Máire Bean Uí Ghríofa
(1925 – 2017)
Máire Bean Uí Ghríofa (Nic Chonmhaigh), a faithful and lifelong member of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, passed to her eternal reward in Ashborough Lodge Residential Nursing Home, Milltown, Co. Kerry, on the 22nd November 2017. She had resided there for over 12 months. On Saturday 25th, after 10am Requiem Mass, celebrated by Frs. James Linnane, Dan Ahern and Pat Ahern, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Tralee, she was interred in Reilig na Ráithe Theas. Frs Linnane and Pat Crean-Lynch officiated at the graveside. A fitting end to a long and well-lived life!
Máire was born to Catherine and Sylvester Mac Conmhaigh (Conway) in 1925 and was reared in Ceapach na bhFaoiteach (Cappawhite), Co. Tipperary. Her father, a native of Lios Uí Chathasaigh, Co. Clare, was a teacher and a principal in Cappawhite Technical School. He was actively supportive of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann from its early days and was later chosen as Uachtarán CCÉ. He was a founding member of Comhairle na Mumhan (CCÉ) in 1960. Bhíodh sé go láidir den tuairim go raibh tábhacht ar leith ag baint le Caiseal Mumhan na staire mar ionad lárnach do Chomhaltas na Mumhan agus mholadh sé go mbeadh Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan ann. It was fitting that his own only daughter, Máire, was a special guest at the Comhairle na Mumhan Golden Jubilee celebrations 50 years later!
Her mother, who was the daughter of an RIC man, was reared in Co. Cork and taught in Scoil Náisiúnta na mBuachaillí i gCeapach na bhFaoiteach. Muintir Mhic Chonmhaigh were a very close-knit and united family. Her brothers, Bob (author of ‘God be with you, Cappawhite’) and Dáithí, pre-deceased her. The three Conway children were encouraged from their early years to do their house chores, work hard at their books, play sport (particularly hurling....cad eile i dTiobraid Árann?), speak their native language, play traditional music and attend to their religious duties, especially to Mass and the Family Rosary.
Sylvester, in his younger years, travelled many roads in his native Clare, in Limerick and in North Kerry on his trusty bicycle as a Conradh na Gaeilge Timire – a travelling teacher of the Irish language. People flocked to his evening classes to learn their native tongue. On one of his journeys he encountered a group of Black and Tans who questioned him closely as to why he was travelling around on his bike. They were not impressed, however, on hearing his explanation and they relieved him of his rothar. However, undeterred, he continued his work on shank’s mare.
Máire loved telling such stories from her youth and, ní nach ionadh, she grew up loving her teanga dhúchais. Bhí sí an-líofa sa Ghaolainn, an-eolasach ar chúrsaí teanga agus bhí sí dílis di go lá a báis. Ba i nGaolainn a deireadh sí a Coróin Mhuire laethúil. She was also very supportive of such organisations as Glór na nGael and Conradh na Gaeilge.
She was always faithful to her religious duties and, in particular, to her weekly Mass. For her input in Church affairs, especially her directing of music and song in the Church of Mary Immaculate, she was awarded the Bene Merenti Medal. She felt honoured and privileged to have received such a gradam.
Music had a very important place in Máire’s life. She had a lovely singing voice – she specialised in traditional singing and, in her earlier years in Kerry, was a member of Fr Pat Ahern’s choir in the Church of St John the Baptist, Tralee. Fr Pat may be numbered among her good friends and often sat in on her traditional sessions and shared his musical expertise. Máire was also very accomplished on the piano. She was a renowned traditional fiddle player and won an All-Ireland in Buncrana in 1980 with a group of Kerry musicians, among whom was her good friend of many years, John Mason, who played the banjo. She also won an All-Ireland in the senior fonn mall competition the same year. She, with her husband, Paddy, and several others, founded Craobh Thrá Lí, the Tralee branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, in 1959....a lot of milage, musicians and music idir an dá linn! Their ‘base’ for very many years was ‘Dúchas’ House in Edward Street....agus níl cur síos ná insint béil ar an méid ranganna ceoil, seisiún, scoraíochtaí, feiseanna, ceolchoirmeacha agus céilithe a reachtáladh san láthair stairiúil sin. At the time of her passing, she was vice-chairman of Craobh Thrá Lí and up to two years previously she enjoyed weekly music sessions at her home in Ballinorig with her ‘group’. Oh, if only....if only the walls of her welcoming home had kept record of the many many ceoltóirí and amhránaithe óga a thrasnaigh a tairseach! Ba mhinic a bhí seisiúin cheoil, babhtaí seanchais agus cupáin tae faoi dhíon fáilteach Mháire, riamh!
