors to the public in the mid 1960s.

Much of this material had been donated by Kilkenny families. The displays, were perhaps outdated but were on the cusp of being recognised as having their own individual and particular charm and value, due entirely to the fact that they had largely been assembled by gifted amateurs.

Supported causes
But life went on outside of Rothe House. Anna was I knew a lover of Kilkenny and supported many causes which sought to improve the quality of life for the wider community.

Those that come to mind include the Keep Kilkenny Beautiful Campaign and here she joined forces with Margaret Tynan and others in this ground-breaking initiative. The Kilkenny branch of the Red Cross and the Kilkenny Chamber Choir (lead by Philip Edmondson), were also projects she involved herself with.

Amongst the latter she gained many new friends and experienced travels abroad to sing, which brought her great enjoyment. The restoration of Thornbrack, where she was buried on February 12 was another project, dear to her heart.
Of course politics was almost the staff of life for Anna who was an un-wavering Fine Gael ‘believer’.

Late in her life she acknowledged the work of our current local Fianna Fail TD, Mr John McGuinness, who was touched when he heard of her praise for his work on the Dail Public Accounts Committee. John was one of the friends and acquaintances who kept in touch with Anna over the years of her illness which forced her to live in a nursing home for the last 10 years of her long life.

Anna, was born and raised in Irishtown being the daughter of James King and his wife Nora, who hailed from a townland near Mitchelstown, Co Cork.

Primary and secondary education was provided by the Loreto nuns in Kilkenny, where she gained many life-long friends, a key figure being the very recently deceased, Jane Crotty who was born and raised in Parliament Street.

Anna enjoyed her school years and I believe held the Loreto nuns in high esteem. They also educated her daughters. Through Jane Crotty and her sisters, she met her future husband, Tom Crotty (their brother) who was a few years her senior. Tom, after attending St Kieran’s College went away to college and subsequently joined the Corps of the Royal Engineers of the British Army, commonly known as’ the Sappers’.

In due course, Tom returned to Kilkenny and the family bakery business in Parliament Street which he manage and owned with his younger brother Martin.
Marriage to Anna when she was in her early 20s brought in the fullness of time six children and much later still grandchildren. Tom passed away in May 2001. Her family and many friends were particularly valued by Anna during the years of her widowhood and illness.

A memory of Anna that I have dates from the early 1990s when she had mutual American Butler friends from New York in for dinner.
I was invited to share the family meal which concluded with one of her renowned apple tarts for which she was famous. An accolade I might add that she shared with my own mother.
Bill Butler, a famous New York attorney, and his wife Janey, the chief guests of the evening, later claimed that they played the role of Cupid in the life of a daughter of Anna’s, as they intentionally introduced her to her future husband. Bill often boasted of this ‘romantic’ endeavour. He was very happy that two young friends of his had found love and joy in each other.

Another memory of that evening which has remained with me was the presence of a large religious statute which adorned the hallway/dining room, which stood on a plinth beyond Bill Butler’s head.
This was a rather unusual feature for a domestic setting to my mind, but I later learned that it had originally formed part of the furnishings of Tom’s family home in Parliament Street.
I could not help but wonder what the American guests of honour thought as neither of them were as far as I knew, particularly religious.
Later I learned that Janey’s ancestral links were amongst the American German-Jewish community while Bill’s origins were definitely American-Irish but of which religious persuasion I knew not.

They always said they looked forward to the Sunday morning service at St Canice’s Cathedral during the many Butler rallies they attended which led me to think their religious leanings (if any) were to the American Episcopal Church.
I longed to ask but dared not do so. Levity had a place in Anna’s life but for a joke to be tolerated, even one at her own expense, it had to be good.

Anna died peacefully and is now at rest at Thornbrack, which has a bracing view over the adjoining Kilkenny countryside, just north of the city, which she loved so much. She was very proud of the city as she was too of the many community services that she and her husband rendered their home place.

Valuable Contribution
As I was writing this it occurred to me that Anna was very representational of her generation and place and to say this is not to take from the value of the contribution she and her peers made to the wider Kilkenny or indeed Irish community.
Many come to mind from this particular Kilkenny social group, notably Kitty Crotty, Biddy Crotty (née Kirwan), Terry Molloy and indeed my own mother.

They were the last generation of Irish women, to automatically stay at home, where for the most part they raised largish families by today’s standards. A value cannot yet be put on their net worth.
It is too soon and we are too near and close to pass judgement but a generation or two hence society will, I think, see them for the major force they were within our communities.
It’s the generation that changed Ireland. May she and the many like her, rest in peace.

John Kirwan

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