Keel, Achill and formerly of Leitír Móir, Co Galway
Tess Howley (nee Herlihy), who passed away on Nov 28th 2018, following a short illness, was described as a “hero” by Fr. Dan Herlihy, who concelebrated her funeral Mass - and indeed, that description sums her up in so many ways. Tess was 75 years old when she died, a fact that surprised many, as she was always regarded as being much younger, due to her youthful and fashionable appearance. But, it was mostly because of her happy disposition, positive attitude and her “young at heart” outlook, as she kept up to date with all the latest developments and changes in life and society, that people considered her to be very youthful. Tess faced many challenges in life – the death of her mother as a young girl, the death of her infant daughter, serious illness on a number of occasions, the death of her daughter in law, and other tough trials. But, she always came through stronger and more philosophical, in spite of the troubles she had endured. But, as well as the trials, it was a life sparkling with much joy and many triumphs too.
When our time on earth is over, it is not the trappings of life, but how we lived, that matters. Our significance is measured by our integrity, our compassion, our courage, our character, our sacrifices and how we loved, enriched and empowered the lives of those around us. Tess chose to live a meaningful and worthwhile life, embracing all those tenets, and that is her enduring legacy and the memory she has left behind. She wasn’t a tall lady, but she was a giant in personality and enthusiasm for life. And so, we can smile through our tears remembering all of her fine qualities that we had the honour of sharing and enjoying, as we thank God for the gift of her presence in our lives. For sure, “she fought the good fight to the end” and “ran the race to the finish”.
Tess was born in Leitir Móir, Co. Galway. A native Irish speaker, she never lost her beautiful blás and love of the language. Indeed, in 2008 (at a time when she was almost ready to retire) she graduated from NUIG with a qualification in Gaeilge, gaining 100% in her exams. Quite an achievement by anyone’s standards! Her natural ability was a factor certainly and the beautifully worded essays, with great turn of phrase, earned her high marks too, but, it was her determination and resolute approach that brought about the very successful outcome more than anything else – an inherent and fundamental trait she applied to all aspects of her life. After primary school in Leitir Móir, she continued her education in Coláiste Mhuire, Tuar Mhic Éadaigh and it is testament to how highly she was regarded, that so many of her class mates from over 60 years ago attended her funeral and guard of honour in Achill. She trained as a primary school teacher in Carysfort College and she began her teaching career in various schools in Ireland, until eventually she found her way to Achill in 1967.
Her first school in Achill was Crumpaun NS, until its closure in 1974. She then taught in Bunnacurry NS until she retired in 2010. She worked as class teacher, principal and co-ordinator at different stages of her career and she absolutely loved the interaction with her pupils, their families, the wider school community and her colleagues. The school band, First Communions, Féile Drámaíochta, bars of chocolate to teach the concept of fractions and many other delightful and nostalgic reminiscences and recollections were mentioned by her pupils, as they recalled happy days in her classroom. She held a lifelong interest in how the lives of all her pupils evolved and it was touching to hear how warmly they described her – they spoke of her kind and gentle way, her pleasant and joyful personality and the way she always “mothered” them in class. They paid many tributes to her on social media when she died, such as……”Mrs Howley was a great teacher whose patience with the school band ensures many of us can still recite the notes to ‘Fáinne Geal an Lae’ over thirty years later. My enduring memory, however, will be of her wonderful Christmas tree, which we still make an annual trip to see. A lovely lady, who took a genuine interest in her pupils and their progression”…. And….. “Such a lovely lady, I loved having her as my teacher and as a mentor during my teacher training. She left a lasting imprint on my life as a child and an adult.” These are just two examples of the many beautiful things they said and wrote about her at the time of her death.
Tess had many roles in life – loving daughter and sister, devoted friend, dedicated teacher and much more. But, it was her role as wife, mother and grandmother that she treasured most dearly. She loved her family passionately and was fiercely proud of them all. She loved chatting about them, telling about their comings and goings and when her five beloved grandchildren came along she was a doting granny, who spoiled them rotten. She created many beautiful memories for them with days out to the beach, funfair, cinema, swimming pool and much more – not to mention, the many holidays and trips abroad with them. Since she retired from teaching, herself and her husband Peadar travelled the world. As recently as March 2018, they had a wonderful holiday in South Africa. On her return, she regaled us with stories of their exploits and adventures, including dawn safaris and up-close encounters with exotic animals. No bother to 75 year old Tess!! A three month, round-the-world trip in 2012 was a major highlight of her life. It was meticulously planned and following numerous flights they circled the world from Australia to America – again, an exploit she took in her stride! Lourdes was one of her favourite places, which she visited many, many times and her great devotion to St. Bernadette and Our Lady was the attraction there. However, she was never happier than in her home in Keel and although she was a Galway woman she loved Achill and its people passionately and was always proud to call it home.
