Writes Leo McMahon
‘Actively retired’ personifies Gertie O’Driscoll, a woman at the heart of all that’s been happening in Ringaskiddy for many decades through her involvement in a myriad of community organisations as she outlined recently to The Carrigdhoun Newspaper.
‘I was born in the same room where I sleep today on July 21st, 1940’, said Gertie who resides at Old Post Office Road, Loughbeg in a granny flat adjoining the original home now resided in by her daughter Sinead and family.
Gertie was the daughter of John and Gertie McCarthy (nee Kind), both from Ringaskiddy. She has one sister Helen Sisk and a brother Dick McCarthy and they all live on the one road.
‘When I was growing up, Ringaskiddy was a picturesque fishing village but what you see today is totally different. The sea came right up to a quay wall running alongside the narrow road of the village, part of which you can still see outside The Ferry Boat Inn. Over the wall was a string of punts, because almost every household then had a boat, and the Black Prince Pier which is no more.
‘There was Palmer’s Island, where my mother was born, while my maternal grandfather Dick Kind (the fifth generation of the family to reside in the house at Loughbeg) was a brother-in-law to Mr. Palmer who provided great employment at his boatyard. There was always work in the locality then and at the naval dockyard in Haulbowline, long before Irish Steel and Verolme.
From the mid 1940s, Gertie attended the two roomed Ringaskiddy National School which had around 50 pupils and her first teachers were Mr. McSweeney and Mrs. Murphy.
‘I loved going to school with its open fireplace and I remember we were able to run home for our dinner and back again. When Donal O’Connor came here to teach, it opened up a whole new world for me because he set up a library and introduced drama.
‘We would have to go to Mrs. Murphy for sewing but I hated it so I would often make the excuse I had no needle and would be told to get out and go to ‘the master’ (Donal) who would hand me a book to read at the back of the class. My favourite books were Pollyanna’.
Gertie fondly remembers learning Irish through drama, in particular by the back wall of the classroom featuring a ‘baile beag’ (small village) with all the shops such as the post office, grocery, butchers, library, bank, chemist, as gaeilige. Every Friday, Donal would get the children to act as shoppers and shopkeepers doing business as gaeilge and making it a fun way to learn. He also encouraged pupils to speak Irish in the school yard.
‘We would leave home in the morning and only come back when we were hungry’, said Gertie recalling days of leisure. ‘We played in the fields and on the beach at Luck, picked periwinkles and blackberries and we’d play ‘pickie’. I also loved reading, dancing and drama’.
Gertie went on to secondary education at the Vocational School in Passage West. ‘We did all the normal subjects but also cookery, typing and shorthand.’
She met Jackie O’Driscoll at a dance she went to with her friends in La Scala in Crosshaven in the early 1960s and the couple were married in the Oratory, Ringaskiddy on June 16th, 1964.
Jackie worked as a mechanic in the Ford motor plant in Cork. The couple reared three children: Adrian, Sammy and Sinead. The passing of Jackie in 1997 was a massive blow but Gertie was blessed with having a very supportive family.
Today, the family comprises: son Adrian married to Sharon (Macken, Carrigaline) and children Jessica, Raluka, Elena, Craig and Nico in Carrigaline. Son Sammy married to Audrey (Keogh, Carrigaline) and children Sarah and Jamie (from a previous marriage), Luke, Nathan, Jason and Nicholas in Coolmore. Daughter Sinead, married to Conor Hanlon, Carrigaline and children Josh, Roisin and Leah. In addition to the 14 grandchildren there are three great grandchildren Jack, Charlie and Tadhg.
Gertie remembers happy days on spins to Kinsale with Jackie and sunny afternoons on Luck beach with her children.
A very proud moment was when Adrian, who played for Shamrocks, lined out on Cork hurling teams that won the All Ireland Junior and Intermediate titles in 1994 and 1997 respectively. There was glory for Sammy also when he won the ‘DIY Dad of the Year’ competition televised on RTE in 2005.
Outside of her involvement over many years as a member of Ringaskiddy and District Residents’ Association in major community campaigns of opposition to the Raybeston Manhattan asbestos dump at Barnahely and the ongoing battle to prevent the Indaver incinerator (see separate report), Gertie was and continues to be active in many positive and different aspects of life in her local community over the decades.
Along with rearing her children, Gertie worked for one summer at Carrigaline Pottery, for many decades a major employer in South Cork.
In 1982, with the building of the ferry terminal on reclaimed land at Ringaskiddy, she ran its cafe and did so until she retired 32 years later, often getting up before dawn for departing or arriving vessels. Her sister Helen also worked there as did Sheila McDonnell and summer students.
‘I loved every minute of it meeting and greeting people of different nationalities and telling them places to visit in West Cork and so on. Thankfully, we still have Brittany Ferries but it was very sad when the Swansea-Cork service ended because this also brought a bit of life to the village and was great for County Cork’.
Over the years, there were ships from B+I Line, Brittany Ferries, Irish Ferries and Swansea-Cork Ferries plus occasional berthings at the nearby deepwater quay of cruise liners such as the ‘QE2’.
