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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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Artists invited to showcase work at Wine and Art night

It’s back – and not before time – the hugely popular Killarney Rotary Club evening of Wine and Art will return this November. The pandemic enforced its absence and now […]

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It’s back – and not before time – the hugely popular Killarney Rotary Club evening of Wine and Art will return this November.

The pandemic enforced its absence and now every effort is being made to make up for lost time.

Widely regarded as one of the social highlights of the year in Killarney, this year’s gathering will take place in the Great Southern Killarney on Wednesday, November 30, commencing at 7.15pm.

Tickets, which will be available at the door, are priced at €20 and all proceeds raised on the night will go to deserving local charities and community organisations.

Over the years the evening of wine and art has raised tens of thousands of Euro for great causes and the 2022 proceeds will be of enormous benefit to the chosen groups.

This year, once again, the event is being held in association with Daly’s SuperValu and supported by Killarney Brewing and Distilling Company.

Rotary Club President, Rayla Tadjimatova, has appealed to all artists who might like to showcase their work on the night to get in touch with club members, as soon as possible, to guarantee inclusion.

“We are reaching out not only to artists who have supported the event in the past but to any new artists who wish to take the opportunity to place their work in front of a very appreciative local audience of up to one thousand people on the night,” she said.

Those interested should email killarneyrotaryclub@gmail.com as soon as possible.

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Gardai seek whereabouts of missing Kerry teen

Gardaí are asking the public for their help in locating a 15-year-old teenager. Nicolas O’Sullivan has been missing from Ballyvelly, Tralee, since Monday (October 3). He is described as being […]

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Gardaí are asking the public for their help in locating a 15-year-old teenager.

Nicolas O’Sullivan has been missing from Ballyvelly, Tralee, since Monday (October 3).

He is described as being approximately 6ft in height, of a slim build with brown hair and green eyes. When last seen Nicolas was wearing grey tracksuit bottoms and a black hoody top. He was also carrying a black bag.

Anyone with information on Nicolas’ whereabouts is asked to contact Tralee Garda Station on 066 710 2300, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111, or any Garda Station.

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