Killarney’s fond farewell to the much loved ‘Granny Fitness’

Up Kerry – and up the Crokes – Peggy Looney at Killarney Railway Station as she joined fans heading to Croke Park for a big match.
Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

ON long and tranquil summer nights, when gifted musician Liam O’Connor took to the stage for his nightly live shows in the Killarney Avenue Hotel, more often than not there was a warm, friendly, smiling face watching on from the wings.

Last Monday morning, in the wonderful theatre that is Augustus Pugin’s magnificent St Mary’s Cathedral, Liam presided at a very special final encore.

Peggy Looney, who passed away at the weekend, in her 100th year, was a devoted Liam O’Connor fan. She loved his music. She loved his style. She loved his charisma and energy on stage.

And every chance she got on those busy summer nights, she made the very short journey from her home in Orchard Close and joined in the fun, meeting, greeting and swapping stories with patrons as Liam entertained the masses.

Fittingly, poignantly, Liam provided the wonderful music at Peggy’s Requiem Mass on Monday – just as she would have wanted – and adding to the occasion, her grandson, Greg, himself an accomplished musician, brought a Liam O’Connor CD to the altar as one of the symbols of his nan’s life.

Other gifts included a lace collar to reflect her love for Irish lace which she sold to tourists in the tuck shop she ran with her beloved Paddy for many years, a bingo card to mark her favourite hobby and a bicycle to symbolise her love of hitting the streets and roadways of Killarney on her trusted High Nelly.

Generation game: Peggy Looney with her son Tom and her grandson Ian at an art and photography exhibition in Killarney Community College.
Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

And then there was Paddy’s Hat, her husband’s famous and much photographed top hat, adorned with the Kerry colours, which made several high-profile appearances in Croke Park over many years.

Principal celebrant Canon Tom Looney – Paddy’s nephew –  said the gifts appropriately celebrated Peggy’s century of faith, hope and charity which were qualities she displayed throughout her long and great life.

A daily communicant in either the Franciscan Friary or St Mary’s Cathedral, Canon Tom said Peggy had “a great grá for the Eucharist” and she showed great care and compassion for whoever she encountered going through everyday life.

“She has left an indelible mark and imprint on the life of this Killarney valley and she will be remembered for her remarkable cheerfulness.

“Peggy would light up any room, light up any street and light up a bingo hall just as she would light up Liam O’Connor’s famous concerts at the Killarney Avenue Hotel,” Canon Looney said.

Her son, Tom, in a moving tribute at the close of the Mass, said the family will treasure and cherish the great memories of “Mam Looney” forever.

Peggy Doyle grew up in tough times in New Lane – now St Anthony’s Place, off College Street – and after her education in the Presentation Convent and Killarney Technical School, she went to work in Hilliard’s factory.

Up for the match: Peggy with her youngest son Kevin who is based in Boston but returns home regularly.

She soon met her beloved husband Paddy Looney and, when he returned from a stint working in Wales during the war years, to set up a sweet and souvenir shop in Brewery Lane, they were married in 1948. She worked alongside Paddy in the shop and the welcoming and gentle Peggy became a real favourite with the people of Killarney.

Their five children, Tom, Padraig, Mary, Noreen and Kevin, grew up in the shop and when their dad died, suddenly, in 1979, they were a great support to their mother and she opted to immerse herself in the locality and do what she could to help others.

Tom said his mother had demonstrated very special traits right throughout her long life. She was always kind, a giver, a carer and she constantly looked out for those who might need a little support, setting out on her High Nelly every day to visit acquaintances in hospitals and care homes or those living alone.

Forever smiling, always cheerful, so full of life, she always stopped on her journey for a chat with people she met and she had a particular bond with and admiration for young people, constantly engaging with them and looking out for their welfare.

“Once you got into her loop at all and became part of her circle, you were never forgotten, from your first Holy Communion even as far as engagements and marriages,” Tom said.

In later life she also loved to travel and visited her daughter, Noreen, in the UK, son Kevin in Boston as well as travelling to Rome and the West Indies but, wherever she went, Peggy’s first priority was to find a local church to say a prayer.

Peggy (front left) joined other relatives of actors who appeared in ‘The Dawn’ movie at the launch of a film trail in Killarney in 2012. Her husband, Paddy, was involved in the film.
Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

Her real passion in life was her faith and her family and she loved nothing more than spending time and exchanging stories with her grandchildren who affectionately named her “Granny Fitness” because of her remarkable energy, her love and knowledge of the GAA and other sports and her skills on a bicycle, weaving in and out of traffic on the busy streets.

“She was small and petite but she had the heart and soul of a giant-sized saint, full of love, care, kindness and much more,” Tom reflected.

“She loved and cherished the simple life but she was by no means a simple person. Her unique understanding of human emotions and the benefits of giving and sharing was the core of her happiness and the joy of her life,” he said.

Peggy Looney, who has been laid to rest in Aghadoe Cemetery, is survived by her sons Tom, Padraig and Kevin, daughters, Mary and Noreen, daughters-in-law Anne, Brenda and Johannah, sons-in-law John and Seamus, grandchildren and great grandchildren and many other relatives and friends.

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