Subscribe for Unlimited Access to Turtle’s History Quarter.

Includes content from Vanishing Ireland, Easter Dawn, Dublin Docklands, The Irish Pub, Maxol and many more, as well as Waterways Ireland, the Past Tracks project and hundreds of historical articles on Irish families, houses, companies and events.

My Friend, Paddy Delaney (1929-2023) of Tobinstown, County Carlow

Paddy in his garden. ‘We don’t know why we’re alive and we won’t find out until we’re dead.’

It was during the Big Freeze of 2010-2011 that I first really became acquainted with Paddy Delaney. I had known his silhouette since childhood, watching him scythe his small meadow and tend to his garden as our family car purred up towards Tobinstown Cross.

There are three houses directly by the crossroads – the old school to the north; the old pub to the east (where Mrs Ryan once ran her pub, post office and a shop well prized for its for pink wafers or bullseyes) and Paddy Delany’s cottage on the south-west corner. His door was nearly always open.

It’s a busy road in normal times, not one I would happily walk down, but with the Great Freeze, the traffic had slowed down to an enchanting 19th century pace. When vehicles met each other on the main road during those snow-white weeks, drivers frequently slowed down to exchange words about the state of the roads they had just left behind them. I walked down the main road, reasonably sure-footed on the gritted snow, cheerfully waving and chatting to the few cars that passed me by.

Katie Daly would walk me home.

To access Paddy’s house, you had to get past his Jack Russells. At that time, he had two of them. Nipper and Star, feisty ankle-biting terriers. ‘A man’s best friend is his pocket and his dog,’ advised Paddy. ‘You’ll never get a better friend than your dog.’ Nipper, who hailed from Wicklow, was actually Nipper II, hastily acquired after the death of Nipper I a few weeks earlier.

‘It’s the same as they were two brothers already,’ said Paddy, fondly watching Nipper II and Star snarling around my heels. ‘They took to each other like bread to butter from the first time they met.’

Paddy loved his dogs.

‘I wouldn’t sell either of them for £2000. They’re the greatest house-dogs that ever was. A fly wouldn’t land on a window without them reporting it to me’.

Indeed, for all his mock-snarls, Nipper is such a friendly dog that Paddy had to keep him locked up lest he be swiped by a stranger. ‘I love dogs. I love all animals. I can’t bear anyone being cruel to an animal. Sometimes you have to be cruel when you’re training them but that’s a different business.’

I take a seat beside his reconditioned Stanley stove and Paddy turns an innocent smile on me.

‘Will you have a drop of Katie Daly?’

I look at him, uncertainly.

‘Come down from the mountain, Katie Daly,’ he sings. ‘Come down from the mountain, Katie do …’.

He’s on his feet now, with a pair of sooty glasses in his hands and a bottle of opaque liquid that I now know to be poitin. As we chat, I see him adding the ingredients to each glass – two spoons of sugar, a few cloves, a squeeze of lemon. He pops a spoon in the glass to stop it breaking, stirs it until the sugar melts into the lemon. Then fills each glass with boiling water to the halfway mark, before filling the half with poitin.

‘Here’s health now and many years of happiness.’

It’s so delicious I can still taste it as I write now, thirteen years later.

Paddy Delaney was born in England on 17 September 1929, the month of the Wall Street Crash. ‘I wonder did I cause it’.

He was an only child, a ‘lonely bird’ as he put it.

His father, a Kilkenny man, died when Paddy was two years old, after which his mother brought him back to Ireland. Elizabeth was the daughter of Daniel Kelly, a farm labourer, and his wife, Mary, from nearby Ballykilduff Upper. [1]

Paddy Delaney’s hands displaying Jack Kelly’s Great War medals.

In May 1915, shortly after the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat, Paddy’s uncle Jack Kelly ran away from home. ‘All his chums had joined the army and he got lonely so he stole away without telling his mother and enlisted in Naas’. [2] At the recruiting office in Naas, he became a private in the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers. About twelve months later, Jack’s battalion was posted to the Western Front.

