The death has taken place earlier this month of Ms Mary ‘Ma’ O’Driscoll, the much loved Lady Dean of Residence at NUIG until her retirement. Her home at Taylor’s Hill, opposite the school, was a great meeting place for female students, who might have wanted nothing more than a cup of tea in a friendly home, or a sympathetic listener to a struggle with exams, a landlord, or boyfriends.
Ma had, what would be considered today, an old fashioned belief in proper behaviour between girls and boys. She worked closely with Fr Tom Kyne, the men’s dean, on this point. The two of them would attend college dances at Seapoint, and kept a friendly but strict eye of the proceedings. No close dancing.
Ma was sadly widowed at 29 years of age, and had one much loved daughter Ann. Ann, a renowned beauty, tanned and slim; and was a stunning show-stopper in her youth. Her mum minded her well. Her first party was to celebrate her Leaving Cert, and, as fate would have it, she met her future husband there. He was the dashing Kieran Tobin, a first year medical student from Carrick-on-Shannon. It was love at first sight. But their friends were intrigued as to how the romance would progress. It was the talk of Galway for many years. Ann, a natural Spanish speaker, was immediately sent to Spain for seven months; but when she returned Kieran was waiting.
In fact it was a happy romance. Ma had said immediately that Kieran would be a suitable man for her daughter; “wasn’t he the brother of the professor of mathematics Dr Seán Tobin.” But she didn’t let on she knew what was happening, and probably enjoyed all the manoeuvrings. Kieran didn’t know he was on to a winner. He became adept at using the pillars in Seapoint as he pressed home his affections.
As often happens, Mary O’Driscoll, nee Burke, was a bit wild when she was young. She was dancing mad. A champion Irish dancer, she won numerous trophies and medals including the much coveted Lady Markievicz Rose Bowl. She was born in Galway 1915. Her mother was a teacher, her father a guard. Her brother was the late Col JJ Burke, of the Western Command, and her sister, Kitty, was head teacher at Taylor’s Hill.
She received a commerce degree at NUIG, and married Jack O’Driscoll, a scratch golfer, who worked with the old Munster and Leinster bank. He died after only three years of marriage, leaving Mary with an 18 month daughter, Ann.
She was appointed Lady Dean of Residence in 1945, and was very assiduous in her duties often to the disappointment of young male students. But she also enjoyed a busy social life. She was a keen golfer and bridge player. And in recent years she enjoyed her grandsons, Ross and Shane, their wives Evangelina and Samantha, and her great grandchildren Danielle, Shane and Alva.
She was unwell for some time and resided at Coral Haven. She wasn’t aware of her family, until out of the blue, some months before she died, on January 9, she embraced Ann and looking at Kieran, asked: “Who’s that fella?”
Ann, who has lectured in Spanish at the university, is also Spanish Consul here in Galway. As we all know the summer sees a welcome influx of Spanish students here. Shortly after the Madrid train bombings in 2004, I saw her comforting very upset students trying to contact home to see if their families were safe.
Exactly as her mother had done for so may years, for so many young students in Galway.