Seamstress May Byrne leaves history record to cherish

Photographed at the celebration for the late May Byrne were: BACK ROW: Clandine Byrne, Lisa Byrne, John Byrne. FRONT: Angela Byrne, Paul and Tasha Smith

Words: Kilkenny Observer

Photos : Pat Shortall

A RECENT GATHERING AT Kilkenny castle saw the Byrne family come together with family and friends to remember a mother and grandmother.

The story of May Byrne is a story similar to many of her generation when young boys and girls took up employment at a very young age.

In Mays case it was fourteen.

For May, her place of employment was none other than Kilkenny Castle and her term at the Castle began in 1927.

May had an artistic leaning and it was no surprise to family that she became recognised by the owners of the castle as a top class seamstress.

What separates May from many people of that era is that May recorded her time spent at the castle.

This is thanks mainly to Mays daughter in law Angela who had the foresight to have her mother in law recorded back in 2004.

Angela takes up the story:

“Back in early 2000 I took May back to Kilkenny Castle where she worked as a young woman. With the help of Frank Kavanagh and Young Irish Filmmakers we were able to film May speak about her time with the Butlers of Ormond”

According to Angela, although May was in her ninety second year, she was quite lucid and this resulted in over two hours of tape being recorded.

It was a novel idea and in today’s world, where heritage is now so important, those hours of tapes are worth their weight in gold.

In helping shape our identity, our heritage becomes part of what we are. Our expression of this identity shows others what we value; it highlights our values and priorities.

Our heritage provides clues to our past and how our society has evolved. It helps us examine our history and traditions and enables us develop an awareness about ourselves. The story related by May Byrne is a tale that will serve generations to come , giving as it does, a lookback into a very important part of life in Kilkenny city.

Speaking to The Kilkenny Observer, John and Angela Byrne said they were delighted with the turnout at Kilkenny Castle. The final edited version is eighty minutes in duration and is now in the hands of the OPW.

It is hoped that the tape containing the wonderful stories from May Byrne will make its way into schools across Ireland so that students will benefit.


Previous Kilkenny Outdoor Music Festival 2023
Next Thanks to Scoil Ruadhain, Tullaroan