The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land;
you may almost hear the beating of his wings.
These words from John Bright came to mind this week when we heard of the death of Margaret Ryan, née Hegarty, of North Street, Skibbereen.
Having been taken ill only a week earlier, Margaret’s death on 4 April came as a great shock to her realtives and to her many friends in Skibbereen. In particular, those who worked closely with Margaret in the Skibbereen Geriatric Society, the Legion of Mary and the Children of Mary will mourn the loss of a dear friend whose work in these organisations was quite extraordinary.
A daily Mass-goer, Margaret was a very religious woman. For many years she and a small group of people helped to dress the altar and ready St Patrick’s Cathedral for ceremonies, big and small.
A native of Caheragh, it was a good day for Skibbereen when in the late 1940s Margaret moved to the town to live with her aunt while attending the Technical School for her secondary education. She was a good pupil and in 1951 Margaret won first prize in Ireland in the domestic economy group certificate examination which was conducted through Irish.
When she finished her secondary education, Margaret took up employment in the front office at the Southern Star and worked there until she married Seamus Ryan on 4 April 1964.
Margaret was an accomplished actor and took part in many productions staged by the Cathedral Players, Skibbereen, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When not on stage, Margaret was involved back-stage doing make-up, organising sets and doing the other countless things that go into making a successful production. For many years Margaret and her dear friend Anna McCarthy did make-up and organised back-stage for the Cathedral Players and the De La Salle PPU pantomimes.
In the Cathedral Players’ 1958 production of ‘Still Running’ by M.J. McKeown, Margaret played the character of Ellen Anne. At the West Cork Drama Festival in Rossmore the production won several awards, including Rev. Fr Tim O’Donovan, best producer, and Florence Lynch was best actor.
In February 1959 the Cathedral Players staged Lennox Robinson’s ‘Drama at Inish’ at the Cork Drama Festival, with Margaret Hegarty again among the cast. Interestingly, the Skibbereen performances were held in the Emmet Hall in those years because the Town Hall had been destroyed by fire on 15 August 1955 and the new Town Hall didn’t open until 1960.
In 1962 Margaret was again a member of the cast in the Players’ production of Charlotte Hasting’s play ‘Bonaventure’.
Margaret and Seamus Ryan were very involved in the productions of the De La Salle PPU pantomimes which were staged in the Town Hall from 1963 to 1985, Seamus even wrote the scripts for many of those shows. While Margaret and Anna McCarthy did make-up and other tasks back-stage, Margaret also made some notable performances on stage in those pantomimes. The political intermezzo was always a great favourite in pantomimes in Skibbereen and we remember one in particular when Margaret’s parody of Margaret Thatcher was quite brilliant.
Skibbereen Geriatric Society was founded in 1970, with the objective of providing a Meals on Wheels Service for the older residents in the town and district. Margaret was one of the founder members and right up to the time of her death she was intimately involved in the many outstanding project and ongoing work of the society.
Margaret was particularly involved in the various stages of development of 31 flatlets for the elderly in four different locations in Skibbereen. In 1993 the Geriatric Society opened Cara House Supported Care Unit in the old Boys’ National School building in Market Street, providing eight bedrooms and in 2002 it was extended to twelve bedrooms. Margaret’s contribution to the provision and management of this wonderful facility cannot be overstated. She dedicated an incredible amount of time and expertise to this enterprise.
Margaret was also a member or the Legion of Mary in Skibbereen for all her adult life. The work she and Seamus did over the years especially in the production of the Legion of Mary Newsletter was immense. Long before the advent of modern technology, the Skibbereen Newsletter was a very important link to home for many people domiciled in various parts of the world.
A poignant observation is that Margaret passed away on 4 April 2020, 56 years to the day of her marriage to Seamus, and six years to the day of Seamus’s death in 2014.
The Skibbereen & District Historical Society would like to offer its sincerest sympathy to Margaret’s family and her many good friends in Skibbereen.
Seamus Ryan was a founder member of the Historical Society and acted as treasurer for a number of years. Margaret was an avid reader of the Society’s annual Journal and always followed the activities of the Society with interest.