Private John Kelly was killed in action at the battle of Guillemont on 3 September 1916. It was an epic battle, one of the last of the Somme campaign, in which the Irish actually captured the village of Guillemont, albeit at a terrible cost. The poet Tom Kettle and Captain Murphy of Tullow were among others who died at this time. Jack’s name can be seen on the Carlow War Memorial at Leighlinbridge, while a Celtic cross at Guillemont recalls the immense Irish contribution to the war. [3]

‘It broke my grandmother’s heart’, said Paddy. ‘She never recovered from it even though she lived to be 95. I often remember finding her in tears’. Some of Jack’s friends made it home alive, including one man with a steel arm who ‘could work as good as any man.’

I had lately returned from a visit to the Somme, so I told Paddy of that dreadful day, 1st July 1916, when 4,000 Ulstermen were killed.

‘But we all have to face whatever is coming for us’, said Paddy. ‘We don’t know the reason we’re alive and we won’t find out until we’re dead.’

Old Mary Kelly later lived at Ballykilduff, south of Tobinstown, where she died in 1955 aged 95. [Thus, Paddy’s grandmother was born in about 1861, which is quite some leap back in time for a man who died in 2023.]

Paddy was thirteen years old when his mother married again in 1942. Matty Murphy, Paddy’s stepfather, worked for Bill Burgess in Tobinstown and rented the cottage that would one day become Paddy’s home. ‘We never had a cross word with one another,’ says Paddy. The poor fellow lost a leg to gangrene after a fall from a horse.

Tobinstown School closed down in 1968.  Michael Moloney, who was born in Waterford, initially taught in Cork before being offered the post in Tobinstown in 1965 where he shared the honours with Miss O’Leary. [5] After three happy years at the school, he was at mass in Rathvilly one day when the priest in the pulpit told everyone the school would be shutting soon. It was the first Michael had heard of it, although Miss O’Leary had by then retired. Peg Kehoe was in the last first Holy Communion class before the school shut in July 1968.  Michael was reassigned to Rathvilly, along with most of the sixty or so pupils, while others went to Ballyconnell. He remembered Tobinstown as a lovely place with a great sense of community. However, after the school closed, they shut the post office. Then the shop shut, followed by the pub. Now it’s just a crossroads through which cars race with n’er a notion about poor Mrs Delaney’s chickens. See here for more.

The late schoolmaster Michael Moloney recalled how Paddy’s mother, by then Mrs Murphy, used to help out at Tobinstown School, sweeping the floors and making the fires. Michael also recounted how, at certain times of year, the fertiliser trucks would come screaming down the road bound for Arklow. He had a pupil by name of Matt Whelan, who was ‘mad as a hare’. A minute before the trucks reached Tobinstown, Matt would race out and scatter bread crusts on the road. Mrs Murphy’s chickens would then rush out to eat what would be their last meal. ‘Three or four of them would be killed each time,’ he said.

Paddy himself studied at that school. ‘People in those days were very illiterate.’ His first teacher was Miss O’Grady from Rathmore or was she the one who came from The Moate by Rathvilly. Then there was Miss O’Leary from Williamstown, a violent femme who would grab children by their cheek if the mood grabbed her.

Nuacht was on the television, with pictures of Brian Cowen, the then Taoiseach, trying to blag his way out of the spiralling recession that was coming out way. I asked Paddy if he spoke Irish. ‘Not very much of it. I went to school, and I didn’t get time to study Irish.’

He glances at the television. ‘Shower of ignorant hoors. Cowen couldn’t run a pig farm. If those who lost their lives in the Easter Rising saw what they died for, those boyos in Dáil Éireann, well, they’d think twice. Pure wasters, sitting on their brains. Why did they need 175 of them when they’re taking orders from Angela Merkel? He may be leading the country but I don’t know where he’d leading it to. But with politics, the more you learn about it, the less you understand. The only thing you can do about it is the same as driving a car – keep inside the white line and do the best you can.’

Catholic by religion, Labour by persuasion, at least initially, Paddy had no time for Irish politicians although he was enthused by Obama in the US. He predicted great civil unrest in Ireland on account of the economy, beginning with an increase in the number of raids on post offices and banks across the country.

When the Second World War came, he was as keen as anyone to see Hitler fall. ‘He must have been a savage baby, pulling the teeth out of the Jews like that, but fighting is no good anywhere – except in the ring. If you don’t live in harmony and unity, you’d be nearly as well to take a day off and die decent. You must think I’m crackers?’