Of all the many things she has been involved in over the decades, nothing was more enjoyable, said Gertie, than drama.
Jimeen, an old Irish comedy, was the first play I acted in at school and my interest in drama continued with Donal O’Connor after I left school. There was no community centre then (1960s) so we rehearsed and presented plays during the winter at the Foresters’ Hall near Shanbally which was freezing!
‘The first play I was in as a member of the Shamrock Players was Shadow of a Gunman in 1957. These were great times and we travelled all over Munster in competitions at drama festivals such as Rossmore and CYMS Hall, Cork and I specially recall us reaching the All Ireland Confined Final in Cavan 31 years ago with the play Them by Tom Coffey.
Other plays she recalled were John B Keane’s Sive, Year of the Hiker and Sharon’s Grave as well as A Letter from the General, Philadelphia Here I Come and The Cradle Song plus a play written by Donal called Quizzical Ways. Gertie also assisted in make-up for several productions.
Fellow actors and backstage friends from that time included her husband Jackie, her sister Helen, Sheila Sisk, Joe O’Driscoll, Tim Stuart, Kathleen Tuohy, Pat Hanley, Brendan Harte, Eileen O’Mahony, Mary Kind, Denis Dunne, Bartie Bray, Betty Pearce, Norah Hickey, Con Pearce, Oliver Carroll, Martin Stuart, Martin Kidney, Phil Browne, Mary Hickey, Patricia O’Mahony, Ned Brennan and Maura Skinner.
Indeed, such was the success of the drama group that the community centre, initially called Ringaskiddy Little Theatre, was built and officially opened on February 9th, 1968. It was fund raised mainly by weekly one shilling collections from households.
In the late ‘sixties, Donal O’Connor established and ran for many years, Ringaskiddy Youth Festival which attracted competitors from all over Ireland for around 25 nights Friday and Sunday over a period of ten to 12 weekends each spring.
Gertie said she greatly enjoyed assisting Donal, Kathleen Tuohy, Breda Andrews and others, introducing the children on stage and helping to organize the different competitions.
The legendary Donal O’Connor, said Gertie, also organized summer festivals in Ringaskiddy which included fancy dress parades, donkey derbies, spin the wheel and novelty events for children.
Gertie was president for many years of the Ringaskiddy guild of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association established in the 1970s. She also served as vice president of the South Cork Federation and was a voluntary county organizer.
‘Meetings were held in the community centre, where crafts were very popular and we had a great crew including Breda Andrews, Madge Murphy, Fay O’Donoghue and Lilia Aherne.
Today, Gertie is a very enthusiastic member of Ringaskiddy Active Retired which has around 17 members who meet in the community room next to the Oratory every Tuesday afternoon.
Activities include exercise, meditation, bingo, sometimes a sing song, plus of course a cup of tea and chat. Gertie is also the group’s PAL – physical activity leader.
The Active Retired, she stressed, is of huge benefit especially for those who rarely venture out but always go home feeling a great deal happier. She urged more people aged 55 and over to join, especially men.
She is also involved with Ringaskiddy and District Senior Citizens whose meet two or three times a year. Indeed, December 8th, 2019 at Monkstown Golf Club marks the 50th Christmas dinner (main sponsor Pfizer) and Gertie is its only surviving founder member. BIoMarin, Shanbally also kindly organize a party each year, the most recent being an afternoon tea and dance in Carrigaline Court Hotel on November 1st.
For all of her life, Gertie has been involved with her parish and for the past four years, has been sacristan at a place which is very special to her, the Oratory. Her predecessor for many years was the late Maureen Barry.
‘My husband’s grandfather William James extended the building which was originally the League of the Cross Hall and turned it into a church in 1923. He was also sculptor of the statue of the Sacred Heart outside. The Palmers of Palmer’s Island donated the seats and the bell was salvaged by them from the wreck of the ship ‘Celtic’ off Cork Harbour and given to the church.
‘It’s very prayerful and peaceful and I’m surprised it’s not used a lot more for small weddings because it’s very intimate and looking beautiful since its renovation about five years ago. Masses are held at 9am every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday,’ she said.
Gertie is a lifelong Pioneer, a Minister of the Eucharistic which involves monthly visits to nursing homes and being a qualified florist (Kay’s Flower School, Dublin), also looks after the flowers.
‘I love driving’ said Gertie who cooks for Meals-on-Wheels at the Passage Association for the Care of the Elderly (PACE) centre every second Monday.
Equally, she loves travelling and has visited Australia 18 times, several of these with family members and her friend Nancy Lannin. She is currently planning another trip ‘down under’ to meet an old friend and Nancy’s sister Josie Finnegan (nee Fowley) with whom she also featured in a RTE Nationwide programme about Irish people living in Australia. Other memorable trips have included Lapland, Singapore and a cruise around New Zealand.
Having been devastated by the loss of her husband Jackie to cancer 23 years ago, Gertie said that while fortunate in having a great family, it was still important to make the effort, get out, keep herself busy and at 79, this she continues to do, in particular with the Active Retired group which, she added, gave her a new lease of life. In the case Gertie O’Driscoll’s case, an outstanding voluntary worker and a local hero, it’s living life to the full.
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