Lives Remembered

Kate Cannon: 'If you didn't have a mother of your own, you would invent her'

THE simple things in life are truly the best and Kate Cannon knew that secret and lived it in such a humble and full way.

Kate personified the spirit of hospitality and welcome. She was one of life's most huggable people and everyone was drawn to her.

If you didn't have a mother of your own, you would invent Kate. Gregarious and full of fun, you met her smiling and when you came away you always felt better.

If anyone knew how to live a life well, she did. You could never be embarrassed praising her because there simply weren't enough superlatives.

My cousin Kate was one of 14 children brought up on a farm by Jack and Gretta Martin at Mullaboy, a few miles outside Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh.

Aunt Gretta was also a character, known for her tremendous hospitality, her fun-loving nature and for making the best boxty in Ireland.

Kate inherited her skills and after Gretta's death she always sent me a cake of boxty, including to Mount Argus in Dublin, where Fr Brian D'Arcy, then rector, and I as a student priest, took this precious gift and fried it up with bacon and far too much butter. We couldn't have been happier.

Kate worked with Patricia Cannon as a young woman where she was regaled with stories about her big brother Anthony in England.

The next time Anthony came home he met up with Kate and was smitten - and that was the end of England.

Kate and Anthony would be inseparable the rest of their lives. She, with her infectious laugh and bubbly personality, and Anthony, so gentle and soft-spoken.

The poet John O’Donoghue, using our native tongue, describes our soul mate in life as our anam cara. Never was this truer.

They made their home in Newtownbutler and it was everything an Irish traditional home should be.

Quite often the modern house stands out for its décor but the absence of symbols of family and of faith somehow detracts. This could not be said of the Cannons.

From the cushions adorned with pictures of her grandchildren to the articles of religious devotion, this was not merely a lovely house but a family home filled with warmth and welcome.

Physically small but a matriarchal figure in her big cardigans, Kate would disarm visitors with her huge smile. She had a glow about her.

Even when laid out in the coffin, in a multi-coloured dress and red cardigan, everything about her was wholesome - she seemed somehow just asleep.

When her sister Roseann lost her husband James three years ago, Kate and her sisters Mary, Angela and Isolda started the ‘Tuesday Club’ to ceili with her - and the craic was mighty.

Kate suffered so much ill health herself, but showed so much resilience in the face of adversity.

One thing she hated was goodbyes - if her grandchildren were leaving home, whether it be to Spain, Galway or Belfast, she’d never call down for the goodbyes. She’d just say 'tell me when they’re coming back'. Hence perhaps it was fitting how she went suddenly in the end - no long goodbyes.

Kate Cannon died aged 75 on January 3 and her Requiem Mass took place at St Patrick’s Church, Donagh.

Last Sunday was the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord and in a very humble and simple way she had done everything her baptism mandated. She knew nothing but loving and serving.

Of all the people I’ve met down the years, she’s up there with the very best of them.

Kate is survived and sadly missed by her husband Anthony, their children Jackie, Tony and Loretta, grandchildren Orlaigh, Elli-May, Cassie, Darragh and Ellen and sisters and brothers.

Fr Gary Donegan

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