After school, Paddy went to Warrenstown Agricultural College, at Drumree, Co Meath, where he ploughed fields with horses. He also did a stint as a bell boy at the Killiney Court Hotel in Dublin, and a week’s work at the Dublin Horse Show before heading back home to Tobinstown where he worked for the Burgesses for three months before going to Lisnavagh for fourteen or fifteen years. [4] He was later to be a familiar face at the Haroldstown Waste Transfer Station. ‘I was always very lucky. I could leave one job and walk into another.’

Paddy at Lisnavagh, 2013. ‘A shut mouth catches no flies,’ says he.

He lived with a woman for seven years, a woman he liked, and possibly loved. Nan Kelly of Ballinakill, near Clonmore. She wanted to move to England, along with her two sisters, and asked Paddy to come too. His stepfather was dead and, being an only child, he was unwilling to leave his mother on his own. Nan Kelly was let go. She went to England. Married an Englishman. Two daughters. Died in 2010.

‘I do think about it ever since,’ he says. ‘I met her after twenty years and we were still great friends, but I still think I done the right thing. I met her husband and I shook hands with him too. She would have been better if she married me, but that’s my life in a nutshell. And now herself and her sister and the other sister are all gone and I’m here now with Katie Daly.’

By the time he and Nan parted ways, he was working for my grandfather at Lisnavagh. Paddy was digging potatoes in what he called Lower Carr’s Hill in 1959, when Tom Kerins the steward came and told him that my grandfather had died of a brain tumour, aged 44. ‘He was a great man to work with, and a great man to work for. He would give you a hand like any man’.

I was shocked by the emotion with which Paddy said those words, and the silence that followed. I thought he was going to burst into tears.

And then he looked out the window.

‘It could be winter, it could be summer. You wouldn’t know only to look at the leaves on the tree. Well, shall we declare war on the rest of this bottle?’

I’m unsure. One glass of poitin had hit the spot. A second? A weak one. A remedial one.

Paddy grins, and flips on the kettle.

‘I tell you now, if you ever want to get out of the flu … have a good glass of this before you go to bed. But don’t get in between the sheets. Get in between the blankets. The blankets will soak up the perspiration; the sheets won’t and when you get into the bed the next night, you might as well be getting into the river. It’ll be wringing wet with the perspiration of the sheets. It’s the Katie Daly that drives the perspiration out through you.’

Paddy Delaney’s cottage at Tobinstown Cross. Paddy reckoned it was built in 1850 in line with the cottages at the entry to the Lisnavagh farmyard. He put a new roof on it way back, as well as the shed outside, and a bathroom with a back kitchen. Tommy Walker, his brother Jim and his son Brian did a good deal of the work – mostly on Saturdays – plumbing, slating, and installing the concrete fence to stop drunken drivers leaving the nearby Iobinstown Inn from driving over his flowerbeds.

And so we sat and drank another and talked of many things and, in truth, I get muddled because I paid maybe five or six visits to Paddy’s cottage over the next few years and they have all merged in my memory into one rather magical encounter. On one occasion, he managed to get three poitins into me, at the end of which I literally felt like I was tripping.

He always made me laugh. ‘If you’ve no sense of humour, you may take the day off and die.’

And we talked of many things.

Of the poitin stills that used to smoke in the woods, and how it became so much easier to make it with gas as the Gardai were no longer alerted, and the blackberry poitin they make in Monaghan, and how they put it on animals with colic. (‘You’d put it on yourself too if you had a pain in the knee or elbow, the same as rheumatism. Wash your joints in hot water, and then rub the poitin in it.’)

Of his neighbour Lizzie. (‘She’s getting on in years, you know. She’s younger than I am.’)

Of his unfulfilled desire to go to America, where he had first cousins in Florida and another in Vancouver.

Of the farthest journey he ever did – to Dunbarton in Scotland for Hogmanay, 1956. ‘I had my dinner in the Glen Royal Hotel in Loch Lomond. I was drunk from the moment I landed until I came back. The crack was mighty. What a week! Or it was a fortnight … it took a week to recover.’ They landed in a thunderstorm at Renfrew Airport the week after Christmas, and but he and his travelling companions, a first cousin and her husband, were so jarred they felt no sense of danger. [He had a Loch Lomond ash tray to prove it.]

