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Peggy McMahon, Clounlaheen, Miltown Malbay (1924-2015)


Peggy McMahon

Photo courtesy Pat Mackenzie

Like Kitty Hayes and many other women, Peggy McMahon was interested in songs, music, and dancing from an early age but had to abandon those interests to help run the farm at Clounlaheen and bring up her family. She was a regular dancer and singer at Gleeson’s Bar in Coore. It was there we became aware of her large repertoire of songs. When asked, she willingly agreed to sing for us, and we spent many happy hours at her home which looks down on Doolough Lake, taping her songs and listening to her talk about life and traditions in the area. Throughout her life she eagerly gathered songs from wherever she could, most coming from family and friends around her home place.
Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie

Peggy talks about her life and her love of singing in the notes to her CD “The Parting Way of Time” (2004):

“I was born in Clounlaheen and since I was very little I was singing because my father used to hum around the house and my grandmother used to sing. And I have memories of singing since very little and our house was a house of music and singing so I couldn’t but love singing and music. When I began going to school we were taught by Mrs O’Gorman, a very good singer and organist. I sang in the local church choir from then on and, as I grew older, I was always singing and picking up songs, and I kept it up all my life. It’s a great asset to be able to do something now that I have reached this stage of my life!

I learned my first song at home; my father used to be singing ‘The Dawning of the Day’ or ‘Fáinne Gheal an Lae’. ‘Till the present day I have that memory in my head because he had a very sweet voice. I learned songs then from my neighbours because they used to come in at night-time and we always had a sing-song at home. Ellen Cleary and her husband, Jamsey, lived next door and they were both beautiful singers. ‘The Green Linnet’, and other songs, I learned from them, and also from their daughter, Sarah, who had a very sweet voice. I remember in particular one song she sang, ‘Meet Me Tonight in the Moonlight’.

My aunt Katie played the fiddle and concertina and taught me my first tune on the fiddle, ‘When the Roses Bloom Again’. There was a great spirit of music in our house, music and enjoyment in our home, and Micho Downes, her son, played the fiddle as well. My grandmother, who lived to be a hundred, sang all her life; she’d be knitting and she’d be singing. She used to sing ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’. She was a very good singer and sang during the day when she was knitting. She used be also lilting. I couldn’t but have a love of music and singing!

We used to have people in: Micho would be playing the fiddle or Katie the concertina, and the next thing would be a four-figure set would be danced. That was normal in our house because that was so many people that used to come in and out, and neighbours, and we’d be sitting down story telling, and the music would be always going on. That would be the end of our day’s work, apart from our Rosary.

McCarthy’s public house was just at the top of the hill where I lived. We were close neighbours, great friends, and we got our groceries there. And if you happened to go there towards evening, you may have a session of music if Aunt Catherine was there – she used to play the concertina. We’d have a session between us, the McCarthy family, around the fire. We’d be jigging away and having fun.

Nora Cleary was a great friend. Each morning going to school, her father would be lilting and we might dance a figure of a set before going to school and maybe on our way home we might drop in there too.

That was life in Clounlaheen in my young days and it surely was happy-go-lucky family life!”

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