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MARIE MEETS: At 85 Eileen is spritely, energetic, and glamorous

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On the occasion of Eileen O’Callaghan’s 85th birthday, I was invited to mark the occasion with a family photo at the Fáilte Hotel before leaving on a mystery tour organised by Eileen’s granddaughter Amy which took the entire family to the Mills Inn, Ballyvourney to dine al fresco in tropical temperatures.

“Eileen may I take a photo of you alone for my column with the Killarney Advertiser?" I asked. I loved Eileen’s reply. “Can I use the family photo please Marie, I am nothing without my family.”

Like many, I had always known ‘The Mrs’ - a term of endearment used by her late husband Dermot O’Callaghan ‘The Boss’ - but there was so much I didn’t know and I was eager to hear Eileen’s story.

EARLY LIFE

Born in 1936 in Gneeveguilla, the eldest sibling at a farming home, Eileen has kept her work ethic consistent throughout and is no stranger to hard graft. “No electricity, no tap water Marie, but everyone was in the same boat. That was normal life back then. Farm life wasn’t too unlike the hospitality industry either. We worked together as a team to gain the best possible outcome. It was team work at the bog, saving the hay and milking the cows before heading off on a three mile walk to Gneeveguilla National School with my siblings. Being the eldest I finished my education after national school to help at home. We killed two pigs each year filling puddings and cutting pork steaks which we shared with our neighbours. I later returned to Raheen Technical School to train in hospitality. I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from St Mary’s College, Cathal Brugha Street. Having worked in hotels all over the country, I returned to Killarney as Head Chef at the popular Imperial Hotel run by the Lyne family, before taking up the position of Head Chef at the Lake Hotel. The late Hilda Huggard was a wonderful lady whom I always held in high esteem,” Eileen explained.
“So when did you meet up with ‘The Boss’,” I wondered. “I met Dermot at a dance in Barradubh. We were married in 1961 and honeymooned in Lourdes. Dermot had inherited the family farm at Inchicullane which we later sold and bought the Fáilte Hotel in 1968 from Dermot’s twin sister May (RIP) only to have it burn to the ground a mere five months later. With six boys under five and a half, that was tough - Michael, Colm, twins Dermot and Donal (RIP), Paudie, and baby Botty (Niall). With the help of my mother and father-in-law who lived with us, we soon built up the business again."

Cattle Fair Day was the biggest day of the year, she explained.

"I loved it. Starting out at 4am wheeling and dealing and back to the bar to seal the deal over hot whiskeys at breakfast time,” Eileen reminisced. “There were no cold rooms Marie, a keg of Guinness was kept under the counter and there was no such thing as ice either."

Hospitality is what took me to Killarney initially and the Fáilte Hotel was a second home to me initially. The staff, the banter and the warmth of the Kerry people kept me here.

CHANGE

“As the years went by Marie, we adapted to change. The boys were growing up and the Fáilte moved with the times attracting a younger clientele. We began live music which the tourists and locals really enjoyed. To tell you the truth I never realise my age Marie as the younger generation keep me young.”

Eileen O’Callaghan is a non-stop, around the clock kind of lady. It made me think how contrasting life might have been through the erratic behaviour of COVID-19 restrictions. “Like every other hotelier will tell you Marie, it’s difficult. The lockdowns were scary. Lights off, doors closed and darkness in general but I think we are, please God, coming out the other side now. We’ve decided to keep the upstairs dining closed for now. I wouldn’t ask my staff to do anything that I wouldn’t, so while outdoor dining is suitable we will continue but we will also serve food and drinks indoors if not."

Upstairs, beside Eileen in her Queen Anne chair, a lovely nook off the main dining room, I noticed the many photos, certificates, awards and newspaper cut outs. There was an impressive fish trophy, so of course nosiness got the better of me. “I won first place for best seafood dish in 1973 with Board Iascaigh Mhara,” Eileen explained. I admired a photo taken at Ladies Day of Eileen with her friend next door, Ita Looney, and complimented her on her amazing figure.