Of my grandmother, Pamela Drew, and how shook she was by her husband’s death, and of my late aunt Jane, who gave him ‘hardship’ that made him smile.

Of ploughing the Rath Field back in the 1950s, the field where I now live, and working alongside my grandfather, and how he was actually relieved by my grandfather at 3pm one night, although I can’t recall what he was actually doing at that time.

Of doctors. (‘I don’t go to the doctor because, I tell you, a doctor is an advertisement for a hospital or an undertaker. You go in there any you’ll have a label on your toes in no time.’)

I often met him when I’d be posting a letter in the box by his house. He’s be outside tending his garden. He could never resist a comment on the weather.

‘I’m enjoying the summer immensely. What they should do with it is put it in a bottle and save it for the winter.  I hate it when it rains because I don’t know what to do. I can’t stop.

Paddy had the makings of a Vanishing Ireland cover star but I never managed to get his portrait photo. ‘The last time I sat for a camera it broke,’ he maintained. ‘I’ll stay out of the limelight while I’m living.’ Fortunately, Annie Doyle managed to capture this image of Paddy, and the one below, in 2021. Annie was raised in Tobinstown, her mother being a McNally.

‘It’s after being a terrible damp winter. You wouldn’t put out a push-bike in it but if you have your health, you have your wealth.’

Paddy’s mother died on 21 July 1976, after which he remained in the cottage on his own. ‘I’m thirty-nine years living on my own last July. I do my own cooking, my one ironing and my own washing. The spring-cleaning too. What more can a man do? Amn’t I’m a fair man for one man? Not like them shower of wasters sitting on their arses in Leinster House. They’d take the toenails off of you if they thought it’d make a few bob.’

I invited him to visit us whenever he wanted. He only came once. June 2015. Parked his car in the entrance and walked around what we subsequently christened Paddy Delaney’s Bank. He looked fit as three fiddles and carried a bag with some bowls (in which my wife Ally had concocted some Christmas tucker for him six months earlier) and a bottle of Katie Daly. ‘Do I call her ma’am or Mrs. Bunbury?’ he asked as Ally approached.

The next time I saw him was another six months on when I called by with biscuits in the spring of 2016 after I’d spotted a Caredoc outside his house. It transpired the Caredoc was attending to his cataracts, and he’d been down to Waterford to see Dr Cosgrave for an operation, followed by a weekly visit, chauffeured by his friend Tommy Walker of Killinure.

‘My eyesight gone but I’m recovering by degrees. The eye is alright but it’s the fluid on the eye. I’m starting to move out again. By degrees. I’ll go out to the garden when the weather improves. Start digging up the weeds. Clearing up the yard with the hoe, give it a going over.’

Things had gone so bad for a while that he’d been held at the district hospital in Carlow for a week. ‘Two places I don’t like – a hospital and a courthouse.’

With the cataract, he was driving no more so Mass was out.  He hadn’t been in eight months. ‘As soon as I get mobile again, I’ll get holy again.’ His car insurance had also gone by then, and he was supposed to do another driving test ‘on account of my age, you see’, so he was facing into all those dilemmas. ‘It’s a dose of rubbish. My independence has gone completely.’

Photo: Annie Doyle (2021).

‘I’m not going anywhere though. It’s hard to kill a bad thing. Thanks be to God, I’m surviving and I have a hunger on me still. I’d eat the devil’s father and I’d go back for his mother too. I have a great appetite. I waste no food. I hate to see food wasted.’

I urged him to call me if he ever needed help, but he never did. ‘The type of man I am I’d want to be out on dire straits before I trouble anybody.’ His neighbour John Doyle was brilliant at looking after him, escorting him to appointments, ensuring his freezer was full. Paddy appreciated that. ‘The old people always said you can live without your own, but you won’t live without your neighbour.’

Ah Paddy. I went to see him in the nursing home in Killerrig. Not enough, not enough, and I’ll feel guilty ever more about that. I brought my teenage daughter too, so she could hear the answer when I asked him to tell me the story of Uncle Jack who ran away from home and got killed in the Great War. My daughter will appreciate the proximity in decades to come.

