Balfe family in Longford town suffer double bereavement

Siblings Patricia ‘Patsy’ O’Byrne and Rev Canon George Balfe pass to their eternal reward

Longford Leader


Longford Leader


 Balfe family in Longford town suffer double bereavement

The late Patricia 'Patsy' O'Byrne

The well known and respected Balfe family in Longford town were rocked recently with the death of two family members within seven days of each other.

Highly respected former national school teacher, Patricia ‘Patsy’ O’Byrne of Mullaghavorneen, Longford town, passed away on June 20 after a courageous battle with illness.

Her younger brother, Rev Canon George Balfe, who was also a leading GAA coach, died then seven days later. The pair were predeceased by their brother, Joe, and sisters, Mary and Patsy.

The nine Balfe siblings grew up on the outskirts of Longford town where their parents had a large dairy farm. Long before we were able to buy milk from the fridge in local shops it was the Balfe family who supplied homes and businesses in the town with fresh milk daily.

It was a busy household and instilled in Canon George and Patsy a strong work ethic that stood to them throughout their lives and no doubt helped form a life-long commitment to education and in George’s case also, the religious life.

The deceased pair are survived by their heartbroken siblings, Owen Balfe, the well known Longford-Westmeath farmer; and sisters Teresa Dooner (Chestnut Tree, Killashee), Lilly Brangan (Drogheda), Sheila Norris (Dungarvan), and Maeve (Rooskey); brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law and extended family.

‘A passionate believer and advocate for education’

Patsy was an incredibly driven woman and this was very evident from her earliest days. She was a passionate believer and advocate for education and hoovered up knowledge at every opportunity. She was head prefect when she boarded in Longford Convent of Mercy and later at Carysfort teaching Training College.

She was of an era when women were sadly restricted in terms of the career they could pursue and whilst Patsy was always adamant that teaching was for her, there is no doubt that had she been born in the 1980s, she would have had her pick of careers.

Her teaching career began in Lislea, Ballinalee before a move to Ardagh. She was later principal in Ballycloughan before coming into St Michael’s in Longford town.

She commanded a wonderful intellect and devoted her career to helping young children through the education maze. She enjoyed the smart and high achieving students but reserved her greatest time and commitment for those who found the process a challenge.

She was always keenly aware that oft times the challenge for youngsters wasn’t school itself but the home environment and in her own quiet and un-intrusive way she would set about helping to improve those circumstances.

There was a wonderful and deeply held sense of justice and equality that underpinned her career and helped ensure that so many youngsters who might otherwise have fallen through the net, were not only aided through their early education but went on to secondary and further education thanks to Patsy’s intervention and commitment.

She was a remarkable linguist and a devoted Gaelgoir and frequently trotted out favourite sayings in either Irish or Latin. She had a great love and appreciation of Irish music, dance and culture and considered it a cornerstone of the education system.

Later years were tough for Patsy as she travelled to Dublin three times a week for dialysis but she used the time well either reading or tackling the latest challenges in mental arithmetic.

The death of her husband, Rory, at a young age in 1992, was a huge blow but Patsy resolved that it would not adversely affect their children. She became mother and father and effortlessly guided through the roles. She was a towering influence and role model for her three sons and daughter and they grew up in a warm and loving home.

Later years heralded the arrival of her beloved grandchildren and they ignited a new sense of adventure in this wonderful granny. She talked with them and other family members daily on the phone and was at her happiest when surrounded by family members. She lived all her life in Longford and was happiest there though she wasn’t averse to travelling abroad and in 2000 made the long journey to New Zealand to attend the wedding of her son Rory and Karen.

She was fiercely proud of Longford and was a devoted neighbour and friend, whom you could always rely on in times of need.

Patricia ‘Patsy’ O’Byrne was surrounded by her loving family when she passed away in her beloved home in Mullaghavorneen.

he was predeceased by her loving husband, Rory and will be sadly missed and remembered with love by her sons Finian, Eoghan and Rory, daughter Nuala; daughters-in-law, Karen and Senga, son-in-law, Tom, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, grandchildren Anna, Tom, Aodán, Darragh, Connor and Ethan, nieces, nephews, neighbours, relatives and friends. Her remains were brought to St Mel’s Cathedral for funeral mass and burial afterwards in Ballymacormack cemetery on Friday, June 23.

'Canon George loved football and farming'

Rev Canon George Balfe was born in 1940 and ordained in 1966. He served as a curate in Ballyfarnon, Mohill and Lanesboro and later as parish priest in Ardagh. However he is best known for his time teaching in St Mel’s College (1967-79) when he was also coach to several of the school’s GAA teams.

He was a warm hearted and gregarious character and liked nothing better than conversation and indeed none could tell a yarn better than Canon George. He had the heartiest of laughs and a beguiling sense of devilment.

He never forgot growing up on the family farm and maintained a life-long interest in the land and the workings of the farm.

The two things he could talk on at the drop of a hat were football and farming and he was equally qualified in both subjects.

Like his late sister, Patsy, he had a great command of English, Irish and Latin and during his time in Mel’s would have taught English. He was an inspiring teacher and much like Patsy, endeavoured to ensure that all pupils regardless of ability were given the best possible start.

He belonged to an era in St Mel’s when the college was at the pinnacle of its sporting endeavour. He trained senior teams to win Leinster titles in 1971 and 1975 and formed life long friendships with many of the young players from those teams. He was very much a father figure for them and over the years would have been invited to celebrate their wedding masses.An iconic photo of Rev Canon  George Balfe in front of Croke Park's Cusack Stand prior to a Leinster Colleges' final in the 1970s. Canon Balfe managed two St Mel's teams to Leinster senior titles.

He was a decent footballer himself and won a senior championship with his beloved Longford Slashers and he also had the distinction of managing back to back Fr Manning Cup (U-16) successes with the Co Longford team in 1976 and 1977. Whilst he was first and foremost a GAA man he enjoyed all sports and would also have been a notable golfer.

His final years of ministry were as parish priest in Ardagh where he was held in very high regard from 1991 up until his retirement due to ill health ten years ago. However he was never idle and pastored in a number of local nursing homes where families found a warm hearted and able friend as family members faced into the toughest of journeys. In latter years he lived in Rooskey with his beloved and heartbroken sister, Maeve.

Canon George’s funeral mass in St Mel’s Cathedral was concelebrated by approximately forty priests and led by Bishop Francis Duffy, who paid tribute to a lifetime of work and a deeply held faith and sense of justice that never wavered.

Canon George Balfe is mourned by his family, a large circle of friends; his fellow priests and the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, the most Reverend Francis Duffy. His remains were brought to St Mel’s Cathedral for funeral mass on Sunday, July 2 and interment afterwards in Ballymacormack cemetery.