She willingly gave of her time to her beloved traditional music branch....teaching, encouraging and leading many branch members to high standards and even to All-Ireland titles. One prominent Kerry musician wrote: ‘my memories of Máire go back to the Grand Hotel céilithe in the ‘70s, to taking part in the Seisiúin in ‘Dúchas’ House, to her beautiful slow-air playing and to her many successes with Grúpaí Ceoil’.
Another youngster who came under her influence and who later obtained a degree in music and has become a teacher of traditional music wrote: ‘One of Máire’s buzzwords was ‘practise!....go home and practise that tune,’ she’d say. After I had won at the Munster Fleadh, Máire told me that I had to play the tunes every day without fail between then and the All-Ireland. I called to her regularly so she could judge my progress – although the visits were as much about tea and a chat as about reviewing my technique. I was fortunate enough to win at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Listowel. After I had won, Máire’s advice was familiar – ‘keep practising now and you could be very good!’
Another outstanding Tralee musician wrote: ‘Máire was a very prominent figure in the development of traditional music in Tralee in the ‘70s and ‘80s. As a young child growing up at that time I remember her very fondly as a very elegant and distinguished lady whose presence commanded respect. She was an avid promoter of all things Gaelic and she particularly loved our native music. She was a very generous person with her time and expertise. I was lucky enough to have performed with her in Ballyseedy Castle where weekly concerts were held over the Summer months. She played traditional airs beautifully and her slow air solo on the fiddle was always a highlight. Her knowledge of the language and her knowledge of the Gaelic songs informed her poignant interpretation of the traditional airs she played. She was a wonderful teacher who spent her life encouraging and inspiring the younger generation to take up the mantle of preserving our traditional Irish arts. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam uasal dílis.’
And a man who spent his life promoting Ireland’s language and music through the medium of drama wrote: ‘agus mé ag léamh faoi bhás Mháire Uí Ghríofa agus faoin tagairt do na foinn mhalla, chuimhnigh mé ar an ráiteas ón mbailitheoir ceoil cáiliúil, The Rev. James Goodman, faoin gcur chuige le fonn mall a sheinnt i gceart ~ “to give that expression to the music which the words require”. Mar sin, i gcás go leor de na foinn, ní mór an Ghaolainn a bheith ag an gceoltóir! Bhí an bua sin ag Máire Uí Ghríofa.....agus go leor buanna eile!’
She worked in Moyderwell (Sisters of Mercy) Secondary School where she taught Maths and Irish. She enjoyed her time as a teacher and was always caring towards those who needed that little bit of extra support. She gave generously and freely of her time, outside school hours, to students who struggled with Maths or Irish and also spent countless hours teaching singing and music to the girls under her care. ‘She had more of an influence on me than any other teacher, as regards singing and Irish,’ said a past pupil (who had been in a Slógadh-winning bailéadghrúpa under Máire’s tuition) on hearing of her passing. Agus dúirt iarscoláire eile, ‘she was my best teacher ever and she instilled in me a great love of Irish!’
Máire was married to Paddy Griffin from Ballyheigue who pre-deceased her by many years. They lived at Dún Mhuire in Ballinorig, Tralee. (Paddy won County and North Kerry hurling championships with Ballyheigue in 1946). Beannacht Dé leo beirt agus lena muintir.
Máire Uí Ghríofa is mourned by her nieces, Kate Muller (and family, Matt and Fiacre) and Mary Conway-Kenny (and family), by her nephews, Joe Conway (and family), David Conway (and family) and Gary Conway (and family), by her grandnieces, grandnephews and several cousins.
Bheadh Máire Bean Uí Ghríofa molta agus sinne inár dtost!
Solas na bhFlaitheas dá hanam dílis Gaelach. Requiescat in pace.
Focail ómóis óna cairde i gCraobh Thrá Lí de Chomhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann
Brian Cabill PRO Tralee CCÉ
Máire Bean Uí Ghríofa