POLITICS

Just then Eileen’s son Paudie passed through. “She has three loves Marie - Kerry football, she is yet to miss an All-Ireland, Ladies Day at the races, and probably above all, politics,” Paudie listed. I needed to conclude and preferably steer clear of a political conversation. One is always safe to avoid religion and politics in general conversation I thought, but it was not to be. My final question arose. “Eileen, what was your favourite decade or your favourite time in your life,” I asked. “That’s a very easy question Marie, Dermot’s involvement in politics. As a family we lived and breathed politics. I remember sending Paudie and Dermot out for nine weeks to canvas for Jackie Healy-Rae in 1997 while the rest of us held the fort. "‘Don’t come home 'til you have that man elected’ I remember telling them and that he was,” Eileen beamed. We both laughed as I packed up to go. “Before you go Marie, I must book you for my 90th,” Eileen requested. “I have no doubt that I will be back to visit you with my lens for your 100th birthday Eileen,” I said as I waved goodbye. That’s the spritely, energetic, glamorous character Eileen is.

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Vaccination centre leaves basketball club homeless

By Sean Moriarty With the National Basketball League set to get underway in two weeks’ time, Scott’s Lakers St Paul’s Killarney Basketball Club are still unsure where they will play their homes games this season as their usual venue is being used as a COVID-19 vaccination centre. The local side play Limerick Celtic away on […]

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By Sean Moriarty

With the National Basketball League set to get underway in two weeks’ time, Scott’s Lakers St Paul’s Killarney Basketball Club are still unsure where they will play their homes games this season as their usual venue is being used as a COVID-19 vaccination centre.

The local side play Limerick Celtic away on the weekend of October 8 and 9 and their first home game is set for October 16.

Currently their home venue at Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre is unavailable as it is being used as a COVID-19 vaccination centre and according to the Health Service Executive (HSE) this week, there are no plans in place, as of yet, to move out.

Killarney Cougars, the town’s newest addition to the National League, has secured the use of the gym at St Brigid’s Secondary School in the town centre but, as it stands, St Paul’s remain homeless as the season opener looms.

“It is ridiculous at this stage,” said head coach Jarlath Lee. “If you look at what is happening at the Sports Centre, there are very few people in and out of there now compared to the start [of the vaccination roll-out].”

The HSE when contacted by the Killarney Advertiser this week said that they would not be adding to a previous statement issued earlier this month, which said: “In relation to Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre, we are very grateful to staff and management for the use of their facility as a vaccination centre.

“Planning work is well underway for the next phase of the vaccination programme, locally and nationally. This includes a review of where vaccinations are administered in future, but we cannot confirm any decisions in relation to any particular location at this point in time.”

However, the HSE did confirm this week, that the Tralee Vaccination Centre, located at the Munster Technology University, will re-locate to the recently vacated Borg Warner factory in the town. The move is expected to be completed within the next week to 10 days.

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Triple treat for car lovers this weekend

Killarney car fans are in for a triple treat this weekend with three different events to look forward to over two days. Tomorrow (Saturday), Cannonball will blast through the town. Over one hundred supercars, ranging from firm favourites like McLaren, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, Maserati, Rolls Royce and Bentley are expected to take part […]

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Killarney car fans are in for a triple treat this weekend with three different events to look forward to over two days.

Tomorrow (Saturday), Cannonball will blast through the town.

Over one hundred supercars, ranging from firm favourites like McLaren, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, Maserati, Rolls Royce and Bentley are expected to take part while raising funds for the HOPE Foundation.

The cars will leave Kenmare at around 11.30am and will travel via Moll’s Gap to Killarney and onwards to Farranfore and Tralee.

“The cars will not be stopping in towns this year to avoid gatherings,” said an event spokesperson, but the Killarney Advertiser understands that the high-powered convoy will be stopping in Tralee for a lunch halt before making their way to Tarbert and the Shannon Ferry.

On Sunday, and as revealed by the Killarney Advertiser last week, the Killarney Valley Classic and Vintage Club will host its annual classic motorshow at the racecourse from 11am. This event will raise funds for St Francis’s Special School in Beaufort.

Cars n’Coffee Killarney will join the vintage club on Sunday. After a successful 2019 season at KC Print, Cars n’Coffee is looking for a new home in Killarney, and Sunday’s collaboration with the vintage club could pave the way for further events at the racecourse.

“Having events of this quality in Killarney shows that the town could soon become the car culture capital of Ireland,” said Cars n’Coffee organiser Ger Neeson.

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