One of my lasting memories is talking with Paddy alongside the postbox outside his house when his two terriers caught a scent and galloped up the green stretch running by the back-road to Shilelagh, both leaping high to avoid a puddle. ‘Look at them hoors go’, roars Paddy in delight. ‘Sure, they’d clear Beecher’s Brook not a bother on them’.


Paddy Delaney ascended to heaven for his eternal reward on Easter Sunday, 9 April 2023.


With thanks to Peg Kehoe, Annie Doyle and Monsignor McEvoy.


On the back of this account, I was invited by Monsignor John McEvoy to deliver a short eulogy at Paddy’s farewell in St Patrick’s Church, Rathvilly, on the rain-soaked morning of Tuesday 11 April 2023. Here she blows … Paddy’s Eulogy.




Paddy Delaney’s cottage. ‘Anytime you’re passing the door, the door is always open whenever you want to come in. There’ll always be a drop here for you.’

[1] The family’s entry on the 1911 census is here. They lived at Miltown, the second turning to the right after the Haroldstown dolmen. When he was young, he had an uncle who lived in the house just to the right of the road before one passes in an easterly direction over Acaun bridge by the dolmen. He also recalled three stone houses to the left of that bridge, where there is now a big drop in the wall. One of the houses was built upon a rock.

[2] Paddy thought Jack was fifteen when he enlisted but both the 1911 census and Jack’s death record suggests he was eighteen.

[3] Pte. John Kelly, No. 5809. Kia Sept 3rd 1916 Guillemont. Aged 19. Born Ballyconnell, Co Wicklow, enlisted Naas, Co Kildare, residence Tullow, Co Carlow. Son of Mary Kelly, of  Ballygalduff, Tobinstown, Tullow, Co Carlow and the late Daniel Kelly. TM. Remembered on the Carlow Memorial, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow. [Going on his number he would have enlisted late  May 1915 – enlistment in Ireland very high that month after sinking of Lusitania. – posted to France about 12 months later.] Paddy thought he had only been on the Western Front for three weeks when he was killed.

Following the terrible losses inflicted on the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers at Guillemont and Ginchy in September 1916, large drafts of recruits were dispatched to Flanders to replenish the Battalion when it was moved to the Kemmel sector south of Ypres in the autumn of 1916. The village of Guillemont on the Somme was taken by the Connaught Rangers on September 3rd 1916. Outside the church is a Celtic cross in memory of the many hundreds of Irishmen who lost their lives liberating the village.

Guillemont came in range of British forces following the Battle of Bazentin Ridge on 14 July and it was subjected to a number of costly attacks in late July and August. This sector contained a number of German strongpoints — Delville Wood, Falfemont Farm, the villages of Guillemont, Combles and Maurepas — each providing protection for the other.

On 18 August a combined British-French offensive was launched on the sector with three British corps attacking around Guillemont while the French attacked Maurepas. The British managed to seize Guillemont Station but otherwise failed to reach their objectives.

The decisive attack came on 3 September with the British 20th (Light) Division and 47 Brigade of the 16th (Irish) Division capturing Guillemont while the British 5th Division advanced on the right, eventually taking Falfemont Farm on 5 September. German units fought to the death in the frontline trenches until overwhelmed. Fusilier Regiment 73 of Lieutenant Ernst Jünger was involved in the defence of Guillemont and in his memoirs, Storm of Steel, he describes the dreadful conditions the Germans had to endure. Regiment 73’s history states : “Nobody from 3rd Company can provide a report – all the men were killed, as was every officer”. There were 5 survivors of 5th Company Infantry Regiment 76.[1]

The capture of Guillemont weakened the German hold on this sector. Delville Wood was finally secured and the neighbouring village of Ginchy fell relatively quickly to the 16th (Irish) Division on 9 September. By 15 September the British were in a position to mount their next major offensive on a broad front — the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.

[4] He worked primarily for a Mr Williams, the steward from Offaly, who lived in the farmyard with his wife and two sons, Ernie and Sid, and a daughter Betty, who later had a garden centre in Tipperary. Mr Giff had been ‘master’ of the place in the war and then he went on to Green Hall in Tinahely, along with his furniture.

[5] Michael Moloney told me this on 30 August 2012 when I met him beneath the Father John Murphy statue in Tullow, us both having just exited the bank.