An icon who didn’t need a second chance to make a first impression

When you look back at the recent history of Galway, and when I say recent, I mean the last forty or fifty years, you see that the progression of the city is built around a group of individuals in all spheres, political, cultural, musical and otherwise, who somehow contributed to this conviction of Galway as being a place apart.

They were people who made a difference because they were different, who brought a certain divilment or joie de vivre to the whole idea of Galway. They had a bit of a neck about them to make themselves stand out and be heard, and in some way contribute to the air of confidence that this city needed to make the transformation from fishing town to cosmopolitan city. And they were all flamboyant, and they probably needed to be. They had a self assurance that carried them where they went.

One of those for me was Peggy Carty O’Brien, who passed away this week at the Galway Clinic after an illness bravely borne. She was a businesswoman ahead of her time, a women who saw the possibilities in people and who made it her profession to bring out those qualities. So many people around the city and county will tell you that they studied under Peggy at her school of deportment. Imagine, the era in which she started that school was a time when a need for deportment would not have been the first thing on people’s minds.

When asked once if there was any merit to this notion of deportment at all, she stopped and said, ‘you know, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

And so it was when I first met her. She was a ball of energy and curiosity, a font of knowledge. An hour in her company was like a PhD in knowing who’s who of Galway. Gracious with her time and conversation, she was always willing to help out a new face in town.

She knew that as the holder of the wisdom of deportment and first impressions, that she was being observed, lest her guard should fall. Throughout her career, she stayed on message, true to the principles of how to hold yourself, how to style yourself, and how best to arm yourself with the confidence to succeed in today’s world.

She was the first Oyster Queen back in 1954, and there was a poignant moment some years back when her graddaughter Aoibhinn was awarded the accolade, and they were photographed together at Paddy Burkes, where Peggy herself had worn the sash six decades earlier at the tender age of 18.

Her life has not been without tragedy, the loss of her son Iain a few years back was particularly sad, and her passing this week has generated a lot of sadness.

She was a joy to meet and converse to. She had a beauty that was not just outward but was allied to a deep conviction of the potential that lay within every person she met. She also never missed a chance to promote Galway and to alert others of its attributes.

One hopes that for the next chapter of its transition from fishing town to cosmo city to capital of culture and beyond, that we are nurturing a new generation of people who will make a big a contribution to the character of the city, just as did Peggy and all her contemporaries.

I’ll tell you one thing. Above at those pearly gates, St Peter is certainly not slouching today. “Stand up, shoulders straight, and speak clearly when you welcome those people,” is what she’ll probably tell him. No better woman.

Peggy is survived by her husband Frank, and children Stephanie, Orla, Nessa, Oisín and Ultan, and her grandchildren. Her Requiem Mass takes place at St. Mary’s Church, The Claddagh today (Thursday ) with removal afterwards to the New Cemetery, Bohermore. Any donations can be made to Cancer Care West or the Galway Hospice.

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