She was an ardent GAA fan and followed Mayo football and Galway hurling and football with delight. She was often seen power-walking Keel beach, earphones in, listening to football and hurling matches. All matches were also recorded and watched over and over sometimes! She longed for Sam Maguire to come to Mayo and loved her days out in Croke Park. She was among the many thousands who welcomed home the All-Ireland winning Galway hurlers in 2017 and she revelled in their victory. Politics was another strong interest and she enjoyed the cut and thrust and all the excitement of canvassing, elections and victory parades!! She firmly believed in the power of the INTO and was a loyal member throughout her teaching career and while she wasn’t afraid to criticise any lack of progress, at times, she was also adamant that the achievements of the INTO for the teaching profession of today deserve the highest praise. She served on the local INTO committee over the years and was delegate to District 4 for many years, a duty she loved.
Tess was a very smart, wise and perceptive woman. She had great compassion and empathy and was a sympathetic listener and strong support for family and friends experiencing troubles, while also being truly proud and rejoicing with them at times of celebration and good news. She loved fun and to party – set dancing was a great passion and many miles were travelled to ceilís here and there across Connaught, over the years. She adored stepping it out to the lively reels of Matt Cunningham and there are many happy memories of Eamon Gannon’s classes in Ted Lavelle’s. She enjoyed a good giggle and her great turn of phrase would have us in fits of laughter very often. Her party piece for teacher nights-out was the song of her childhood, “Peigín Leitirmór”, which she sang with heart and gusto. She listened to Midwest Radio daily and truly enjoyed their many concerts in The Royal Theatre, Castlebar. She was looking forward to Daniel O’Donnell’s Christmas concert and had bought her tickets last August - but sadly, she didn’t get to enjoy that night out. A good meal with family and friends, in nice hotels and restaurants, was a treat she always enjoyed, as much for the chat and camaraderie, as for the food. Reading the newspaper daily and discussing its contents was another of life’s pleasant pastimes for Tess. She loved fashion and shopping with her daughters, getting her hair and nails done and keeping herself looking glamorous - all part of her belief that life was to be lived and enjoyed!
It is said that Abraham Lincoln once advised, “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years” – how accurately this applied to Tess!
She was also a spiritual lady with a wonderful devotion to St. Anthony, whom she firmly believed could find not only missing items, but also, the answers to many of life’s trials and tribulations. She lit a candle to him in her kitchen daily and her family lit it for her during her hospital stay and now they burn it every day in her memory. Her annual trip to Knock was very important to her and we will miss her thoughtful cards, following her prayers for us there. Her lengthy and friendly texts, phone calls and visits are now sorely missed from our lives too – how we enjoyed getting them! Her kind heart brought us many well-though-out gifts over the years and they are now priceless treasures to us. She loved long chats and could discuss all kinds of topics – everything from politics to local goings on! “Plenty NO notice” was one of her many mantras – a way of thinking that promoted the peaceful route, the path of compromise and co-operation: she never sought an argument and was always the peacemaker.
Old wisdom tells us that “grief is the price we pay for love” and sadly we have found that out with the passing of our dear Tess. Her many friends and relations are broken-hearted but it is Peadar and the immediate family who have to live with the terrible loss of a truly devoted wife and mother. After 53 years of marriage (they celebrated their 50th with a beautiful and intimate party) there is now a massive hole in Peadar’s life. Her happy and bubbly personality will be missed by many (the huge crowds who came to bid her farewell at her wake and funeral clearly indicate how highly she was thought of) but undoubtedly, it is Peadar and the family who will bear the lasting loss of the “heart and soul of their home”.
It is difficult to sum up a true lady like Tess and to do her proper justice in a few paragraphs. She never wasted a day and packed so much in to life - many described her as a ‘human dynamo’, full of energy and “get up and go” - so it would be impossible to cover the many facets of her interesting and full life. Nonetheless, I hope that this piece, a snapshot of her 75 years, pays fitting tribute and honour to a very special person who enriched our lives in so many ways.
Shine on, dear Tess. You will live on in our hearts with love. Farewell, a ghrá!
I give the last word to Tess, in quoting an extract from “Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim” –
I leave my thoughts, my laughter, my dreams
To you whom I have treasured
Beyond gold and precious gems.
I give you what no thief can steal,
The memories of our times together:
The tender, love-filled moments,
The successes we have shared,
The hard times that brought us closer together
And the roads we have walked side by side.
I also leave you a solemn promise
That after I am home in the bosom of God,
I will still be present
Whenever and wherever you call on me.
My energy will be drawn to you by the magnet of our love.
Whenever you are in need, call me;
I will come to you,
With my arms full of wisdom and light
To open up your blocked paths,
To untangle your knots
And to be your avenue to God.
And all I take with me as I leave
Is your love and the millions of memories
Of all that we have shared.
So, I truly enter my new life a millionaire.
Fear not or grieve at my departure
You whom I have loved so much,
For my roots and yours
Are forever intertwined.
“Sólás na bhflaitheas agus leaba i measc na naomh go raibh aici. Go ndéanfaidh Dia grásta uirthi agus go dtuga Sé sólás dá clann agus dá cairde atá fágtha brónach agus croí briste”