For more years than I can remember, Rita Moynihan plied me with her unique Long Valley light refreshments. Whether it was her classic doorstep sandwiches or seasoned hot vegetable soup on cold winter days; the condiment was washed down with a glass of her well poured stout.
Alas, this caring and arts loving woman dutifully dressed in white blouse and apron passed away peacefully at St. Finbarr’s hospital -eight days after her 83rd birthday- after a lifetime of love and devotion to her deceased husband Humphrey – and her surviving three sons Humphrey, Seán and Peadar.
Born in 1931 in Aghabullogue near Dripsey Rita Byrne worked as a young waitress at the Metropole hotel under the tutelage of its well known general manager, Douglas Vance. It was here in the exciting postwar fifties that she was to serve breakfast to Hollywood stars like Gregory Peck and film director John Huston during the making of the film Moby Dick in Youghal – the cast and crew stayed at the Metropole. She was there too when the famous fiery actress Dawn Addams demanded an unheard of ‘milk bath’. The story made headlines as hotel boss Douglas Vance aware Cork was going through such lean times refused the request.
Rita was on a lunch break in the nearby Uptown Grill when she met her future husband Humphrey Moynihan. They married in 1960 and took over the Long Valley from Humphrey’s grand parents. During the sixties and seventies the bar became an oasis for local scholars, artists and, indeed, eccentric members of Cork life. The bar, to this day, is furnished with the famous Freddie Maye bust sculpted by Seamus Murphy. A long table with identify plate underneath signifies it is from the Celtic ship which went aground off Roches Point in 1928. Two doors also from the ship form the entrance to the old worlde snug.
When Rita first arrived in Cork as a 16 year-old slip of a girl she had to have an address before work was secured. She got a couple of nights at well known photographer Billy MacGill’s father’s house in Marlboro St. – and stayed seven years. In his eulogy at the funeral mass in Christ King church her old friend Father Kerry Murphy-O’Connor spoke of Rita attending 10 o’clock mass at St. Patrick’s church while she worked at the Metropole. Her youngest son Peadar told the congregation of her deep love for the GAA and how she had a relative in the Aghabullogue team who won the first All-Ireland in 1884. He also spoke of her well known patronage of the arts in Cork – a fact borne out by the weekly Monday night poetry sessions Ó Bheal hosted by poet Paul Casey and held in the quaint Hayloft above the bar.
Rita was a loyal supporter of local history and folklore, attending events at the South Parish Historical Society with her two longtime friends Jim Redmond and Hugh Murphy. In the Echo report of her passing Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin TD -who grew up around the corner in Turner’s Cross- fondly spoke of accompanying his father as a young boy to the Long Valley snug and taking an hour to eat one of Rita’s doorstep sandwiches.
Rita’s great friends in the business sector of what is fondly referred to as the Bermuda Triangle – junction between Winthrop St and Oliver Plunkett St, carry fond memories of herself and her deceased husband Humphrey; Mrs Ann Donnelly of Counihan’s bar; the Buttimer family of Canty’s bar and Brian and Nancy O’ Donnell of the Hi-B bar. She had a long friendship too with the late Paddy Cashell (Antiques), his son Paul and Stephen O’ Moore.
Before she died Rita was a regular visitor to the Turner’s Cross day care centre where she enjoyed the sing-song and camaraderie of staff and friends. She once told her sons, “You’d have to know your stuff going in there.” Her neighbours in the area were also very kind to her and kept a watchful eye on her frailty, particularly the Carter and Carey families. She will be greatly missed by her sister Anna and her niece Eleanor Donelan. Her daughters-in-law Nuala and Mary. And her grandchildren Helen, Martha and Amy whom she cherished.
Rita Moynihan was a loving, devoted and caring wife and mother. Her fondest sporting moment was at Pairc Ui Chaoimh seeing Tadhg Murphy of Glanmire come on as a sub for Cork in injury time in the unforgettable Munster final of 1983 which she attended, and seeing Murphy score the decisive goal against Kerry in the dying seconds. Her son Peadar said, “She had a smile on her face that lasted a week..”
– Jack Lyons –